SEC Season Preview: Mississippi State Bulldogs

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 23rd, 2014

The SEC microsite will preview each of the league teams over the next few weeks, starting today with the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

Strengths. Continuity. Okay, continuity may not be Rick Ray’s best friend considering that his Bulldogs have gone just 24-41 since he took over the program two years ago. But players grow through experience, and Ray has a quintet of upperclassmen who have seen plenty of action together during his tenure. Trivante Bloodman, Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Roquez Johnson and Gavin Ware know their roles and what to expect from one another. That kind of consistency is a step in the right direction for a program that has struggled with injuries and dismissals the last two years (although Sword’s recent back injury clouds that idea a bit).

Player 2012-13 2013-14
G Craig Sword (Jr.) 26.7 MPG/29.3 USG% 28.1 MPG/30.0 USG%
G Fred Thomas (Jr.) 28.7 MPG/22.1 USG% 29.9 MPG/17.5 USG%
Trivante Bloodman (Sr.) 29.1 MPG/15.6 USG% 24.7 MPG/15.2 USG%
F Roquez Johnson (Sr.) 26.1 MPG/22.3 USG% 23.7 MPG/22.5 USG%
F Gavin Ware (Jr.) 25.8 MPG/17.6 USG% 26.0 MPG/16.8 USG%

 

Weaknesses. When you don’t expect to win the sheer talent battle on a game-to-game basis, you simply can’t give away free points. The Bulldogs did just that by shooting 66.3 percent from the free throw line as a team last season, good for 288th in the country. Part of the problem was that their lead guards, Sword (62.0%) and Thomas (62.5%) weren’t effective despite getting to the line at a high rate. When paired with a lack of three-point shooting, this resulted in a sub-standard 0.96 points per possession. The injury bug also extended its stay in Starkville by knocking out JuCo forward Johnny Zuppardo for the season. That leaves the Bulldogs entirely dependent on two freshmen (Oliver Black and Demetrius Houston) for frontcourt depth.

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Putting Together the SEC Puzzle, Knockoff Style

Posted by Greg Mitchell on February 22nd, 2014

Seth Davis has the Jigsaw Man, his alter ego that finds unheralded players and plugs them into more high-profile teams with a distinct need. I don’t have a creative nickname for this, but I do have some SEC puzzles to solve and following Davis’ lead sounds like a good idea. Joe Lunardi currently lists Florida, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee in his field of 68. Each team has its holes, so to get creative, I tried to plug them with one player from a conference foe that won’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Saying something like “Missouri can’t score inside, add Julius Randle” is too easy, though, and the knockoff Jigsaw Man likes to challenge himself. Here goes…

Florida gets: Brenton Williams, South Carolina

Billy Donovan could use Brenton Williams free throw prowess at the end of games in March (beachcarolina.com).

Billy Donovan could use Brenton Williams free throw prowess at the end of games in March (beachcarolina.com).

You have to search high and low to find something Florida doesn’t do well. One thing that stands out, however, is the Gators’ relatively poor team free throw shooting percentage (67.6%, ninth in the SEC). Foul shots become trickier in postseason play as the pressure of closing out a game intensifies. Florida doesn’t have anyone other than Michael Frazier and Scottie Wilbekin who Billy Donovan can feel confident about taking those big shots. Those limited options could make inbounding the ball to a reliable shooter at the end of a close game difficult. So why not give the Gators a player who has only missed three foul shots all season? Brenton Williams has not only been the best foul shooter in the SEC (78-of-81, 96.3%) but he is also a senior who fits Florida’s experienced theme. He’s also one of the best three-point shooters in the conference (42.8%) which addresses another area of relative weakness for the Gators. Let Casey Prather inbound the ball at the end of close games, and with Williams, Wilbekin, and Frazier making cuts, he’s sure to find a guy among the trio who can seal a win.

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SEC Weekday Primer: Tennessee, Ole Miss Fight for Conference Position

Posted by Greg Mitchell on January 28th, 2014

Another week in the SEC brings another slate of games that will play a big role in determining whether the conference has more than two bids to the NCAA Tournament. But there’s also a cannibalistic aspect to the upcoming weekday games: Ole Miss and Tennessee play in Knoxville, while Missouri and Arkansas face off in Fayetteville. Each team is in need of a big win, but two are guaranteed to fall further back in their search for a resume-booster.

Jarnell Stokes needs some perimeter help when he faces Ole Miss.

Jarnell Stokes needs some perimeter help when he faces Ole Miss.

