Thursday, January 27, 2011

VSL Gets You Ready: Vanderbilt Travels to Starkville to take on Mississippi State

This game scares me. A lot. Don't let Mississippi State's record, 10-8 overall, 2-2 in the SEC, fool you - this team has talent
(although as our friends at Anchor of Gold point out, quite correctly, "talent doesn't mean much without cohesion). They've also got some "issues." Still, Coach Stallings has never won in Starkville, and historically, the Bulldogs of Mississippi State have been a difficult match-up for the Commodores.

Scouting Mississippi State

Rick Stansbury's team has played 4 teams the Commodores have also faced. The Commodores record against these teams is 4-0, MSU's record is 2-2, with the Bulldogs beating Appalachian State 76-74 (VU won 86-73), and topping Ole Miss 69-64 (VU won 84-74). Stansbury's squad's 2 losses to common opponents were not competitive, losing to St. Mary's by 24, and losing in Athens by 22.It is worth mentioning that Mississippi State is now back to "full strength," with all their key players back from suspensions related either to punching teammates in the head while sitting in the stands, or academics.

Mississippi State's Backcourt

Stansbury plays a 3 guard set. Dee Bost, the 6'2 junior, started his first 72 career games at State before being forced to sit the first 14 this season by to NCAA and academic suspension, is the engine that runs the Bulldogs offense. Bost, averaging 17 points and 6.5 assists in 33 minutes a game since returning for the start of SEC play, is a dynamic offensive weapon. Bost made the Coaches preseason All-SEC squad, and was named Player of the Week after leading his team to victories over Ole Miss and Auburn. The Commodores were able to contain Bost in the teams' 2 meeting last season, in part because it was Jermaine Beal guarding him. I worry Bost is too quick for Tinsley on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court. In 4 games, Bost already has 12 steals. He hasn't found his touch from 3 yet this season, but as a career 34% shooter from downtown, he's not someone you can leave open from beyond the arc. I won't surprised to see Kyle Fuller get some quality minutes against Bost and State should be take advantage of the slower Tinsely.

The Bulldogs next offensive weapon is Ravern Johnston, a 6'7 senior averaging 18.2 points in 35.9 minutes a game this season. Johnston has reached double-digits in all put 3 games season, including a 32 point performance against Tennessee State, and a 33 point outpouring against Troy. Johnson was kept largely in check last season, netting just 2 points in each contest. However, with the departure of Barry Stewart, Johnston is more of a focal point on the offensive end. More than half of Johnston's field goal attempts have come from behind the arc, where he is shooting 36% this season. Jeffery Taylor is likely to draw Johnston as his defensive assignment. What stands out to me is Taylor's 50 pound size advantage over Johnston. Johnston is not a great rebounded, netting just 3.8 boards a contest, and only an average defender. I'm looking for JT to take advantage of the weaker Johnston as much as possible.

Mississippi State's 3rd guard is 6'4 senior Riley Benock. This is Benock's first year starting. Averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, and just over 2 assists a game in 32.8 minutes of action, Benock is not a guy you fear. But he can hurt you if you're not careful. Benock is shooting 45% from downtown this season, and has attempted all but 18 of his 95 field goals from behind the arc. Benock is likely to draw Jenkins' attention early, and BT if CKS opts to play Fuller and Brad at the same time. If Benock is assigned to Jenkins on defense, I look for Johnny to take advantage.

Mississippi's Frontcourt

Both Bulldog forwards can give the Commodores fits. We'll start with the tempestuous Renardo Sidney. The 6'10 sophomore missed all of last season, and the first 9 games of this season NCAA suspension. Sidney then missed 2 games in late December for conduct detrimental to the team (apparently fighting with a teammate in the stands is frowned upon). Hoping to play his 5th consecutive game in college against the Commodores, Sidney is showing he can be an impact player. Averaging 14.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 26.8 minutes, Renardo has reached double-digits in all but 1 game. Sidney has 20 turnovers in 6 games, and has fouled out of 2 (committing 4 in another). Sidney's best game as a bulldog was his performance against Ole Miss, where he poured in 24 points and grabbed 5 rebounds while only committing 3 fouls in 36 minutes. Festus vs. Renardo will be illustrative of how far Ezeli has come. Festus has an inch, but Renardo has a 20 pounds advantage over Vanderbilt's man in the middle. Both struggle with staying out of foul trouble, and whichever team can keep their big-man on the floor is likely to have a distinct advantage. Mississippi State doesn't have the size that Vanderbilt does, so getting Sidney into foul trouble will open up the middle for the Commodores.

