Wednesday, February 3, 2010

VSL Gets You Ready: Vanderbilt Hosts Mississippi State

Tonight's game against the Bulldogs is a huge one for both teams (why Andy Katz's Weekly Watch has Nashville as one of the places to be this week). Heading into the game, Rick Stansbury (who's father founded the university Jessie Spano desperately wanted to attend) and his Mississippi State team are 16-5 and 4-2 in conference, good enough to lead the SEC West. A loss in Nashville will drop them to 4-3 and into at least a two-way tie with Ole Miss (and potentially Arkansas if they beat Georgia), while a win would give them a quality road win, put them just a game back of Kentucky, and allow State to make a compelling case as the second best team in the conference.

For Vanderbilt, 16-4 overall and 5-1 in conference, this game also has huge ramifications. After beating Tennessee in Knoxville, the Commodores didn't look sharp Saturday at Rupp (although in fairness, I don't think anyone beats Kentucky when they hit 10 3's at home). The pundits have doubted Vanderbilt since they lost in Maui back in November, but after racking up 10 straight including the win at Thompson-Bolling, the national media finally started paying attention to the Commodores. The street cred Kevin Stallings and the guys have built up would take a serious hit if Vanderbilt were to lose back-to-back games. Based on ESPN's Bubble Watch, they think a win tonight would probably been enough for the Commodores to punch their ticket. Given their hot start, expectations in VSLNation are extremely high (Stanimal and I actually said finishing the year 11-5 would be somewhat disappointing). With that said, the Commodores still need to take care of business. A huge part of that is winning all the games at Memorial.

Which brings us to the matter at hand: Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have lost 2 of their last 3 (@Bama and @Arkansas), but righted the ship against the lowly LSU Tigers on Saturday 67-51 at The Hump. As the Mississippi State Game Notes highlight, the Bulldogs have struggled from downtown in their last 7 games, making just 28.4% of their attempts, which is considerably worse than the 42% they shot from 3 in their previous 7.

The most well-known player for the Bulldogs is 6'9 senior Jarvis Varnado, who is averaging 13.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, and an astonishing 4.8 blocks a game. While certainly the Commodores would like to get Varnado in foul trouble, that's much easier said than done. In 22 games, Vardado has only fouled out in 1 game (a game where he played 37 minutes), and gotten 4 in just 4 other contests. With that said, Mississippi State is just 2-3 when Varnado gets whistled for 4 or more fouls. Also of note, at least in conference play, is the Bulldogs are just 1-2 in conference play when Varnado scores less than 10 points.

Besides Varnado, the player the Commodores have to be worried about is sophomore guard Dee Bost, who enters the game averaging 13.3 points and 5.33 assists in conference play (11.4 ppg and 3.28 apg overall). Bost is 6'2, 170 and will almost definitely be guarded by Dolla Beal. Bost has not shot the ball well from downtown in conference play (connecting on just 17% of his 23 attempts), but is an effective slasher, getting to the line more than any teammate since the SEC schedule opened (41 attempts). Historically, Vanderbilt's defense has struggled with such guards, and will have to key in on Bost.

Rounding out the Mississippi State line-up are 2 juniors and a senior. Senior guard Barry Stewart is 6'3 and will likely draw the attention of Brad Tinsley. Stewart is averaging 11.5 points and 2.2 boards in just under 34 minutes during conference play. Ravern Johnson, a 6'7 junior who is the team's overall scoring leader with 14 points a game, has fallen off slightly since league play began, averaging 12.8. Finally, junior forward Kodi Augustus is 6'8, and pouring in 8.2 points and 7 rebounds in 23 minutes in SEC play.

Vanderbilt certainly has a depth advantage over the Bulldogs (and almost every other team in the conference, and perhaps the country), who only have 8 players averaging double figure minutes. 3 starters play over 33 minutes a game, and the bench accounts for only 21.3% of their scoring. In 21 games, the Bulldog bench has outscored the opponents bench just 11 times.

