Mississippi State at Missouri preview: Bulldogs are a cure for a struggling defense

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou's struggling defense should find success for one night against a bad Mississippi State offense.

Mississippi State is thin, inexperienced, competitive (but not quite competitive enough) at home, and atrocious on the road. The Bulldogs play fast, which could bring out some of Mizzou's better tendencies, but they don't play well, especially on the offensive end. They don't shoot (or make) 3-pointers, and the only way they can beat you is if you turn the ball over like crazy.

If Missouri is going to take out its frustrations on somebody and/or actually win a game by more than 10 points, this'll be the game for that.

Mississippi State Bulldogs (13-15, 3-12)

Pace (No. of Possessions)
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.00 1.03
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.26 1.25
2-PT FG% 50% 52%
3-PT FG% 30% 31%
FT% 66% 73%
True Shooting % 52.9% 54.5%

MSU Opp.
Assists/Gm 12.3 12.9
Steals/Gm 8.0 6.4
Turnovers/Gm 14.0 14.5
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
1.45 1.34

MSU Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 10.7 10.9
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 9.8 10.4
Difference -0.9 -0.5

Ken Pomeroy Stats

MSU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

MSU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 279 143 MU big
Effective FG% 217 79 MU big
Turnover % 278 314 MSU
Off. Reb. % 271 106 MU big
FTA/FGA 80 156 MSU
MU Offense vs MSU Defense Ranks

MU Offense MSU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 20 130 MU big
Effective FG% 68 198 MU big
Turnover % 186 42 MSU big
Off. Reb. % 55 148 MU
FTA/FGA 20 49 MU

Where the Bulldogs are weakest

Well, they can't really score, for starters. They're 324th in 3PT%, 125th in 2PT%, and 300th in FT%. They don't grab many second-chance opportunities (271st in OR%), in part because they're not very big (167th in Effective Height). They turn you over, sure, but you turn them over, too (278th in TO%, 205th in Steal%). And they don't have the experience to overcome dry spells (261st in Experience).

Because of the pressure defense, MSU can create turnovers and running opportunities ... but when they don't, bad things tend to happen to them. They're 302nd in 2PT% allowed (260th in Block%), and while you don't shoot 3s very well against them (39th in 3PT% allowed), they're 264th in 3PA/FGA, which suggests they're probably lucky the 3s aren't going in. (We know all about luck and 3-point defense.)

They're also 306th in FT% allowed, which means they foul guards. Missouri guards are good at getting fouled.

Where they are best

They do turn you over; they're 42nd in TO% and 24th in Steal%. They step into passing lanes, trap, press, etc., and it's occasionally effective. And though they do foul guards a decent amount, they're fouling in the backcourt and not on the shot, so they rank a healthy 49th in FTA/FGA on defense.

Offensively ... they draw fouls, I guess? They're 80th in that. That's about it.

MSU's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    No. 77 Ole Miss (76-72)
    No. 115 Auburn (82-74)
    No. 140 Texas A&M (81-72, OT)
    No. 169 Florida Gulf Coast (66-53)
    vs. No. 193 South Florida (71-66)
    No. 247 Loyola Chicago (65-64, OT)
    No. 285 Jackson State (58-56)
    No. 297 SE Louisiana (68-62)
    No. 306 Florida A&M (78-65)
    No. 332 Prairie View A&M (71-56)
    No. 339 Kennesaw State (78-55)
    No. 340 Mississippi Valley State (94-72)
    No. 346 Maryland Eastern Shore (77-63)
  • Losses
    No. 6 Florida (51-62)
    at No. 16 Kentucky (63-85)
    No. 16 Kentucky (59-69)
    No. 26 Tennessee (68-75)
    No. 51 Arkansas (69-73)
    at No. 62 LSU (81-92)
    at No. 77 Ole Miss (63-82)
    No. 82 Georgia (55-75)
    vs. No. 88 UNLV (66-82)
    at No. 91 Vanderbilt (49-55)
    at No. 112 Alabama (61-80)
    at No. 115 Auburn (82-92)
    at No. 133 Utah State (68-87)
    at No. 140 Texas A&M (52-72)
    No. 229 TCU (61-71)

Again, they're pretty competitive at home. In home games against top-100 teams, they're just 1-5, but four of the five losses have been by 11 or fewer points.

