Georgia at Mississippi State: A Dawg on Dog Fight

Pop Quiz:  When was the last time Georgia lost in Starkville?

Take the time to think about it, when was the last time Georgia went into Humphrey Coliseum and lost?  It’s a hard question to answer now isn’t it?  Everyone remembers how hard it was to win in Starkville during 1990s and 2000s.  The answer is…


Mark Fox lost in Starkville in his first season at UGA in a game where the Dawgs completely choked away a big lead just like in the Texas A&M game from last season.  Georgia held a 67-54 lead with 4:15 to play and Mississippi State pressed the Dawgs.  Mississippi State was able to take the lead with 2:39 left in the game.  It took less than two minutes for a likely victory at what was viewed as House of Horrors to become a crushing loss.

There’s no video of this horrendous meltdown…

Wait, there’s video?  It’s not readily… It is… Oh no.

However, this was the last time Mississippi State defeated Georgia in Starkville.  After this game, Georgia would win every encounter in Starkville.  Ben Howland’s Mississippi State Bulldogs are a different group than the teams Rick Ray and Rick Stansbury fielded.

Mississippi State is not an NCAA Tournament quality team, their out-of-conference schedule is downright fraudulent and the NCAA Tournament committee will likely put them in the same category as Georgetown.  If the objective was to get the team used to the idea of winning games and to artificially have a winning season, mission accomplished for Ben Howland.

However, there is a weird opportunity for Georgia in this game to earn a Group 1 (sometimes called Tier 1 or Column 1) victory.  Mississippi State has an RPI that is better than 75 and this is a road game, which means that this game would actually help Georgia’s case for NCAA Tournament consideration should the Red & Black Dawgs pull off the victory.

If Georgia wins at Mississippi State and Temple creeps into the RPI Top 30 (they defeated Wichita State at the Liacouras Center), this would bolster the resume even further.  Strange to say, but if some upsets happen and Temple were to win at Tulane on Sunday while Georgia wins this game, Georgia could shoot past several teams in terms of NCAA Tournament consideration.

Ben Howland’s Mississippi State Bulldogs

Mississippi State is coming off a big win in Columbia over the South Carolina Gamecocks.  It was a win that almost effectively knocked Frank Martin’s squad out of contention for an NCAA Tournament bid, it was the Gamecocks third straight home loss.

Ben Howland coached teams are known for their defense and this Mississippi State team is 12th in the country in defensive efficiency.  Offensively, they have their flaws and their pace of play is rather average.  Howland will play a lot of Man-to-Man, but he has shown a willingness to use a 2-3 Zone and it would not be terribly surprising if he did a press a little bit against Georgia.  One caveat, Howland does like to disguise his Man-to-Man in a 2-3 Zone look, opponents have to have movement with and without the ball to determine what they are doing.

The Weatherspoon Brothers are going to be a key concern for opponents.  They are both scorers, Quinndary is a more efficient scorer, better distributor and defender than his little brother Nick.

Mississippi State is effectively eight deep, but their effectiveness drops off significantly once they reach into their bench.  This is a team that lacks size and is much more guard-oriented.

Aric Holman is an important Combo Forward, he’s very similar to Obi Enechionyia.  He can play inside and out, but his physical limitations 6’10” 200 pounds are a major weakness.  Holman does not possess the length that Nicolas Claxton has.

Abdul Ado is a shot blocking Center who unlike Holman keeps his contributions inside the paint area.  Ado and Holman have Field Goal rates in the restricted arc of 82.5% and 86.4% respectively.  The objective for opponents is to keep them out of the restricted arc and deny them post touches.

It’s pretty evident what this Mississippi State team can do well and cannot do well, but let’s have more metrics to support the analysis.

Mississippi State’s Strengths:

  • Ado and Holman can block a lot of shots.
  • They are good at forcing live ball turnovers.
  • This is a team that does not foul much.
  • They can collect offensive rebounds and get second chance opportunities.
  • Disrupting ball movement.
  • Keep opponents from taking shots at the rim.  (7th best in the country)

Mississippi State’s Weaknesses:

  • Horrendous three point shooting.  29.1% (344th in the country)
  • Allow second chance opportunities.
  • Poor ball movement.
  • Not enough size to matchup in the post.  Most evident against Alabama and Kentucky.
  • Opponents adept at getting to the Free Throw Line confound them.
  • Limited depth in the post.

Georgia can exploit Mississippi State’s weaknesses

The last time Georgia visited Starkville, Mark Fox used a 2-3 Matchup Zone the entire game and Ben Howland’s team just could not handle it.  It would not be a surprise to see Georgia do this again, but this is not a team that is as good at 2-3 Matchup Zone as the 2015-16 Team.  Given Mississippi State’s woes from three point range and poor ball movement, it may be a good idea.  Coming off a win in Columbia, Ben Howland’s Dogs are probably a bit worn down from the physicality of that game.  Georgia is a team that could play very physical as well.

Georgia is less reliant on the dribble drive, but reviving it against Mississippi State will allow the Georgia Bulldogs to play aggressive and not let the threat of a blocked shot deter them.  Tyree Crump as a distributor making plays off the dribble and off ball screens rather than taking three point shots without a care in the world is an impact player.  Getting Rayshaun Hammonds to complete his drives at the rim rather than settling at the 8-10 feet would make a big difference.  Jordan Harris breaking sets to drive to the hoop from wherever he is would either get him points or set up his teammates very well.

One of the big problems for Hammonds and Harris is where they get the ball from on the perimeter.  It is very obvious that the shots are out of rhythm and the location of the shots matters as well.  Jordan Harris better shooting threes from the wings and corners than the top of the key.  Rayshaun Hammonds is better shooting threes on the wings.  The passes that come into these two matter when considering their jump shots and it may explain for their struggles.  Hammonds and Harris are left-handed, which means that a pass coming in from their right side when they come off the staggered downscreen is setting up a lower percentage three point shot.  Both would be wise to break the set at the top of the key and just attack off the dribble because their feet are not set and they are not shooting in a rhythm.  This is Mark Fox’s fault, 100% percent because he recruited left handers and did not cater to their needs.  Hammonds and Harris also deal with the out of rhythm pass along the perimeter that does work with their dominant hand.

The resurrection of the dribble drive to attack the rim and set up teammates at the rim is going to revive the offense.  Free Throws and easy shots at the rim replacing mid-range jump shots and 20 footers is what is needed to get the team back on the right track.

If it was not for Yante Maten, Georgia does not have the FTA/FGA ratio that they have.  Nobody is willing to attack the rim with regularity and pose this sort of a threat.  There’s no natural flow to the offense because of the sets and general unwillingness on the part of Turtle Jackson to attack the basket despite his obvious size advantage.

What to Expect?

Believe it or not, Georgia should win this game.  Georgia’s size, length and Yante Maten’s ability to draw fouls will take the teeth out of the Mississippi State defense.  Mississippi State’s offense is not going to be able to shoot their way out of this game and this should be much like their game against Cincinnati.  Mississippi State struggled with teams that play fast, but the exception was Cincinnati.  Georgia is not on Cincinnati’s level at all, but based on the defensive efficiency and tempo is the closest that Mississippi State has faced this season.

This will not be a pretty game and it really depends upon whether the Dawgs choose to rebel on the sets and not settle for threes and long jump shots.  There has been a slow creep in this direction and more of this should happen tonight.

If Mark Fox went with a 2-3 Matchup Zone and the team executes it well, this could be a blowout, but that’s not going to happen.

Prediction:  Georgia 64 Mississippi State 59