Don’t Miss This One, Part IOle Miss @ Tennessee (Wednesday, 8:00 PM ET)

The Rebels face their stiffest conference test to date in Knoxville, but have built up some momentum with a four-game winning streak. Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off a 26.8 percent shooting performance in a loss to Florida. The Gators are an elite defensive team, but there’s no excuse for the Vols to only get five field goals (five!) from players other than Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. Two seniors will need to shake off their recent struggles to provide Tennessee with a spark on the perimeter. Jordan McRae is coming off an understandably-deflating 1-of-15 shooting performance, and Antonio Barton is 3-of-19 from three over the last five games. The Vols do need a spark, because a loss would drop them to 3-4 in league play before they embark on two consecutive road games. The game is equally important for Ole Miss, which has an opportunity to pick up just its second quality win of the year (the other being at home to LSU). The Rebels’ interior defense is a key to this game. Sebastian Saiz (20 percent defensive rebounding percentage) and Aaron Jones (9.9 percent block percentage) will be a big part of the Rebels’ effort to contain Stokes and Maymon. And of course there is Marshall Henderson, who after a recent shouting match with Rick Ray, could be on the verge of something Deadspin-worthy.

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Three Takeaways from SEC Play: Two Elite Rebounders and Watch For Rod Odom

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 10th, 2014

Sometimes things go as planned (see Florida’s win over South Carolina), and sometimes they don’t (see Georgia upsetting ranked Missouri), but that’s the element that makes college basketball so intriguing. The SEC’s slate of games certainly brought some unpredictability this week, but also shed some light on things to come in the conference race. The SEC season is only one game old, but it’s never too early to speculate on trends that could affect the end result. Here are our three first-week takeaways that could ultimately impact the final SEC standings.

Mark Fox gets an emotional win to break Missouri's 26 game home winning streak. (AP photo)

Mark Fox gets an emotional win to break Missouri’s 26-game home winning streak. (AP photo)

1. Mark Fox and Georgia got an emotional overtime win over Missouri in large part because of a dominant effort on the boards. I was more than prepared to write a 2,000-word essay on the tremendous play of Nemanja Djurisic, but try as I might to shift the narrative to the hot shooting of the Bulldogs’ junior forward, the more pressing and lingering issue from this game was Missouri’s rebounding deficiency. The Tigers were outboarded on both ends, but if Frank Haith’s squad is going to settle on outside jumpers by its trio of heavy usage guards then they will need a better performance on the offensive glass from freshman Johnathan Williams. Missouri is more than a little thin in the frontcourt, so it will have to rely on the 6’9″ rookie to do better than his season low of two rebounds against the Bulldogs. Missouri simply can’t afford for him to pull a no-show on the glass. The good news is that Williams is more than capable of shouldering the load, considering that he is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country. Just how good is he? He’s one of only a handful of freshman  in the last seven years with an offensive rebounding percentage over 15 percent. And he’s in some pretty good company, as the table below exhibits.

