Show Me My Opponent, 2020-21: Mississippi State

Lineup notes

Mississippi State:

  • Howland has tossed out the same starting lineup for ten straight games: Molinar, Stewart, Jalen Johnson, Tolu Smith, Ado.
  • Unsurprisingly, Howland needs the only two players on this offense that can create their own shot to stay on the floor together as much as possible. Luck-and-schedule adjusted numbers: 1.162 PPP with both on, 1.02 PPP with one or the other off.
  • Something to watch: after luck and schedule adjustments, the State defense is eight points better per 100 possessions when D.J. Stewart is off the court. However, their offense is nearly five points worse, so.

Tennessee:

  • Totally depends on Springer’s availability, but I assume it will be Vescovi, either Johnson or Springer, James, Pons, and Fulkerson.
  • Like I mentioned earlier, Pons and Fulkerson need to be on the court as much as possible in this game. When both are on the court, Tennessee’s defense is holding opponents to a schedule-adjusted 0.82 PPP. Perhaps most importantly, Tennessee fouls less, creates more turnovers, and allows fewer rebounds with both on.
  • Similarly, a pair that I want to see in the closing lineup is Springer and James. They’ve only 203 possessions together, but those 203 possessions have seen this pair outscore opponents by 82 points. I would consider including Johnson over Vescovi, too, though that’s not as definitive.

Key matchups

Iverson Molinar vs. Santiago Vescovi. Or Vescovi plus a couple others. State doesn’t have anything resembling a true point guard, and when their main lineup is in, their offensive assist rate would be one of the lowest in the entire nation. It’s a game where Vescovi can’t get into negative one-on-one situations defensively, because Pons likely won’t be there to help.

D.J. Stewart Jr. vs…? This could be literally five different players, but the larger point is this: Stewart is State’s biggest three-point threat. He’s also State’s biggest outside-the-paint two-point threat. Tennessee has to be prepared for him to pull up at any time, and they’ll have to live with some of his shots. If I were the Vols, I would target him as often as possible defensively with a variety of players. Defensive metrics in basketball offer a lot of variance, but his are consistently bad across the board.

Tolu Smith vs. Yves Pons and/or John Fulkerson. But most likely Pons. Smith would be the 5-man at most schools, but he and Abdul Ado are both centers and share the court for just over half of the average Bulldog basketball game. This is a weird matchup for Pons in that, for once, he really will be spending most of his time in the paint. They can’t let Smith get going in the post; otherwise, the fouls will begin rolling in. Something I’ve thought about is that, like Tennessee, State is a switch-heavy team in ball-screen sets. Why not use Pons as the roll/pop man and not Fulkerson?

Three predictions

  1. Tennessee wins the turnover battle;
  2. Mississippi State makes a couple threes and people start replying to me on Twitter suggesting that three-point defense is not largely random;
  3. Tennessee, 71-60.

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