On the road ... yeah. Bad things.

MSU Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Craig Sword (6'3, 194, So.) 12.7 0.46 27.8 MPG, 13.3 PPG (52% 2PT, 23% 3PT, 63% FT), 3.6 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.9 SPG, 3.0 TOPG, 3.0 PFPG
Gavin Ware (6'9, 268, So.) 12.3 0.49 25.4 MPG, 10.3 PPG (60% 2PT, 65% FT), 7.4 RPG, 1.3 TOPG, 2.5 PFPG
Roquez Johnson (6'7, 210, Jr.) 8.3 0.35 23.8 MPG, 9.7 PPG (47% 2PT, 60% FT), 4.7 RPG, 1.5 TOPG
Colin Borchert (6'8, 231, Sr.) 8.3 0.31 27.0 MPG, 9.4 PPG (49% 2PT, 33% 3PT, 77% FT), 4.4 RPG, 1.3 APG, 2.0 TOPG, 2.9 PFPG
Trivante Bloodman (6'0, 182, Jr.) 8.2 0.33 24.7 MPG, 6.7 PPG (57% 2PT, 29% 3PT, 73% FT), 2.5 APG, 2.1 RPG, 1.0 SPG, 1.5 TOPG
Fred Thomas (6'5, 206, So.) 6.9 0.23 29.5 MPG, 8.3 PPG (42% 2PT, 29% 3PT, 60% FT), 3.1 RPG, 1.5 APG, 1.4 TOPG
I.J. Ready (5'11, 170, Fr.) 6.5 0.27 23.8 MPG, 6.3 PPG (41% 2PT, 39% 3PT, 86% FT), 2.6 APG, 1.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 1.7 TOPG
Jacoby Davis (6'1, 191, RSFr.) 1.3 0.12 11.1 MPG, 2.2 PPG, 1.2 RPG
Tyson Cunningham (6'3, 197, Sr.) 1.1 0.14 7.9 MPG, 1.7 PPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds. It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls. It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Sword (28%), Johnson (24%), Borchert (21%)
  • Highest Floor%: Ware (45%), Bloodman (44%), Sword (40%)
  • Highest %Pass: Ready (65%), Bloodman (64%), Davis (56%)
  • Highest %Shoot: Ware (56%), Johnson (45%), Borchert (42%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Johnson (25%), Ware (22%), Sword (14%)
  • Highest %T/O: Ware (11%), Borchert (10%), Sword (9%)
  • Highest OR%: Ware (10%), Johnson (10%), Sword (4%)
  • Highest DR%: Ware (24%), Borchert (16%), Johnson (13%)

  • Sword is the pressure guy, averaging a healthy number of steals and a very unhealthy number of fouls. He also turns the ball over like crazy ... not that that matters against Missouri.

  • Ware is the guy who decides the game. In the eight "Highest..." categories above, he's the first name on five of them, including Floor% (good), both rebounding categories (good), and %T/O (bad). If he's getting to the line and getting Mizzou into foul trouble, that could lead to some awkward Mizzou lineups, needing Torren Jones or Tony Criswell to play 20 minutes or something. That's not optimal ... but with Mizzou's advantages, it still shouldn't matter.

Keys to the Game

  1. BCI! BCI! MSU averages a healthy 8.0 steals per game, and Mizzou isn't exactly the best ball-handling team in the country. If the Bulldogs are getting steals and running opportunities, they're also getting some easy buckets and could stick around.

  2. The whistles. MSU commits 18 fouls per game and draws 20. Mizzou commits 20 and draws 21. Foul trouble could play a role here, especially if it's Craig Sword getting into trouble.

  3. The 3-pointer. MSU neither takes nor makes many 3-pointers. But everybody takes 3s against Missouri. And if they make 'em...


Despite all of Mizzou's recent troubles, and despite quickly falling below 60th in Pomeroy's rankings, the Tigers are still projected to win this one by 15, 80-65. I'm envisioning something bigger ... say, 83-60 or something ... but that means I'm envisioning something (a win by more than 10) that has happened just once since November 29. Even 15 seems like a bit much, but MSU just isn't very good. Mizzou's struggling defense should find success for one night.

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