The twitter world, blogosphere, and media are abuzz about the resurgent Commodores after their impressive win at Alabama on Thursday night. There's many a glowing response to the Dores' victory, but Andy Katz sums it up that folks should be buying in.
Frankly, I'm of that opinion as well, but as goes with the territory of being a Vanderbilt fan, there is always the potential for bone-crushing disappointment. If this team really wants to show that it has fixed its issues, it has to take care of business at home, where it is supposed to be easier to win. Enter this game against Mississippi State.
MSU is a very talented team and this contest will not be easy. On paper, they have four guys with NBA level talent in Dee Bost, Rodney Hood, Arnett Moultrie, and Renardo Sidney. Bost particularly has presented problems for the 'Dores in the past as the type of quick, penetrating point guard that we have such difficulty defending. Additionally, it must be stressed how impressive Moultrie has been. The UTEP transfer is averaging a double-double and has an offensive rating of 121.5. Without question he will be the best rebounder on the floor, as he engulfs 14.3% of all possible offense rebounds (OR%) and 23.1% of all possible defensive rebounds (DR%). I expect Lance to draw Moultrie as an assignment, and for him to have his hands full all afternoon. For as good a job as he did on Tony Mitchell, containing Moultrie will be a much tougher challenge.
On the other side, Renardo Sidney has been slightly better than his performance last year in most categories, particularly offensively. Sidney's talent has always been without question, but his effort and mentality brings pause. Most folks covering MSU think that he appears to be more focused this year, and the metrics seem to indicate that's true in terms of his sheer offensive efficiency. It will be interesting to see how Fez, who is still around 70% per Stallings, will do in this matchup.
Interesting to watch in this game will be if Vandy can get to the free throw line as they have the past two games. MSU does not get to the line much, but equally MSU does not foul. Vandy is heavily reliant on three-point shooting and on getting to the foul line, though they are by no means a slouch scoring in the mid-range game. MSU's biggest weakness is defending the mid-range game. It will be interesting to see if Vanderbilt can really take advantage of their opponents' biggest weakness with their third strength.
One other factor that must be noted is that these two teams appear to be going in opposite directions at the moment. Vanderbilt is the hottest team in the SEC since the beginning of conference play, rating #1 in the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Offense has always spoken for itself with Vandy, but the defense has been surprising. Vandy has held opponents to just .895 points per possession (ppp) since the beginning of conference play. That means we are allowing, in a D-1 Average game of 67 possessions, an incredible 59.9 points per game, while we are scoring in the 77.05 ppg for the same number of possessions. While we have certainly played some terrible offensive teams to start, the big road win against Alabama suggests that we are playing the type of defense that is good enough to keep opponents honest. Additionally, this fantastic fanshot over at Anchor of Gold by Jason Fukuda suggests this team has become comfortable with defending down to the last second on the shot clock. When we control the pace and the tempo, we are typically going to win the game, but when teams slow us down and wait to exploit us in the half court, that is generally when we lose. However, Jason's post suggests that we are finally becoming very comfortable in the half-court set and not allowing easy shots and miscues. If this is true, playing Vandy got a heck of a lot tougher.
On the flip side, MSU is playing good offense, but awful defense. Over the course of the season, MSU has allowed .976 points per possession, but since the beginning of conference play, they are allowing 1.07 points per possession. In a D-1 average game that would equate to about 71 ppg, where as they were at 65 outside of conference play. On offense, as a team, they are still playing well, but not as well as Vanderbilt has. They average 70.35 ppg in a D-1 average game. In other words, right now, opponents are scoring more total than they are able to score themselves, not a good trend for MSU, and one they will likely hope to correct today.
Anchor of Gold has yet another fantastic preview here if you need to further get your fix. If the 'Dores win this one, expect them to blast into the top 25 next week and likely remain there for the rest of the season. I'm certainly hoping for it. Go 'Dores!
*Thanks to KenPom for their great statistical information. If you're a basketball junkie, I highly recommend paying for it. I think it's worth it.