TV: CSS / ESPN3
So this "blowing a second half lead to an upper-middle conference opponent" thing is getting old. At least MSU doesn't fall in that upper-middle category, but Tennessee is now in a must-win mode for reasons other than that they really should win this going away: a third loss pretty well guarantees they won't win the SEC regular season this year. So let's look at MSU and figure this one out (hint: it won't go like the Vandy game).
- Wonky stats, ahoy! So MSU's statistics list conference-only stats for both conference play and overall season play. Consider everything here to carry the usual high-variance burden of the three games they represent. However, those three games are against Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas, so they're not nearly as skewed as, say, Baylor's non-conference statistics.
- Guards are not the threat. (Yay!) Matchup-wise, Vanderbilt had dual-wielded senior guards Foggie and Lister, both of whom lit up the Lady Vols for over 20 points apiece. Guards are Tennessee's biggest weakness, defensively speaking. Mississippi State is instead a post-oriented offense with 6'-4" Martha Alwal and 6'-1" Breanna Richardson leading the way with 14 and 13.7 PPG, respectively. They are collectively near 50% from the floor, but the team as a whole is about 38%. So yeah, stopping these two is priority number one.
- 20% of their shots are from three. That's a bit low for a team, which is a product of their emphasis on interior play. Of those three pointers, they only make 28%, so expect Tennessee to dare MSU to jack threes on them. (Sagging zone? Sagging zone.)
- How does 20 turnovers / game grab you? Their average is worse than Tennessee's, which is a nice change of pace. The A/TO of 42/63 in conference play doesn't strike fear either.
- They are good at free throws. They're hitting 74% on the season (nonconference included), which is quite respectable. Their Free Throw Rate is at about 25% (free throw points per possession), which is really high, and their Free Throw Production is about 35% (free throws made per field goals attempted). Again, zone defense should mitigate this problem.
- They run seven deep. In terms of minutes, Kendra Chapel is eighth at 9 minutes per game in conference play, but that's a sharp falloff from the leading players. Point guard Dominique Dillingham (11 PPG, btw) gets 37 minutes per game, and center Alwal is second with 35.7 minutes. If she gets in foul trouble, MSU is in deep trouble.
So, beating MSU *should* be a given, but here are the things we'd like to see.
- Dominance for Isabelle Harrison, again. The Lisa Mattingly show snapped Harrison's string of double-double performances but there's no reason she can't start a new streak. Harrison has to learn how to stay on the court when officials are hyper-sensitive to contact on the block, and tonight gives her some good opposition to practice on.
- More motion and effort on offense. One of the reasons they're having a hard time getting the ball to posts not named Harrison is that the others aren't as active in creating their own opportunities, and the guards aren't working the perimeter hard enough to help them. It's not far off, though, and a little more determination should yield big gains in the halfcourt. (Well, that and Meighan Simmons not throwing the entry passes beyond the reach of even Mercedes Russell.)
- Communication on defense. This won't be as much of a factor if they're in zone (where they're honestly better anyhow), but they need to get better at coordinating with each other when defending ball screens. MSU won't be as good on the perimeter as future opponents, which is why tonight is a great night to work on this deficiency.
- A little anger. One thing you may have noticed during the Vanderbilt game: when the chips are down, this team goes into hugging mode. They're great at consoling each other in a "it's okay, we'll get through this together" sense. Personally, I want to see more of the "oh, so that's how it's going to be" out of them. In short: this team could really use their own Al Wilson.
Prediction: 92 - 68 Tennessee. MSU just doesn't match up well against Tennessee, even before you account for the talent gap. This'll be Tennessee's "back on track" game, though we'll have to wait and see if it takes hold moving forward.
Isabelle Harrison's second foul: first 4 minutes of the second half. For one, I'm playing the odds that Mattingly won't be there. For two, she's been much better about fouls overall recently, and I think that's more the norm than Sunday was.
She still needs to learn how to account for Mattingly, though.