Mississippi St. Bulldogs Preview Capsule
SB Nation Community: For Whom the Cowbell Tolls (these guys deserve some kind of award for their blog's name)
Record: 20-8 (8-5)
Season Thus Far: The Bulldogs, partially due to the continued ineligibility of uber-recruit Renardo Sidney, have failed to live up to fairly lofty preseason hype. However, they've had a decent year and look to make the Big Dance if they can finish strongly. They currently lead the SEC West, although that's not necessarily a huge accomplishment this year, and have reached 20 wins with a few games left to play. The big knock on their resume is that they don't really have many marquee wins. They dropped key opportunities to get signature victories in the non-con when they lost to the Richmond Spiders and Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, and they have failed to beat the Eastern powers in SEC play, their record being bolstered by lots of wins against a weak Western Division. Clearly, they would like to win out and get to 11 SEC wins in order to avoid being in the position we were in last year of having to sweat out Selection Sunday on the bubble despite a gaudy wins total.
What to Expect: Offensively, State's strength is their outside shooting. The Bulldogs have a bevy of guards that can stroke the three, and they're good at working the ball around to get open looks. This is not a team that you can sit back in a soft zone and expect to win against. We will need to play good ball denial defense and try to keep these guys from heating up.
State's best-known player, though, is C Jarvis Varnado. Varnado averages a double-double. Offensively, Varnado is a little unpolished, but he makes his presence felt with his dominant play on the boards. We will have to rebound very well against State to keep Varnado from eating us alive with second-chance points. Varnado is most famous for his shot blocking ability, having recently broke the all-time NCAA record for blocked shots. Our ability to get shots off against Varnado will be key. Going at him is tricky; on the one hand, you want to try to get him in foul trouble early, but he's such a good shot blocker that he often makes you pay for that strategy.
As always, we need to shoot the ball better from the outside. Part of the issue here, of course, is to get more ball movement and open shots, rather than just jacking up the first relatively available shot we get. I'm looking at you Ramon Galloway.
Prediction: State is a good basketball team, but, despite Varnado's play, they're a team that lives and dies by the long ball to some extent. They're very beatable if they're not shooting well, and with the game in Columbia, I like our chances if we can play good perimeter defense and the crowd can get into their shooters' heads. I'm calling for a 4-8 point 'Cocks victory.
What It Means: We really need this game--as well as the upcoming one against the Alabama Crimson Tide--for our NIT resume.