Better Know An Opponent: Mississippi State

The Gamecocks open up SEC play on Wednesday night as they head down to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs, an 8pm tilt available to you on your computers at ESPN3.com.  South Carolina and State have both struggled mightily this season, with the big difference between the teams coming from results – the Gamecocks have found a way to win two overtime games and a tight contest against Manhattan.  Coupled with the weak strength of schedule, the Gamecocks enter this matchup at 10-3.

State, on the other hand, got pasted by UNC, Texas, and Marquette out in Hawai’i in November, and along with losses to Troy and Alabama A&M, comes limping into this game at 5-7.  However, non-conference play is past, and one of these teams is going to tied atop the SEC leaderboard come Thursday morning, with a second winnable conference game immediately in sight (Georgia for State, and Auburn for Carolina).  Let’s take a look at the matchup and see who has the advantage.

Four Factors

Four Factors
USC O
MSU D
MSU O
USC D
NCAA
eFG
51.4
(67)
46.2
(106)
45.1
(279)
48.5
(182)
48.3
TO%
24.8
(328)
24.6
(23)
25.4
(334)
19.5
(230)
20.7
Oreb%
44.9
(2)
35.3
(280)
36.9
(48)
31.7
(164)
32.1
FTR
40.0
(81)
23.1
(9)
42.9
(37)
40.1
(261)
35.6

Shooting

Shooting
USC O
MSU D
MSU O
USC D
NCAA
FTA
70.1
(131)
66.1
(247)
68.9
2PA
50.9
(62)
43.5
(65)
46.6
(181)
48.4
(210)
47.3
3PA
35.1
(111)
27.5
(327)
33.5
3PA%
31.0
(227)
35.0
(241)
28.5
(278)
29.2
(66)
33.0

This will be a game of strength versus strength and weakness versus weakness, as State is woeful on offense and pretty stout on defense.  As readers of this blog well know, South Carolina has faced the opposite problems on the season thus far.

When State has the ball

Offensively, State has only scored over one point per possession in one game this season, against pitiful New Orleans in its last outing, where the Bulldogs lit it up from outside (11-21 from 3PA), inside (24-41 from 2PA), and the free throw line (16-20).  Weirdly, the Privateers played FIFTEEN players on the evening (with ten of them getting over 10 minutes), so I’m not sure how much I’d draw from this outing, especially given that State played it’s 8-man rotation the entire night (with seldom-used Baxter Price getting three minutes late).

Otherwise, State doesn’t shoot well and doesn’t shoot much, turning the ball over even more than the Gamecocks do, and unlike South Carolina, not coming off two games where they improved in that area (even in the shellacking of New Orleans, State gave the ball away on 22% of its possessions).  The Gamecocks have not created a lot of turnovers on the season, with only 6.7% of their opponents’ possessions ending in steals.  That’s concerning, because half of State’s turnovers come from the other team creating them for State (a 12.2% steal per possession rate), so this could be a game like Manhattan where the opponent comes in known for turnovers, but they don’t show up on the evening.  This could be a critical matchup on the evening, and much may depend on how Martin and the coaching staff decide to attack State defensively.

The Bulldogs do a good job of giving themselves additional opportunities to score however when they avoid turnovers, either through getting to the foul line or grabbing misses to extend possessions. This is a game where Carrera and his 26.4% defensive rebounding rate would be welcome backed with open arms for Carolina, as both PC and SCSU hit the offensive glass at a rate better than their season average against the Gamecocks in the last two outings where Michael was on the bench with a hip injury.

Speaking of Carrera, he and the rest of the guys underneath will be targeted by State for chances to get to the free throw line.  Though they only shoot 66% from the line, State creates tons of chances for themselves there, which leads to them scoring 24% of their points from the free throw line.  Given their low 3P% and 3PA% (they don’t take many 3s, and miss most of those they take), the game on this half of the court will likely be won or lost in the paint.

When the Gamecocks have the ball

On the other hand, State butters its bread by keeping teams from scoring against it.  Aside from those three games in Hawai’i, they’ve only let one team score over one point per possession against it, when a pretty decent Providence team dispatched them from the SEC-Big East challenge (if there’s one thing we can’t do, it’s trash someone else for their performance in the SEC-Big East challenge).

