Better Know An Opponent: Mississippi State (redux)

The Gamecocks wrap up their home schedule this Wednesday evening with a match-up against fellow cellar dwellers Mississippi State.  South Carolina comes into this game on a three-game skid, the most recent of which included some interesting roster decisions.  State enters the game on its first win since January 12th (remember, their win over Carolina was January 9th), doing extensive damage to Ole Miss’ chances of an NCAA tournament berth (of course, beating Ole Miss at home doesn’t differentiate these two teams from one another).

This game should have seeding implications for the SEC tournament.  If State wins, they’ll move a game up on USC, and the Gamecocks will be locked into at least the 13th seed in the SEC tournament (by virtue of being unable to win a tiebreaker against State), and most likely the 14th seed unless it can both beat Vanderbilt on the road and Auburn loses both at home to Tennessee and in Starkville on Saturday.  The team who holds the 14th seed will most likely see Texas A&M in the opening round of the SEC tournament, while the winner is likely to face Auburn.

Given the new format, the winner is looking at a much easier opening round SEC tournament game, with a chance to progress to a match-up with the number five seed.  It seems likely that will end up being Ole Miss, a team that South Carolina obviously has shown it can beat on the right afternoon.

Of course, no matter the draw, it’s incredibly unlikely the Gamecocks will make any run of note in the SEC tournament, but it’s always better to end the season on the upswing rather than the opposite.  The team who wins on Wednesday will have taken a big step toward that just by virtue of winning, and will have positioned itself to have a shot at getting one or two more positive outcomes to end the  year.  The loser will likely have two games to go in its season.

Team

Four Factors USC O MSU D MSU O USC D NCAA
eFG% 46.7
(257)
50.2
(244)
44.0
(322)
50.0
(232)
48.6
TO% 22.9
(311)
22.5
(51)
25.0
(342)
20.9
(130)
20.1
Oreb% 38.6
(16)
37.2
(334)
30.6
(208)
33.3
(242)
31.8
FTR 35.6
(179)
25.5
(9)
40.0
(69)
44.7
(325)
35.9
Adj. Pace 66.1
(169)
67.8
(96)
66.0
Shooting USC O MSU D MSU O USC D NCAA
FT% 32.4
(246)
66.7
(255)
69.2
2P% 45.8
(242)
49.3
(243)
45.6
(253)
50.1
(267)
47.5
3P% 32.4
(246)
27.1
(343)
33.9
3PA% 32.2
(197)
36.1
(286)
31.9
(202)
31.0
(102)
33.0

The Bulldogs are a woeful basketball team, even worse than I thought they were when we first played two months ago.  On offense, they are nothing short of a disaster – they can’t shoot from anywhere on the court, they can’t avoid turnovers, and they can’t rebound their frequent misses.  Their sole strength is getting to the foul line, but it’s a strength that’s somewhat self-mitigated because of their 66.7 percent FT%.

That should still present at least some concern for Gamecock fans, as getting to the foul line against Carolina is an incredibly easy task to accomplish, and since that’s the only way State scores, it’d be nice if there seemed to be a way we could prevent that.  We’ve had games where we haven’t posted terrible foul numbers (for instance, against A&M on Saturday), but not against teams who butter their bread by getting to the line.

Otherwise, State’s offense is a complete disaster, and there simply aren’t areas where they can press an advantage against the Gamecocks.  If Carolina can avoid fouls (or draw a good officiating crew), they have a good chance of keeping State silent on the offensive end.

Of course, the problem is that even if they do shut State down offensively (such as they did in the last match-up, where the Bulldogs only scored 0.82 points per trip), Carolina still has to score enough points itself to come away with a win.  That may present an issue, as the Bulldogs’ defense, though by no means good, is still the strength of their team, and it goes up against a very anemic Carolina offense.

The area that kept the Gamecocks from winning in Starkville was easily found – turnovers.  The Gamecocks turned it over 24 times (at a rate of 35.3% of possessions) back in January.  While Carolina didn’t exactly light it up on possessions where they didn’t turn the ball over, it doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that just limiting turnovers to 21 (which is still 30.9 percent) on the evening would’ve likely been enough for a victory, as the Gamecocks scored 1.23 points per possession on those where they didn’t turn it over.

It will be interesting to see if Carolina can make a few more baskets than they did the last time out against these guys, as State’s 2P% defense is a woeful 49.3 percent (and even more putrid 53.8% in SEC play).  Of course, the Gamecock offense is terrible at scoring inside, so it’ll be a match-up of weak offenses.  That said, State allows an amazingly bad 36 percent of opponent shots to come at the rim, and so Carolina should be able to get to the bucket (we take 32 percent of shots at the basket) and hopefully convert, despite our own struggles there (teams block 13 percent of our 2PAs, which is good for 336th in NCAA).

Another way this game will be decided under the basket is through offensive rebounding – Carolina still stresses it as a matter of conviction, and State simply can’t keep teams from rebounding the basketball against them on the offensive end.  While the Bulldogs don’t foul a lot given their frequent use of zone defense, Carolina still should be able to thrive down low if they can simply avoid turnovers and run their offense.  That should be the key to getting out of here with our fourth SEC victory of the season.

