Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mississippi State Preview

Vanderbilt’s trip to Starkville tonight is not one the Commies or their fans should take lightly. Mississippi State is 15-10 overall, and 6-6 in conference. While that record is not overall impressive, consider that Mississippi State is 4-1 in the month of February, and could easily be 5-0 had it not been for a last second bucket by Alabama to lift them over the Bulldogs 80-79 in Tuscaloosa. Furthermore, the Bulldogs have lost 6 games this season by 4 points or less. Winners of 3 straight, Mississippi State is currently tied for 1st place in the atrocious SEC West, and not a team that can be taken lightly. Coach Rick Stansbury’s team is 0-4 against the SEC East this season, and have already lost to Florida and South Carolina at home by a combined 6 points. The Bulldogs are 0-3 against ranked opponents and have lost their last 13 against top-25 competition. With all that said, they have won 5 of their last 7 against the Commies overall, and beaten the Dores the last 6 times they have played in Starkville.

Stansbury’s squad is led by sophomore guard and Nashville native, Jamont Gordon. Gordon has played himself into the running for All-SEC consideration by being ranking among the leagues top-15 leaders in eight statistical categories including scoring, rebounding, and assists. In league play, Gordon is averaging 18.3 points in league play, and has a turnover to assist ratio of 2.43:1 in his last 8 games. The Bulldogs offense goes through Gordon, and it will be imperative for the Commies to know where he is all night long. Red will probably start out the game on Jamont Gordon, but don’t be surprised if Stallings doesn’t try and force turnovers and contain the Nashville native by going to the 1-2-2 trapping zone early and often.

Junior forward Charlie Rhodes is averaging 12.9 points and 6.0 rebounds a game this season, with Shellbyville, TN freshman Barry Stewart coming off the bench adding almost 11 points a contest. Stewart’s efficacy speaks to one of Mississippi State’s greatest weapons: their bench. The Bulldogs bench have matched or outscored their opponents’ bench in every SEC game but one this season, owning a 315-185 bench point advantage against the rest of the SEC. While this might be a pretty young team with only 2 upperclassmen getting any serious playing time, they are also a deep team.

For Vanderbilt, it is important to keep the momentum going. The Commies are now in sole possession of second place in the East, but because LSU can’t close, Kentucky is now only a half-game back after winning last night. Georgia is also just a game back, with a tough game tonight at Ole Miss (a team who hasn’t lost at home in conference play all season). If Vanderbilt can win tonight, it would put them 1 game up on the Wildcats with 3 to play, including a head-to-head with Tubby and the boys on Sunday. A win tonight, coupled with a win on Sunday would all but clinch second place in the East and a first round bye in the SEC Tournament.

Derrick Byars’ meteoric rise as one of the top players in the SEC (and dare I say country?!?) has earned him much run across the college basketball world. Dicky V loves him (ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!), and both Clark Kellogg and Andy Katz have tabbed Byars as the possible SEC Player of the Year. In my completely biased opinion, I think Byars HAS TO win this award. Vanderbilt is a good team, but he has literally put this team on his shoulders throughout the season (but particularly in SEC play). There is a compelling case for Lofton because of how much his team relies on him, but for my money, Vanderbilt is not where it is today without Byars.

Across the board, Vanderbilt creates match-up problems for Mississippi State. Their only player above 6-8 is the 6-8 center Charles Rhodes, who will match up against Ross. Dan Cage (6-5), Derrick Byars (6-7), Shan Foster (6-6) are all taller than everyone else in Mississippi State’s starting 5. Vanderbilt should (are you writing this down Kevin?) try and establish some kind of inside game early, attack the basket, and crash the boards trying to set up fast break opportunities. Vanderbilt has the added benefit of also being a relatively deep team. This is a game where everyone can have an impact. Metcalf and Skuchas create (gulp!) match-up problems for the Bulldogs, as do JeJuan Brown and George Drake with their size and athleticism. Finally, I would not be surprised to be Jermaine Beal get some in some run (yes, I mean play Basketball). At 6-3, Jermaine has the size to contain Jamont Gordon and would allow Stallings to constantly have fresh legs in against the Nashville sophomore.

Commie Keys:
  • Owning the Glass:
    Mississippi State is undersized, but they are still second in the league in rebounding (36.3). If Vanderbilt can expose the Bulldogs’ lack of size, there is no reason for they shouldn’t to control the glass on both ends.

  • The Extra Pass:
    Mississippi State is 1st in the league in opponents FG% (42.3%) and 2nd in opponents 3-point FG% (34.5%). For Vanderbilt, find the open man and creating open looks will be important

  • Up-tempo D:
    Vanderbilt needs to force Mississippi State into turning the ball over. The key in Vanderbilt’s comeback against Florida was when they were able to take care of the ball, while at the same time forcing Florida to cough it up.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

MSU favored by 6 1/2