Friday, March 19, 2010

Scouting Report: Mississippi State

In a weird way, Mississippi State is a lot like William and Mary, and some of the scouting from that game is still relevant and hopefully some of the keys to our success against them will hold constant as well. As always, the bulk of the scouting information comes from the wise Ken Pomeroy (namely, here). Like W&M, Miss St. relies on three pointers to a ridiculous extent, and is in the top ten of all college basketball team in terms of jacking up the three, making them at a slightly better clip than W&M. In the more similarities department: They rarely turn the ball over, rarely force turnovers, and rarely foul. The tempo is a little faster than the pokey Tribe, and they don't adhere quite so dogmatically to Tony Shaver's offensive efficiency system, but, when push comes to shove, Miss St. is basically running the same offensive style as William and Mary with all the same weaknesses (live by the three, die by the three).

What's the difference? An elite defense anchored by Jarvis Varnado. While William and Mary tried to show tough defense, the truth was that they were soft, and like I said, Deon and Tyler got what they wanted basically at will. Varnado changes that. Jarvis Varnado is the all-time NCAA leader in blocked shots. In the SEC, he holds the single season record that had been set by Shaquille O'Neal. He is a one-man wrecking crew on defense and this season he has Miss St. first in the nation of percentage of shots blocked. This, combined with superior rebounding, means that Mississippi St. has the seventh best two-pointer defense in the nation. They are elite.

A commitment to man to man defense and quick guards mean that they have decent three-pointer defense, and more importantly, seem to try to deny the three and funnel the guards into the paint, or as they call it, "Jarvis's Killing Grounds." Note: I don't know if they actually call it that, but they probably should.

So how do we counter? At first it seems like this team is custom made for destroying us, and on some level, they probably are. Their offense assaults a known weakness: three-point defense; while their defense takes away our primary method of scoring: post-play. That said, I think there are some things we can do.

First, we have to go at them in the post anyway. While Miss St. as a whole doesn't foul that much, their big men do seem to foul at an average to above average rate. Having four legit big men to send against Varnado and their power-forward Kodi Augustus could get Miss St. in foul trouble: They are very thin on the bench, especially in terms of quality forwards. And, while it might be a sore topic, the foul line is a good place to earn easy points (even if this year they aren't particularly easy). On a similar note, I think we have a potentially okay match-up with Augustus on defense. Augustus is a stretch-four who pops outside to shoot lots of three-pointers (in a weird coincidence, Augustus and Larry Drew have shot and madethe exact same number of threes). Against lots of teams, opponents probably have a hard time finding a big who can match up with him and guard him effectively on the perimeter, but Henson and Wear are able to defend the perimeter when needed.

Second, we shouldn't try to overcompensate and shoot more threes, especially not in the half-court game. Pull ups in transition, open looks, and off of offensive rebounds only. We try to do more and we force things ineffectively and Will Graves shoots us out of the game.

Third, we have to figure out how to shut down their shooters. Marcus has to live up to his old Reddick-killer reputation, Drew needs to strive towards his slower-Lawson-with-better-defense reputation, and Dexter Strickland needs to do whatever voodoo he was using on Tuesday to be so seemingly effective. Will Graves, do your passable thing. My roommate and I used to joke that Will Graves was only good for random hot streaks and for playing really mediocre defense. Well, we need that mediocre defense.

This is a hard game, and there is an argument to be made that Mississippi State is the best team in this tournament. We need to win it. Also, NC State needs to win their game. If they do, we will get to play against each other Carmichael. That needs to happen.

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