The main focus of the evening for Carolina will be to see if their new-found guardianship of the basketball is something that can last against better opponents and away from Colonial Life Arena.  State is forcing turnovers on about a quarter of its opponents’ possessions, which is about how often the Gamecocks have been coughing up the ball.  Unlike Carolina, State creates these, with steals leading to half of those turnovers (again, in line with Carolina’s rate).  The Gamecocks main weakness all year has been turnovers, and State is well-positioned to exploit that weakness.

On the other hand, when the Gamecocks do avoid turning the ball over, they should be able to keep taking shots, as they can create a solid mis-match on the offensive glass (which would only grow if Carrera could play, letting Lakeem move up to the 3).

It will be interesting to see how Carolina attacks State otherwise, as State seems as unbothered by allowing teams to take 3PAs as Carolina is uninterested in taking them.  Martin likes to go inside, but the Bulldogs defend quite well in the paint, only letting teams shoot 44% from the interior.  The Gamecocks may end up shooting more from outside than they otherwise do, and if that’s the case, then Brenton Williams and Brian Richardson will need to find a way to make the shots they take for Carolina to come out victorious.

Individual

South Carolina
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Min. %
%Poss
OR%
DR%
ARate
TORate
FT%
2P%
3P%
Michael Carrera**
29.8
27.8
17.2
26.4
8.0
24.1
78%
46%
100%
Brenton Williams
59.8
20.4
1.6
7.0
12.1
18.2
80%
61%
47%
Damien Leonard
27.2
20.0
4.3
13.7
7.8
30.6
78%
37%
31%
Bruce Ellington*
20.4
22.1
2.3
10.7
7.2
27.0
65%
46%
22%
L. Chatkevicius
12.6
23.9
16.6
13.8
18.3
36.7
33%
56%
100%
Lakeem Jackson
78.7
18.4
11.2
17.0
14.8
26.1
27%
61%
0%
Eric Smith
67.0
18.4
2.1
6.9
27.3
33.3
67%
37%
24%
Mindaugas Kacinas
65.3
16.6
12.8
12.7
7.8
27.5
68%
68%
23%
Brian Richardson
52.5
19.4
4.4
10.8
15.1
18.5
79%
43%
41%
RJ Slawson
41.3
18.3
15.2
12.2
8.5
22.0
67%
47%
20%
Mississippi St.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Min. %
%Poss
OR%
DR%
ARate
TORate
FT%
2P%
3P%
Roquez Johnson
61.2
28.0
13.5
9.7
3.4
22.5
61%
44%
33%
Craig Sword
64.4
27.3
3.3
9.9
16.3
33.0
52%
43%
14%
Fred Thomas
74.8
20.2
0.6
11.8
11.0
14.4
77%
42%
24%
Gavin Ware
62.1
20.2
10.7
22.0
0.9
21.2
58%
53%
0%
Jalen Steele
18.5
22.8
2.6
11.9
8.6
17.2
100%
32%
47%
Colin Borchert
45.8
18.1
7.7
13.0
14.0
19.0
77%
57%
16%
Wendell Lewis*
35.0
18.7
9.5
15.8
8.9
22.2
94%
57%
0%
Trivante Bloodman
77.3
15.5
4.3
9.1
18.0
35.3
70%
39%
36%
Tyson Cunningham
58.1
8.6
6.5
8.0
12.6
34.0
86%
33%
44%

Each team will have a few guys missing in action.  As you know, LaShay Page is gone for the year for the Gamecocks, Michael Carrera is questionable with a hip injury, and Bruce Ellington may be limited by his need to play his way into game shape.  For the Bulldogs, senior Wendell Lewis will not play, as he is out with a knee injury.  He had been averaging 21 minutes before he went out, and the Bulldogs could hardly afford it – they are down to seven scholarship players.

Lewis’ minutes have been replaced by Jalen Steele, who recently returned from a fractured right wrist, but with Steele as a guard, it’s not a direct replacement.  Without him around, State will be down to three players between over 6’7”, none of whom will be over 6’9”.  For State, a team that does a great job of staying out of foul trouble, it’ll be even more critical on this evening as they’ll already be short-handed, especially in the post.

