Tonight, the Mississippi State Bulldogs take on the Kentucky Wildcats in an East vs. West tilt in Rupp Arena. The Bulldogs just took a bad loss to their main conference rivals, the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday and will be smarting for some payback tonight.
Mississippi State is a much different team than the one that beat the Wildcats in Starkville last year. Much of their beef has gone on to bigger and better things, but Jarvis Varnado remains to patrol the paint and reject shots, much as he did last year, except this year he has also added an offensive game. But more on that later.
First, let's look at some statistics:
|Adj. Efficiency:||108.5 ||87.9 ||103.0 ||94.5 ||100.6|
|Adj. Tempo:||69.9 ||69.4 ||67|
|Effective FG%:||55.0 ||42.5 ||51.4 ||43.4 ||48.9|
|Turnover %:||24.6 ||20.1 ||20.7 ||20.2 ||20.8|
|Off. Reb. %:||34.9 ||30.4 ||30.4 ||36.2 ||33.2|
|FTA/FGA:||44.0 ||32.1 ||41.3 ||26.2 ||36.3|
|3P%:||34.8 ||33.3 ||36.3 ||32.7 ||34.1|
|2P%:||56.2 ||38.9 ||49.5 ||40.9 ||47.8|
|FT%:||79.2 ||67.7 ||69.0 ||63.4 ||68.6|
|Block%:||7.0 ||17.9 ||7.4 ||17.1 ||8.9|
|Steal%:||10.8 ||8.9 ||10.0 ||10.3 ||10|
|3PA/FGA:||30.6 ||32.7 ||37.2 ||30.6 ||33|
|A/FGM:||63.0 ||43.5 ||51.8 ||39.3 ||54.3|
|Point Distribution (% of total points)|
|3-Pointers:||22.1 ||30.6 ||30.9 ||29.0 ||27.5|
|2-Pointers:||53.9 ||49.0 ||47.4 ||54.9 ||52.2|
|Free Throws:||24.0 ||20.4 ||21.7 ||16.1 ||20.3|
|Strength of Schedule|
|Components:||102.3 ||100.8 ||100.2 ||100.9 ||100.6|
|Overall:||0.5424 ||0.4799 ||0.5|
|Non-conference:||0.4327 ||0.3908 ||0.5|
|Bench Minutes:||33.0% ||33.2% ||31.40%|
|Experience:||1.26 yrs ||1.06 yrs ||1.65|
|Effective Height:||+1.6 ||+1.5 ||0|
|Average Height:||78.6" ||77.4" ||76.5"|
Like so many teams this year in the SEC, Mississippi State is a guard-dominated team that starts one big man, Jarvis Varnado, and surrounds him with four good-shooting guards.
The front court primarily consists of Jarvis Varnado. Ravern Johnson and Phil Turner will rotate to the baseline from time to time to help with rebounding and because they are bigger guards. The absence of Charles Rhodes has freed up Varnado to be the #1 inside option, and playing four guards has given him a lot of room to operate inside. As a result, Varnado is no longer just a one-dimensional shot-blocker, he is also a significant threat to score inside despite his slight frame.
In the back court, Dee Bost will handle the point guard duties with Barry Stewart, Ravern Johnson and Phil Turner his backcourt mates. As you can see by the above statistics, all these four guys can shoot the three very, very well. They are quick and love to run, and are capable of penetrating the paint as well.
Off the bench, the Bulldogs bring the super-sub Romero Osby, a four-star power forward out of Meridian, Mississippi. Osby is a power player pretty much in the mold of Patrick Patterson, although not yet as skilled. But he is very talented and capable of doing some significant damage in a reserve role. Osby has 3-point range, but is not a particularly good shooter from the arc.
Kodi Augustus is another big body who sees significant minutes. Augustus can score inside and is the team's second leading rebounder. Elgin Bailey is another thick-bodied forward who delivers rebounding and shot blocking off the bench.
Mississippi State's main strengths are 3-point shooting and defensive efficiency. The Bulldogs are a very good defensive team, ranking 63rd nationally ind DE and 12th nationally in defensive eFG%. They are particularly good defensively against 2-point shots, primarily due to Varnado's presence in the middle.
Four factors analysis:
- eFG%: Advantage Kentucky on offense and defense.
- Turnover%: Advantage MSU on both offense and defense.
- Offensive Rebound %: Advantage Kentucky on offense and defense.
- FT Attempts/FG Attempt: Kentucky on offense, MSU on defense.
Unfortunately for Kentucky, this is yet another SEC team that presents matchup problems for them. MSU is much quicker, but also much smaller, at every position except for the five. MSU runs a lot of motion on offense and really likes to get out on the break. Because of their speed and quickness, they cause a lot of problems for teams who try to run with them up and down the floor.
MSU takes better care of the ball than Kentucky. The statistic above is misleading -- since going to the four-guard offense, the Bulldogs turn the ball over only 13 times per game on average, a very decent stat, especially when compared to Kentucky's 17+ turnovers per game in conference.
One thing Kentucky absolutely cannot do is run with MSU's four-guard lineup. The Bulldogs are a remarkable running team, and they are able to get wide open looks from three in transition. UK must really get back on defense or they will be watching threes and layups all night long from the Bulldogs. Kentucky must control the pace of this game with great care, not getting too bogged down, but taking their time against the MSU defense, which can either be man-to-man or zone. I expect to see both, zone with the four guard lineup and man-to-man when they go bigger.
Porter is going to have great difficulty with this team. Bost is young, but he is very proficient at beating his man off the dribble, getting into the paint and kicking to the open jump shooter. Missississippi State's gaurds are all scrappy rebounders, so it will take every bit of UK's best to keep them off the offensive glass. The guards are all quick to the ball, so soft passes will be picked and taken for layups at the other end.
For UK, they have an advantage inside which they must immediately exploit. Varnado is a great defender, but he can't defend two people, and MSU's guards are much too small to handle Stevenson, even in a zone. But Stevenson and Patterson will have to work well together to get easy looks inside the paint.
Meeks should be able to operate against an MSU zone, and he may well be able to shoot them out of it pretty quickly. Despite Osby's skill, the MSU running game is not nearly as potent when they bring in their bigger people to help defensively. If UK can withstand the early up and down that MSU wants to throw at them and force them to face guard Meeks, it could really open up the inside for UK's big people.
This is a tough game for the 'Cats, but not as tough as South Carolina was. The Bulldogs do not normally use a lot of defensive pressue, and the 'Cats length could bother the guards on the perimeter. UK must force MSU to beat them off the dribble and trust the defensive rotation. The Bulldog guards are not any more proficient from 2 point range than they are from three, so given that fact, we should deny them the three and force them to shoot jumpshots inside the arc. If we can do that and rebound the basketball, I really like our chances in this one.