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SEC M5: 12.13.13 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell (@gregpmitchell) on December 13th, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. The disaster light was flashing for Arkansas at halftime against Savannah State, as the Razorbacks only led the low-major by two points. But a 27-point edge in the second half led to an easy win in what was the only SEC game last night. Leading scorer Michael Qualls was suspended for the first half for being late to practice, and Rashad Madden picked him up by scoring a career high 21 points. Alandise Harris has cooled off after a hot scoring start, and it could be that freshman Moses Kingsley (seven rebounds in just 13 minutes) gradually gets some of Harris’ minutes. Also, only 5,654 people showed up at Bud Walton Arena for the game. There are a number of reasonable explanations for this: bad weather, final exams, lackluster opponent, and so on. But if Anderson doesn’t make strides this season with his team’s product on the court, the dwindling attendance figures are another mark against him.
  2. Is Big Blue Nation losing interest in the Wildcats? Kentucky.com‘s John Clay reports that attendance has been dropping at Rupp Arena since 2009. However, the incremental drop is from an average of 23,868 through the first seven games in 2009 (John Calipari’s first season) to 21,799 in that same span this season. Clay writes that, “all numbers are relative. UK still draws more fanatics for an intrasquad basketball scrimmage than most schools seat for an actual game. And across the country, low college sports attendance has turned viral.” In my view, when attendance is still over 20,000, any drop is a small pittance and especially so in a difficult economy. Scores of NBA teams would salivate at the thought of having that many fans in the seats each night. And to answer the (sarcastic) question that began this paragraph, no, Big Blue Nation likes its team just fine.
  3. Billy Donovan‘s 1-3-1 zone defense was humming against Kansas on Tuesday night, so much so that ESPN.com‘s Myron Medcalf thinks Florida’s first half performance was one of the most dominant ever against the Jayhawks. He writes, “there were 16 — yes, 16 — Kansas turnovers in the first half thanks to Florida’s frustrating 1-3-1 zone. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas committed turnovers on nine of its 18 possessions and went 4-for-15 from the field against the 1-3-1.” What makes this Florida team so potent in the zone would seem to be the length it can put at the top with Casey Prather or Dorian Finney-Smith, the experience of Will Yeguete and Patric Young in the middle, and the ball-hawking skills of Scottie Willbekin at the bottom. The hubbub over the new hand-check rule seems to have died down, but they are still in place. That makes Donovan’s zone that much more effective.
  4. The SEC has two players in this week’s CBSSports‘ National Player of the Year Watch. Kentucky’s Julius Randle occupies the fifth spot in the rankings, and Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson checks in at number nine. Randle logged four assists each against Providence and Baylor, and this will be an interesting part of his development to watch. The double teams and zone defenses focused on him will obviously come all season, so Randle needs to find ways to make opponents pay for their decisions. Clarkson saw better competition last week with games against West Virginia and UCLA, but his scoring figures didn’t suffer. The former Tulsa guard is currently the SEC’s leading scorer, and he could end up having the most impact of any conference transfer by season’s end.
  5. What’s on tap: A litmus test for Mississippi State, kind of. The Bulldogs mark the fourth SEC team Southeastern Louisiana (the school where Billy Kennedy first made his name as a head coach) will play this season. The Lions have been bludgeoned by Missouri (35 points), LSU (23 points) and Arkansas (46 points). Can Rick Ray’s team follow suit? After two narrow wins against smaller conference schools and a loss at TCU, any sort of win will be enough. The match-up could present an opportunity for Gavin Ware to rebound from a recent string of bad games. Due to foul trouble and double teams, the sophomore forward has scored only 13 points in his last three games, but Southeastern Louisiana gave up relatively big scoring nights to Bobby Portis, Coty Clarke, Jordan Mickey and Johnny O’Bryant on the interior.
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SEC M5: 11.21.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 21st, 2013

SEC_morning5

  1. Auburn will be without one of their key forwards for the time being. JUCO transfer Chris Griffin has to leave the team to attend to a family matter. While we all hope everything ends up being okay in his personal life, there is no doubt Auburn will miss Griffin. He was coming off a 17-point effort against Northwestern State, and presents an inside-outside presence that the Tigers really need. This is an Auburn team that already has shown they cannot defend and they will likely struggle to score a little as well. Griffin will be replaced for now by walk-on Alex Thompson. Thompson gives the Tigers a little size at 6’8″, but his scoring ability is limited. He will have to contribute on the boards and defense to make an impact. Anyone on Auburn willing to defend at this point is an automatic upgrade.
  2. Johnny Jones was not happy with his team’s effort on Tuesday night, despite the fact that they won 81-54. Jones felt the team wasn’t consistent in their shot selection and generally played poorly on offense, including going seven minutes without a field goal at one point. He has a point, LSU has already had a couple games this season where they went long stretches without a field goal. That is hard to watch and not wonder what happens when the level of competition is raised as the team makes a run at a NCAA bid. However, Jones should keep in mind he has a dominant rebounding team, and is currently missing one of his best players. Once Jarell Martin is back, the Tigers offense will have another weapon, and it is doubtful they go through many dry spells.
  3. Look up on the map to Kentucky and surprise surprise, you will find another coach not happy with his team. John Calipari is a master at finding even the smallest thing to criticize about his teams. Right now, he isn’t happy with the way his team is rebounding, and it all relates back to effort. Kentucky is far too big to lose rebounds to inferior competition, so its hard to blame Calipari. As with every minor detail he sets out to correct, Calipari understands that he has the most talented team. That is the case nearly every season. What trips his team’s up tends to be because they take stretches of the game off. The Anthony Davis team was so successful because they combined their immense talent with effort. Same thing with the DeMarcus Cousins team, and effort will be what sets this Kentucky team apart and allows their talent to dominate.
  4. Here is a name to keep an eye on as the season moves along: Mississippi State big man Gavin Ware. He dropped 23 points and 11 rebounds on Mississippi Valley State, and is averaging 15 points and 12 rebounds a game so far this season. The reason Ware took such a big step this year? He has dropped his late night visits to Waffle House and replaced them with early morning exercise. Now Ware is in shape and the Bulldogs can run their offense though him, which is exactly what Rick Ray wants. His ability to score in the post will draw double teams to open up the three point line for the Mississippi State guards, and also give slashing teammates easy layups at the basket. Don’t be surprised when he is giving your favorite team’s big man trouble in conference play.
  5. There really isn’t much basketball related to say about this story, but it is too cool to not pass along. Missouri will host a Make-a-Wish kid during their basketball game this Saturday. This young woman was a former basketball player who was diagnosed with cancer which was discovered after she broke her leg. Now she wants to study Radiology and Medical Imaging. Go read her whole story, it is really amazing, and puts the typical early season coaches complaints into their proper perspective.
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Can Nerlens Noel Still Win SEC FrOY? A Look at the League’s Race