State’s offense focuses primarily on six of the eight players it rotates, as Bloodom and Cunningham both play major minutes, but are rarely seen shooting the ball (and neither does a particularly great job of shooting when they get the chance).  It’s interesting to see two guards who play so much, turn the ball over so much, and don’t contribute either via shooting, assists, preventing turnovers, or forcing turnovers.

The other six guys State rolls out there are better, but no one is really damaging on this offense, with the notable exception of Gavin Ware, a 6’9” freshman who does a nice job of grabbing offensive rebounds and making shots on the inside.  He joins up with Roquez Johnson, who grabs a preposterous 13.5% of the offensive rebounds available to him, and draws fouls at a prodigious rate, taking nearly as many FTAs (75) on the season as he had 2PAs (88).  The Gamecocks will need to be at their best down low on the evening, something they have struggled with on the season, most recently against [Matthew Hezekiah and SC State].  We didn’t have an answer on Saturday, and unless we find one on Wednesday, the Gamecocks may struggle to keep points off the board and post players out of foul trouble.

With the ball inside, the Gamecocks will still need to keep their eyes on Fred Thomas and Jalen Steele, both of whom love to throw it up from the outside.  Thomas has only hit 24% of his 3PA attempts thus far, but Steele was 39% last year and is at 47% on limited shooting thus far.  He’s the guy who’ll be the most likely to hurt Carolina from the guard spot on offense.

A huge match-up for Carolina will be Eric Smith v. Craig Sword.  Sword is recording a steal on 4.5% of the defensive possessions he plays, and Smith turns the ball over once for every three shots he takes from the floor.  Part of that of course comes from Eric not shooting a whole lot, but his ability to control the ball from both an assist and turnover perspective will be important to the Gamecocks being effective offensively.  Speaking of Sword, he’s been an easy source for turnovers most of the season, but like Smith, is coming off a couple of positive performances, with only six turnovers in the last three games.

The other guy from State to keep an eye on defensively is Colin Brochert, who both blocks shots (6.1% of opponents’ 2PA attempts while playing) and steals (3.4% of possessions he plays) adeptly.  He’s actually not a bad performer offensively, especially relative to the rest of his teammates, though his minutes have never really ticked over 20 per game.

As for the Gamecocks, you know our guys by now.  Brenton continues to be a magician on the offensive end, but an enigma defensively.  Brian Richardson has really come on lately, with an uptick in his assists, a downtick in turnovers, and improved shooting from the interior.  To keep his productivity up as his workload has increased has allowed the Gamecocks to better absorb the blow from the loss of LaShay Page, and his continued strong performances will be critical.

The Gamecocks continue to do a great job hammering the glass with their three main post weapons of late – Kacinas, Jackson, and Slawson, who should all have ample opportunity to continue running up those numbers in this game.

Predictions

KenPom: L 68-64 (35%)

TeamRankings: L 70-67 (41%)

I think this game turns on two things – Eric Smith (and perhaps Bruce Ellington) against Craig Sword, and whether or not Carrera can contribute.  As we covered above, these two teams turn the ball over all the time, and for each, a lot of those come from the point guard.  If Smith and/or Bruce can avoid having their pockets picked by Sword – and better yet, can force some turnovers from Sword himself, who has been prone to them – then the Gamecocks can win the turnover battle, which should keep State’s offense impotent while improving their own prospects.

The second key will be Carrera.  If he’s available, then the Gamecocks have five more fouls to give down low, another huge rebounding threat that can help mute one of State’s only strengths offensively (and further contribute to South Carolina’s dominant offensive rebounding).  If he’s not, the Gamecocks may not have enough competent bodies down low to stay with State in the post, and could give State too many second chances.

All in all, it’s a matchup of two similar teams, with not much between them.  I’ll make my own prediction conditional on Carrera.  If he plays effectively for more than 15 minutes, I think the Gamecocks sneak out of Starkville with a conference victory.  If he can’t go, or can’t play effectively, then home-court advantage may be just enough for State to send the Gamecocks home staring up at the rest of the SEC.

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About marvinnedick

Blogging from the mid-Atlantic on Gamecock sports, as well as general musings on sports theory otherwise.
This entry was posted in 2012-13 Basketball, Better Know An Opponent, Mississippi State and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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