Pac-12 Game of the Week: Arizona vs. Mississippi StatePosted by AMurawa on November 18th, 2011
Each week around these parts we’re going to pick one big game involving a Pac-12 team and provide a preview of the game. Last week we took a look at Oregon traveling to Vanderbilt, today we’ll look at a real dog vs. cat matchup as Arizona faces Mississippi State in the final of the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament this evening in New York City.
The Bulldogs (3-1) got to this championship game by racing out to a big 22-point lead in the first ten minutes of Thursday night’s semifinal game against Texas A&M, then hanging on from there to post a nine-point win. MSU hit five three-pointers during the opening ten minutes and made 11 of their first 15 shots from the field, then cooled off considerably, hitting just one of seven three-point attempts in the final 30 minutes of the game and only 28.2% of their field goals over that span. Of those two extremes of shooting, the final 30 minutes probably more accurately reflects MSU’s shooting ability, as the best three-point bombers from last year’s MSU club have graduated. Senior point guard Dee Bost is the Bulldogs’ most important player, team leader and leading scorer (18 PPG), but the real strength of the team lies along their frontline with 6’11” center Arnett Moultrie, much-maligned and underachieving 6’10” power forward Renardo Sidney, and 6’9” reserve big man Wendell Lewis. The Wildcats will need their veteran forwards Jesse Perry and Solomon Hill, along with freshmen bigs Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol, to put in a full night’s work on the glass to keep Arizona in touch.
While the Wildcats are off to a 4-0 start, they’ve yet to really gel. They needed a big 23-6 in the final seven minutes of their semifinal game with St. John’s to advance, and they’ve struggled to not only replace last year’s two leading scorers, but to fold four freshmen into the mix. Offensively, the Wildcats have been decent, with multiple players chipping in on a nightly basis to provide balanced scoring, but things still remain unsettled. Five players (Kyle Fogg, Hill, Perry, Nick Johnson and Jordin Mayes) have averaged double figure scoring thus far, but this team is still a work in progress, albeit with much upside. Junior wing Kevin Parrom just returned from a gunshot wound suffered in September and has yet to get back to 100%; freshman point guard Josiah Turner is getting slightly more comfortable game by game, but he is still too wild to be completely trusted; and the freshman frontcourt duo of Johnson and Chol has shown some serious flashes but not yet the ability to produce on a consistent basis.
Ultimately, both teams playing tonight will improve as the season progresses. While Arizona needs to get their freshmen comfortable and perhaps find a go-to offensive player, the Bulldogs also have their own freshmen to groom, with wing Rodney Hood already a fixture in the MSU starting lineup and guard Deville Smith becoming an important factor off the bench. Likewise, this is Moultrie’s first season as an eligible Bulldog (he sat out last year after transferring from UTEP) and he’s still finding his footing under head coach Rick Stansbury. He’s a versatile big man with an NBA paycheck in his future, and he has the ability to give the Wildcats’ front line trouble either on the glass or by stepping away from the basket to knock down jumpers. UA will not only have to check the MSU bigs, but they’ll need somebody to slow down Bost, the engine that makes the Bulldog offense tick. Sean Miller can throw any number of different guys at him (Fogg might get first crack, though Mayes, Turner or Nick Johnson could get face time with the MSU point guard as well), and if the Wildcats can keep Bost out of the paint, they should have just enough to come back from NYC with a 5-0 record.