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on February 21st, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC Microsite contributor and an editor at Anchor of Gold and Nashville Sports Hub. You can reach him on Twitter @TrainIsland. You can find past editions of the SEC Freshman Watch here (East) and here (West).

Handicapping the SEC’s Freshman of the Year race didn’t take much effort back on February 10. Nerlens Noel was fresh off of his third straight double-double and was the anchor behind Kentucky’s rise from the NCAA Tournament bubble to the Top 25. In 10 SEC games, he had averaged 10.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 5.7 blocks per game to lead the Wildcats to an 8-2 conference record. More than halfway through the season, the award was his to lose. Through no fault of his own, he may have.

Can Noel Still Win SEC FrOY Despite His Injury?

Can Noel Still Win SEC FrOY Despite His Injury?

Noel tore the ACL of his left knee in the middle of a loss to Florida last week, ending his season and possibly his SEC career. His absence has left a big hole around the rim for Kentucky and created a void at the top of the league’s freshman pecking order. With Noel out for the final four weeks of conference play, the Freshman of the Year (FrOY) award is seemingly up for grabs. However, a lackluster crop of first-year players means that UK’s injured center might still be the league’s best bet to win the honors.

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Resetting The SEC Race: A Look At The Seven “West” Teams

Posted by Christian D'Andrea on January 9th, 2013

Christian D’Andrea is a SEC microsite contributor and an editor at Nashville Sports Hub. You can find him on Twitter @TrainIsland.

Conference play began for Alabama and Missouri last night, and soon after the rest of the SEC will fall in line. The SEC East has carried the conference banner over the first third of the NCAA basketball season, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t “West” schools that will be vying for postseason bids when March rolls around. The state of the former division has been muddled by a throng of underwhelming non-conference schedules, but it’s almost a lock that at least one of these teams will surprise their opponents en route to a NCAA Tournament berth. Ole Miss, LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M have all gotten out to hot starts in 2012-13. Can they sustain them?

Let’s take a closer look at each program in what was once known as the SEC West:

Texas A&M – The Aggies Are Headed Into Their First Season of SEC Play, But a Weak Non-Conference Schedule May Have Masked Their Flaws.

  • The good: Texas A&M will enter the SEC with a 10-3 record thanks to head coach Billy Kennedy’s deliberately-paced play-calling. This team has used spacing, shooting, and patience to create open looks and bring inferior opponents down to their level. Senior Elston Turner Jr. has benefited the most from the Aggies’ new style of play, leading the team with 15.5 points per game thanks to a stellar performance from behind the arc.Kennedy’s preference is to grind down opponents, and it’s worked for TAMU so far. Only four opponents have cracked the 60-point barrier on the Aggies this season, and much of that success comes from a team defense that is helping to hold opponents under 40 percent shooting from the field. However, it’s a big question mark as to whether or not these trends can continue when the team’s schedule dives into more hostile waters during SEC play.
  • Elston Turner Jr. has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

    Elston Turner Jr. (31) has one of the smoothest strokes in the game (AP)

  • The bad: A&M has played a cupcake schedule so far, and its three losses have come with varying degrees of disappointment. Their only win over a team ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 came in a 55-54 squeaker over Washington State, and that has been tempered by losses to Saint Louis, Oklahoma, and Southern.They’ll have to shape up quickly if they want to stay afloat in the SEC. They’ll open with Arkansas before traveling to Kentucky and then hosting Florida in their first three games. These showdowns will give the Aggies a chance to prove themselves, but it could also give this team a big hole to climb out of just two weeks into conference play.
  • Player to watch: Elston Turner Jr. The Washington transfer has one of the smoothest shooting strokes in the game, and he’ll carry on a tradition of behind-the-arc dominance that SEC gunners John Jenkins and Rotnei Clarke have left behind in recent years. He’s become a more complete player in his second year at A&M, and he’ll be driven to make his transfer a prudent choice by leading his team to the postseason.
  • Can it last? No. The Aggies have played just two teams from power conferences, beating a mediocre Washington State team and losing by double-digits to a better but still underwhelming Oklahoma squad. They’ve proven that they’d be able to burn through the Sun Belt, but haven’t shown enough through an easy non-conference schedule to prove that they can hack it in their first year of SEC play. Billy Kennedy’s team will have some success in league games, but their current pace looks unsustainable.