Individual

South Carolina
%Min
%Poss
eFG%
OR%
DR%
ARate
TORate
FTM-FTA
2PM-2PA
3PM-3PA
Lakeem Jackson
71.2
16.9
56.4
9.1
15.7
14.8
24.2
20-59
99-177
2-4
Eric Smith
68.4
16.6
38.1
1.4
6.0
21.7
28.9
31-48
40-108
17-64
Bruce Ellington
55.2
22.2
37.6
2.5
7.4
17.2
24.3
37-60
52-138
18-72
Mindaugas Kacinas
48.3
16.2
53.7
9.9
13.4
7.8
28.2
33-48
52-88
4-20
Brenton Williams
47.5
22.4
54.7
1.4
7.9
14.1
16.3
68-83
47-95
39-98
Brian Richardson
46.9
20.9
50.8
4.1
10.2
12.7
16.1
30-41
38-90
42-109
Michael Carrera
43.7
27.0
48.1
15.6
24.6
7.6
19.5
75-103
77-166
7-16
RJ Slawson
40.2
17.1
45.8
12.3
13.5
6.5
23.8
38-56
39-80
3-15
Damien Leonard
32.7
18.1
39.6
5.6
10.5
7.0
22.5
13-17
14-46
21-69
Laimonas Chatkevicius
21.5
22.9
44.3
10.8
19.4
8.7
29.0
19-32
28-64
2-6
Mississippi State
%Min
%Poss
eFG%
OR%
DR%
ARate
TORate
FTM-FTA
2PM-2PA
3PM-3PA
Trivante Bloodman
71.7
16.8
38.7
4.1
8.3
17.8
33.3
74-98
33-87
10-37
Fred Thomas
70.3
20.9
38.3
1.2
13.0
10.7
15.7
53-68
55-123
33-150
Gavin Ware
64.6
17.9
55.4
9.6
18.5
3.0
16.7
42-76
103-186
0-0
Craig Sword
64.3
29.5
41.2
3.0
9.6
21.7
30.6
70-124
84-186
11-58
Colin Borchert
59.5
20.8
45.8
5.5
14.4
12.5
24.9
25-37
55-120
25-82
Roquez Johnson
54.2
23.0
45.3
9.8
10.4
3.7
24.3
69-117
64-141
5-17
Tyson Cunningham
52.0
8.8
50.8
4.7
7.4
12.2
31.9
8-11
6-20
16-39
Jalen Steele
40.4
22.1
41.0
2.5
9.7
10.5
18.8
33-36
27-81
26-80
Wendell Lewis**
14.9
19.4
56.8
9.6
16.9
9.8
21.7
15-16
25-44
0-0

**Will not play

Mississippi State has spent most of its season without senior Wendell Lewis, which took a downtrodden team and only further kicked them in the gut.  They run an 8-man rotation that relies heavily on underclassmen, including three freshmen who all play over 64 percent of their minutes.

Those three freshmen – Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, and Gavin Ware – make up 60 percent of State’s starting line-up.  Of the three, Ware is far and away the best player and also the biggest threat to the Gamecocks.  The 6’9″ forward hammers teams both with inside shooting and rebounding on both ends of the court.  Along with a high block percentage (3.4% of opponents’ 2PAs when he’s playing) and an FTR of  over 40, he’s in the top 500 in a ton of categories, and will be a foundation for coach Rick Ray to build on in Starkville.

He’s the peak player, however.  On the wing, Fred Thomas takes over 26 percent of State’s shots when he’s playing and yet hits them at a sub-40 percent eFG.  He does a nice job of protecting the basketball but doesn’t contribute much in the way of assists.  That said, he’s a force defensively in both blocking shots and forcing steals.

The third freshman, guard Craig Sword similarly brings steals to the table, and similarly can’t shoot much.  Unlike Thomas, who trades off his low assist rate for his low turnover rate, Sword trades off his high assist rate with his uber-high turnover rate.  It’s something he hasn’t improved as the season’s gone on – even in their win against Ole Miss, Sword doled out seven turnovers.

State’s two upperclassmen similarly don’t do a lot offensively to write home about – neither forward Colin Borchert nor guard Trivante Bloodman hit shots with any real consistency (the fact that Borchert’s just-over 45 percent eFG% stands out on State’s statistic sheet says more about State than Borchert).  That said, Borchert is yet another member of State’s team that both blocks and steals the ball for the Bulldogs.

If it wasn’t clear from the team numbers, it becomes clear pretty quickly from looking at the individuals that State’s bread and butter comes from defense, not offense.  That’s what put them past Ole Miss – the 0.853 points per possession they held the Rebels to in Starkville was the lowest output for Murphy Holloway and company all season.  Coming off two straight games where State put up some of their worst defensive performances of the year, it was certainly a surprise.  A fair bit of that came not from great State defense (Ole Miss rebounded the ball and held off on turnovers at about an average rate), but from slavishly committing itself to taking (and missing) 3PAs – a 6-29 effort doomed the Rebels. Given how much the Bulldogs allow their opponents to take 3PAs, that’s likely not a replicable skill.

