Show Me My Opponent: Mississippi State

WHAT THEY BRING

The least-fun good offense of 2020, I think

Call me an idiot if you’d like – in fact, I kind of invite it with continuing to do these – but I think there’s definitely a thing you could call the Good Bad Offense. The offense is efficient, they hit their free throws, they’re not bad at shooting, and they largely do things I would want the team I support to do. That said: they are decidedly not fun to watch. For a long time, I think basically everyone would’ve used Virginia for this example, but I’d argue against it for two key reasons: 1. They broke out of being not fun to watch by having a great shooting offense last season; 2. Literally no one would call their current offense “good,” or “bad,” or anything better than “smashing Xbox controller into head in attempt to forget about the past.”

As such: we have a hole we need to fill. There are few great offenses this season; the #1 offense (Gonzaga) would’ve barely ranked seventh last year. We’ve got to scale down our ambitions a tad. Do you enjoy watching offenses that do the following?

  • Taking fewer threes than 92% of all other college basketball teams
  • Turns it over on 21.1% of possessions
  • Largely ranks in the top 20 of offensive efficiency because it rebounds 40% of its own misses
  • Ranks no higher than 73rd in any other category
  • Yet ranks 19th in offensive efficiency?

The Mississippi State Bulldogs are your team, friend.

Reggie Perry, however, is worth the price of admission

First off, I’d like to note that this offense is not devoid of good, enjoyable individual players. Reggie Perry is a great player – one that is a very reasonable pick for SEC Player of the Year – and is wildly efficient at the rim.

Perry has 123 made shots this season; 79 of them have come on layups or dunks. He’s tough to defend because he does several things very well.

He’s great at scoring in the post, of course, but for 6’10”, he’s great at driving to the basket from the perimeter as well. Also – and this is incredibly comforting, considering Tennessee’s most recent outing – he is probably the most purely dominant rebounder the SEC has this season.

Second banana is Tyson Carter

The #2 guy on this offense is Tyson Carter, who plays both guard positions and seems to have shaken himself out of December 2018 Jordan Bowden Syndrome. Carter started in most of Mississippi State’s final games last year and continued starting this year until a particularly bad three-game stretch to start SEC play sent him to a sixth man role. Since his demotion, he’s flourished: 13.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG in 27.6 minutes off the bench. Carter’s a moderately efficient scorer, but he’s more notable for how many functions he serves in the MSU machine.

You can see him pulling up off of a ball screen, using said ball screen to create opportunities for shooters, or running off of off-ball screens for his own shots. He owns a 44.7% eFG% this season, which is not good. Solid scorer at the rim, not so solid everywhere else.

Lots of Just A Guys offensively

Actually, that last sentence from the previous paragraph could describe just about everyone on this team not named Robert Woodard (23-of-46 from three).

Excluding Woodard’s randomly great shooting (he was 12-of-44 last year), it’s a team shooting 31.3% from downtown; other than freshman Iverson Molinar (12-of-31, 38.7%):

All other players on the roster shoot 32% or worse from three. They don’t take many threes as part of a compensation for this issue. Instead, players have a greater emphasis on taking longer twos, which…well, yeah, this is Ben Howland, so I’m not stunned.

Howland hasn’t had a team rank in the top 100 of 3PA% since 2000, his first year at Pittsburgh. It’s not like the players are hitting them at crazy rates, either; MSU makes 35.2% of their non-rim twos, good enough for 199th in America. I’d say that any sort of non-rim two is worth celebrating in this game, but Reggie Perry or Abdul Ado or Robert Woodard will just rebound it anyway.

Other than blocking shots, they are just about perfectly average

As someone who loves to get hyper-focused on very specific details, events, and things, I genuinely appreciate Mississippi State’s defensive commitment to going all-in on blocking shots. The Bulldogs have the 17th-best Block Rate in America, the second-best in the SEC behind Tennessee.

I say that they’ve gone all-in on it because outside of defensive 3PT% – a stat that, largely, is out of the hands of the defense itself – the Bulldogs do not rank in the top 90 nationally in any other defensive stat. Sure, they rank 94th in opponent eFG%, but that’s in large part due to opponents hitting just 31% of their threes against MSU.

Still, easy buckets available at the rim

Really, it’s kind of amazing that MSU only ranks 131st in opponent 2PT%, which they do have a good amount of control over. Mississippi State, particularly Ado, Perry, and Woodard, block a lot of shots. Why don’t they force a lower conversion rate? Because, like other teams Tennessee has played this season, it’s truly all or nothing. State blocks about 11.6% of rim attempts, per Hoop Math, which isn’t bad – 103rd best in America. On unblocked attempts, though, 70.6% of opponent shots are going in.

That’s a terrible rate, and it explains why MSU’s overall 62.5% FG% allowed at the rim ranks 281st nationally. Too often, State gives up easy points at the rim, regardless of if it’s in half-court or transition.

Players can drive to the rim and not meet a ton of resistance, especially if Perry (4.0 fouls/40) or Ado (3.5) is on the bench.

Mid-range is a total non-starter

MSU does save their 2PT% by being a dominant force against mid-range attempts. Only two teams in America (Washington is one of them, FWIW) block more mid-range shots than the Bulldogs do, which makes it easier to understand MSU ranking 23rd in opponent FG% on non-rim twos.

These are shots that are simply best to avoid.

All three of the Big Three are more potent away from the rim than at the rim, which is odd, but if it works, it works.

Perimeter defense…is good? I think? However, they give up a lot of OREBs

Like I mentioned a couple paragraphs back, State does hold opponents to 31% from downtown, which is nice. Synergy does suggest that they have at least some control over this, as they offer up a 62/38 Guarded/Unguarded split on catch-and-shoot threes.

They’re doing a solid job of getting hands in the faces of shooters, and it’s helped them win games they probably shouldn’t have. (Such as beating Arkansas in a game they allowed a 60.5% 2PT conversion rate by holding them to 4-of-20 from three.) Only a few teams have really gotten MSU to give up hefty points from deep, but when they have, it’s typically resulted in a loss. The six teams to shoot 37% or better against MSU this season went 4-2; the other 14 are 3-11.

Again: this is kind of a hard defense to describe simply because they don’t do any non-blocking thing particularly well or particularly poorly, aside from rim protection. They’re slightly above average at not fouling and slightly below average at forcing turnovers/protecting their own boards. The second of those is probably worth noting. It’s not much, but State’s two worst losses of the season, KenPom #57 Louisiana Tech and #101 New Mexico State, won in part because the Bulldogs allowed 42.4% and 37.5% OREB%, respectively.

Tennessee has shown what I would charitably describe as an aversion to rebounding lately; however, it’s the same team that got more offensive rebounds against Kansas than any of Dayton, Baylor, Villanova, or Duke.

NEXT PAGE: This column brought to you by John John Chevrolet’s Long Cars

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