Ole Miss – The Rebels Are Scoring and Have the Best Record in the SEC at 11-2, But Who Have They Played?

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Rushed Reactions, Maui Style: #11 UNC 95, Mississippi State 49

Posted by rtmsf on November 19th, 2012

rushedreactions

Some quick thoughts from today’s Maui Invitational quarterfinal game between UNC and Mississippi State…

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. The UNC Guards Are Big, Deep and Talented. This is a completely different type of North Carolina team from the last couple of seasons, and frankly, given a Roy Williams’ system that looks to get into transition at every available opportunity, it may work a little better. With all the size along the Tar Heel front line last year, it sometimes felt like the Heels got bogged down in the half court, but this year’s group doesn’t seem to have that same problem. At least not today, when a Mississippi State defense gave them every opening they wanted — to the tune of 15 threes (the fourth most in school history) and 21 assists — Roy Williams found a reason to be upset with his defense in the postgame (UNC held MSU to 27% shooting), but the fortunes of his team are going to ride on PJ Hairston, Leslie McDonald, Reggie Bullock, and Dexter Strickland (combined for 65 points today).
  2. Carolina’s Young Size is Raw But Promising. It won’t show up on the stat sheet as very impressive, but the trio of Joel James, Brice Johnson, Desmond Hubert and JP Tokoto is a collection of raw talent whose size, springiness and hustle are going to win Carolina some games this season. The seven-foot James is somewhat reminiscent of a young Brendan Haywood, while the beauty of the others is that they aren’t expected to score in favor of hustling and protecting the rim. Williams’ teams are at their best with featured guard and wing play, so this team’s interior corps, already seeming to already understand its role in the scheme, will serve the Heels well going into the heart of the season.
  3. Mississippi State Has a Long Way to Get Back to Respectability. Rick Ray seemed rather disappointed after this game, and why wouldn’t he be? The realization that his team is roughly 40 to 50 points worse than a top 10 opponent is humbling to say the least. His group of inexperienced players were clearly shaken by the match-up at the opening tip, finding themselves down 9-0, 29-6, and 40-15 at various parts of the first half. They were never able to figure out how to find a good shot in the UNC defensive creases, and turnovers (21) were a major problem. The one bright spot was the hustle and play of Gavin Ware off the bench — he contributed eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks against a much bigger front line.

Star of the Game. PJ Hairston, North Carolina. Hairston had the shot of the game (not the week, thanks to Rotnei Clarke) when his 60-footer at the buzzer of the first half found net. But his all-around game set the pace for the Tar Heels with 18 points (on 7-11 shooting), four rebounds, and three blocks this afternoon.

Quotable. We asked Roy Williams what he thought about Maryland leaving the ACC for the Big Ten, and this was his response:

  • “Stunned, shocked… Didn’t see it coming… Strange what’s going on with college athletics… Hate to see them go, but if they don’t want to be there… [hand motion waving goodbye].”

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Winners and Losers from the July Recruiting Period

Posted by nvr1983 on August 19th, 2011

Every July, college basketball fans obsess over the July recruiting period where summer AAU legends are made and scholarships are won or lost. While most of the buzz this summer was over the superstars (particularly Shabazz Muhammad and class of 2013 recruit Nerlens Noel), the more interesting action was happening further down the ranking list. While ESPN’s decision to move Muhammad above Andre Drummond in their new rankings is interesting at some level, in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t mean much. For the purposes of recruiting and scholarship offers, it is the guys that won’t be getting headlines on the front of ESPN.com or trending on Twitter who are more useful to look at. To that end, we took a look at the pre- and post-July recruiting rankings for the class of 2012 from ESPN.com and Scout.com to see which players were climbing up the ranking list and which ones were plummeting.

Shabazz and Drummond May Have Dominated the Headlines, But We Aren't as Interested in Them

To do this, we looked at where certain players were ranked before the July recruiting period and where they were ranked afterwards. The obvious caveat here is that rankings are subjective and some fans have accused scouts of a form of confirmation bias where they tend to rank players higher if they are recruited by certain schools (particularly Duke in basketball and Notre Dame in football) than if they were  being recruited by similarly powerful programs, but not the de facto face of the sport. Still, it seems reasonable to think that two independent scouts ranking players would be fairly reliable (assuming Dave Telep and Evan Daniels aren’t cheating off each other).

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