Here are some numbers to keep in mind:
75. Mississippi State is 9-0 when scoring 75 points or more, while just 7-5 when scoring less than that
-2. The Bulldogs have a -2 average turnover difference between them and their opponents. That, coupled with a lack of depth, an effective 3/4 court press for Vanderbilt, and a very hostile gym could yield many opportunities for Vanderbilt.
#1. Rick Stansbury's squad is so ranked in scoring defense, opponents field goal percentage, and blocks in the conference. Even more impressive, Mississippi State is 2nd in America in blocked shots, and 3rd in defensive field goal percentage. They are 2nd in offensive rebounds.
67. That's the average number of points Bulldogs opponents are scoring when defeating Mississippi State this season. That number drops to 59.2 in their wins. Vanderbilt has failed to score 67 points or more just once this season (they beat Alabama 65-64 in Tuscaloosa)
12.3% and 15%. That's the difference in Mississippi State's field goal and 3pt field goal percentages when they win and lose. The Bulldogs are shooting 47% from the floor and 41.1% from downtown when they win, and just 34% and 26.1% when they lose.
45%. Mississippi State is 0-2 when opponents shoot 45% or better. Vanderbilt is shooting 49.7% from the field, and onyl shot worse than 45% 6 times.
14,168. That's capacity at Memorial. Thus far in conference play, the largest crowd the Bulldogs have played in front of is 12,803 at Arkansas, a game they lost. The fans in Memorial certainly have the potential to be a highly effective 6th man.

What I'd Like to See

- Jeffrey Taylor and A.J. Ogilvy come out of the gate strong. While the desired result is the same, the rationale is different. For Taylor, it's purely a confidence thing. I have to imagine he got ripped a rather large A-hole after his blown dunk on Saturday that would have cut the Wildcat lead to 10 heading into the under 4 time-out. For A.J., this urge is two-fold: first, the more effective he is, the more likely the Commodores are to get Varnado into foul trouble; second, Vanderbilt's offense is best when Ogilvy is able to score points inside, force a collapse, and kick out for 3's. Unfortunately, A.J. hasn't been a factor in the first half of a game in quite some time. Since I gave our crack research staff the night off, I can't verify (or even look it up), but I would be willing to bet that he is averaging 75% of his points in the second half. Certainly Commodore fans like his production down the stretch. With that said, the Commodores wouldn't find themselves in so many nail-biters if A.J. established himself sooner

- Better rebounding out of the zone. Vanderbilt's 2-3 zone has been very effective. The problem is, the team's rebounding effort out of the zone is god-awful. That reality, coupled with Mississippi State being the second best offensive rebounding team in the SEC does not bode well. Still, if Vanderbilt is going to reach it's full potential, they will need to do a better job at limiting second chance points.

I'll be there tomorrow and we'll either have a live-blog or an open-thread for VSLNation to weigh in during the game. For those of you unwilling to join the Twitter revolution, you can follow VSLNation's tweets on the right right of the page. Today's also a big day for the football team, so be sure and check back all day for updates as word trickles in about which players signed national letters of intent with the Commodores.


Douglas James said...

So I just spent approiximately 20 mins trying to figure out the Save the Bell reference you speak of. According to Wikipedia Jessie wanted to go to Stanford (ended up at Columbia). Your joking w/ Stansbury's connection right? God I need to find more productive uses of my time.

Anything but Gatorade said...

I'm afraid this is one of those games where A.J. gets punked, as Varnado will more than likely erase him on the offensive end. I think this game, more than any other, is one that Vandy will have to win from the perimeter. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Stanimal said...

Admittedly, this game scares the crap out of me. Varnado is extremely good in the post, and they have a solid all-around lineup. Even though that's the case, we SHOULD win this game, especially considering we're playing at Memorial. This game will go a long way towards determining what we are in the long run. Are we a 5 seed or below, or are we up in the teens?

Stanimal said...

One final point: I think this is a game where we have to show our diversity of weapons. I don't think A.J., Fez, and Steve T. will get shut out, but I think this may be a game where Jeff and the backcourt have to carry the weight. I am confident, however, that they can do this. Dolla has really answered the bell in my opinion, and I have a good feeling that Jeff is going to step his game up a notch tonight. Couple that with some big threes from Jenkins and Tinsley and I think we'll be just fine for this game.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia is wrong - during the college fair episode, Zack had the guy from the Max dress up like his father for a parent-teacher conference and as a guy from Stansbury (obviously referring to Stanford, but they probably couldnt use the exact name). When acting like the Stansbury guy, the guy from the Max affected a ridiculous accent and acted snotty.

Here's to not looking past this game and getting a convincing win tonight!

Anonymous said...

In AJ's previous meetings against Varnado he has not been shut down. I don't expect him to be shut down at home tonight.

Bobby O'Shea said...

If I remember correctly, the admissions counselor from Stansbury was a woman who was snooty and refused to give Jessie Spano the time of day. She did, on the other hand, want to speak with Zack because of his 1502 SAT score. To help Jessie, the gang convinced the waiter from the Max (although not Max himself) to impersonate an admissions counselor from Harvard who was dismissive of the phone that Stansbury could be considered the "Harvard of the West"

Anonymous said...

Bobby is correct here.