Kodi Augustus, the 6'8 senior, is the final piece of Mississippi State's starting 5. Averaging 12.1 points and 8.3 rebounds in 30.5 minutes a game, Augustus has the potential to be a tough match-up for Vanderbilt. Like Sidney, Augustus is prone to get into foul trouble. In fact, he's fouled out of his last 2, and 3 of his last 5 games. Kodi is MSU's leading rebounder, and the less he plays, the better off Vanderbilt will be. Lance Goulbourne will likely be matched-up with Augustus on both sides of the ball. While this match-up is not likely to get much attention from the analysts, the battle of the boards might very well be decided by these two guys.

Mississippi State's Bench

Rick Stansbury doesn't have much of a bench to speak of. With the extended absences of Sidney and Bost, he had to make due, but there is a clear drop-off between the Bulldogs starting 5 and the guys coming off the bench. Among non-starters, only guards Brian Bryant (Jr., 6'3) and Jalen Steele (Fr., 6'3) have played in all 18 games, while C Wendell Lewis (So., 6'8) has played in 17. These are the only 3 Bulldogs coming off the bench who've played in all 4 conference games. Bryant is adding 6.7 points and 4 boards a game, while Steele is netting 5.5 points a contest. Lewis, an undersized center, is good for 3.8 points and 3.5 rebounds a game. Beyond these 3, there's not much in the way of reinforcements for Stansbury.

Keys for the Commodores
- 45%: This season, Rick Stansbury's team is 5-1 when shooting 45% from from field. They are 9-2 when their opponents shoot less than 45%. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are just 1-6 when their opponents shoot better than 45%.
- Rebounding: Mississippi State is 8-2 when they out-rebound their opponents, and just 2-6 when they don't. In their last outing, Stansbury's team was decimated on the glass, allowing Georgia to grab 48 rebounds compared to their 23. As discussed above, Sidney and Augustus are the key to the Bulldogs rebounding game. Vanderbilt is 10-1 when grabbing more rebounds than their opponents.
- +/-65: Mississippi State is 6-2 when they hold their opponents to 65 points or less. For Vanderbilt, they've won 13 of the 16 games where they've scored 70 points or more, as compared to just 1-1 when failing to reach 70.
- Free Throw %: Mississippi State's opponents have not taken advantage of their opportunities from the charity stripe thus far this season. On the year, MSU's opponents have shot just 62% from the line; that number goes down to 54% in conference play. On the year, the Commodores have made 74% of their attempts, and have taken 180 more free throws than their opponents. In conference play, their percentage improves to over 76%, and they've attempted 59 more than their competition.

Final Thoughts

This is a game the Commodores have to have. Mississippi State might have talent, but this is a team the Commodores have to beat if they seriously want to compete for the SEC crown. The key for Vanderbilt is controlling the paint, both in terms of rebounds and points. MSU doesn't have a lot of size, and if the Commodores can neutralize either Augustus or Sidney, it will go a long way in controlling the Bulldogs attack. Despite averaging just 15.1 fouls as a team per game, both Augustus and Sidney are prone to foul trouble. Both fouled out against the Bulldogs of Georgia, explaining in large part the -25 rebounding margin in that game. Vanderbilt, despite being banged up, has size and can rebound. With the exception of Jenkins, all the Commodore starters can hold their own on the boards, and they've got more rebounding help off the bench with Stevie Thunder and Odom.

The Commodore I'm expecting the most from on the offensive side of the ball is John Jenkins, who I think will have a favorable match-up on defense. Jenkins has found his touch of late, and he always seems to play big in important road games. Jeffery Taylor is an exceptional talent, and he'll need all that talent against Ravern Johnson. As discussed above, I'm hoping JT can take advantage of his 50 pound weight advantage and impose this will on the senior Johnson.

If Vanderbilt can control the glass, it will give CKS some options on defense. A 2-3 zone has the potential to be very effective against Mississippi State, but as we've seen all year, when the Commodores don't rebound, they lose. The Bulldogs fate has been very similar. If Vanderbilt controls the glass, they should win the game going away.

Prediction: Vanderbilt 74 - Mississippi State 63

1 comment:

Train Island said...

Great writeup. I'm also scared of this matchup, especially with Tinsley sick and Steve/Fes nursing injuries. We need to take it right at Sidney if he's playing with the flu and take advantage of their foul-prone frontcourt and non-existent depth.

I also want to see John Riek play a lot of minutes, purely for the comedic value, so that plays into this strategy as well.