On our end, it will be fascinating to see the rotation that Martin runs out given the players we saw on the court in College Station and his recent statement that Shane Phillips will start against Mississippi State.  Other than that, the song remains the same for the Gamecocks.  The rotation may be of particular importance given State’s desire to let its opponents take 3PAs – a hot Damien Leonard, Brian Richardson, or (dare we dream) Brenton Williams could make all the difference.

Of course, we’ll need the guys on the court to similarly buckle down on defense to exploit as much as possible that weakness from Mississippi State.  Given that they’ve only scored over one point per possession in exactly two SEC games all season, keeping a lid on their offense shouldn’t be a major issue on the evening, but the Gamecocks will want to limit it as much as possible to make up for their own offensive deficiencies.

A Word on Lakeem

Lakeem Jackson came to South Carolina from Arden, South Carolina as a top 150 player and a member of Darrin Horn’s second recruiting class.  Four years later, he leaves having been a significant contributor on each of the team’s he played for, with his other three classmates having left Carolina either via graduation (Johndre Jefferson) or transfer.  Steven Spinella went to Monmouth for a year before quitting basketball, and Ramon Galloway is leading the La Salle Explorers to an NCAA tournament bid.

That won’t be in the cards for Lakeem, unfortunately.  He came into the 2010 squad that was hoping to build off its previous season’s SEC East championship but hit immediate issues with the loss of Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes early in the season.  Galloway played significant minutes that year, doing nothing overwhelming offensively but being relatively efficient in most all categories and both avoiding and creating turnovers.  Interestingly, this would be the only year he truly avoided turnovers (his 14.4% rate was 305th for qualifying players nationally).

In 2011, he was about the same player, though he added a few more offensive rebounds to go along with turnovers.  His junior year was a major disappointment as Darrin Horn tried to shoehorn him into a role as a point guard during Bruce’s football absence, something he was entirely ill-suited for, and which led to an inflated turnover rate of 27.4 percent.

In his last year, Frank Martin seemed to find the best in Lakeem – an undersized power forward (or an inside-focused small forward) who can score the ball efficiently (if not frequently) on the offensive end and grab a fair number of rebounds to boot, all while bringing both the ability to create steals and blocks on the defensive end (though in Martin’s system, that ability to swipe the ball wasn’t exploited).  It’ll be interesting to see if he can catch on overseas once he graduates.  All in all, the supporting cast around Lakeem just never seemed to come together – if he were on a team this year that had Bruce around all year with Ramon Galloway, Anthony Gill, and Damontre Harris, I’ll bet we’d have made some noise in the SEC.

But that’s not the world we (or Lakeem) live in.  So instead of the what might have beens, here’s a thank you and best wishes to Lakeem Jackson for four years of effort and hustle.  I’ll hope he enjoyed playing them as much as I enjoyed watching it, and wish him all the best going forward.

Predictions

KenPom: 68-60 W (78%)

Vegas: Gamecocks -8.5

The odds look good that Carolina will get its fourth SEC win of the season and put itself in position to get a winnable SEC tournament game.  Of course, these goals are rather insignificant in the grand scheme – the season is for all intents and purposes over, and the real questions are who will come back for next year and who will be leaving Columbia for greener pastures after the season ends, especially if the Gamecocks land some of the recruits they’re still trying to wrangle.

But that’s all something that can be discussed in 7-10 days, when the season officially ends.  For now, there’s still a game to be played, and a chance to send Lakeem Jackson out of the Colonial Life Arena with a victory.  It’s there for the taking – let’s see if Carolina seizes it.

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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.

6 Responses to Better Know An Opponent: Mississippi State (redux)

  1. Gary says:

    I am really hoping that we can win tonight, for many reasons, but the biggest reason to me is so that Lakeem Jackson can win in his last home game. Lakeem is one of my favorites to ever play at USC. Though I have never personally met him, I have always been impressed by what I have seen of him. He seems like a young man of high character and good disposition. He has been the victim of things at USC that were beyond his control, as were mentioned in the article. The transfers, injuries, and dismissals of some of his teammates in his USC career have prevented the teams he has played on from being more successful. Sad to me, because Lakeem deserves better. He has worked very hard in his career and has gotten back less than he deserved.

    I know that he wants to play professionally in Europe and I hope that can happen for him. Lakeem can be an effective player, if he is playing on a team with good players. If he can get on the right team, he can do well. I hope he can realize his dream. I pray that God will bless him in every way.

  2. Walter says:

    Very classy comment about Lakeem. He’s a great guy who gave all he had and I always enjoyed watching him.

  3. Walter says:

    One other thing, having experienced the McGuire era, I hate loving Gamecock basketball.

    • Gary says:

      I became a USC fan during the McGuire era. I have done a lot of suffering since then, as you have, Walter. Hoping for better days under Frank Martin. I thank God for the win tonight. Good to send Lakeem and Shane out as winners in their last home game.

  4. Pingback: Better Know Mississippi State (yet again) |

  5. Pingback: The Departed |

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