And Bradley is the top-gunning group in the entire NIT field, not to mention the land. They earned their second-round ticket with a 90-78 overtime victory Wednesday night over Providence, and did so despite a somewhat lax outside-effort according to Stansbury.
"They beat a Big East team on probably one of their worst shooting games all year." The Bulldogs can't count on a similar performance though, not from a squad with five players making 38% or better from the arc. Stansbury and staff had not quite finished their scouting report this morning but some obvious aspects to Bradley's gameplan could be recounted. "They're as good as any team in the country in dribble-penetration, kicking and shooting threes," Stansbury said.
"They play four guards, they spread you out, play with an open post and ball-screen. All of them can drive and shoot and get in the lane, dribble-and-pitch." Mississippi State has seen many teams that have that scheme in their repertoire, but none that relies exclusively on perimeter punch to win. "We haven't played anybody like this, that totally spreads the floor out and relies on threes. When they make threes they're difficult to beat."
Of the 22 wins Stansbury is most impressed with the one at Virginia Commonwealth. "On ‘bracket buster' weekend and beat them by nine points. That tells you how good they are. They're not very big but they play extremely hard and are difficult to guard offensively." In fact, Stansbury adds, Bradley puts a comparable sort of lineup on the floor as does State with four guards and one man in the middle. The similarities stops there, though.
"It's not a typical team, their four-guy can really shoot. That's the difference between them and us." Of course, MSU postman Charles Rhodes often thinks he can shoot from the outside, too. But realistically State will try to get the big Dog matchups nearer the rim where he can use his strength and size best, as well as kept guard Jamont Gordon attacking the lane himself for layups or kickouts of his own.
Defending the visitors, that's another issue. One thing the Dogs won't have to worry about is honing their zoning. "If you play zone against these cats you might as well start the bus up," Stansbury said. "We've got to be able to defend, control the dribble. They're not just spot-up shooters. They play wide-open, everything is a sprint." Which is a game the Bulldogs can and will play, too, as they are happiest in transition.
Though, Stansbury cautions, his squad can't ignore responsibility on the boards against Bradley's four-guard set. "They haven't been a great rebounding team but they out-rebounded Providence by ten. I don't know if we have any advantages."
"We're going to do the things we do, we're going to try to make it fast and up-tempo."
Actually State has one obvious advantage in playing in Humphrey Coliseum, where Tuesday night this squad set the program record with a 14th homecourt victory. And despite campus spring break there was an encouraging turnout for the first-round win over Mississippi Valley State with 5,500 coming on short notice. By the weekend, with good weather forecast, more students will be inclined to return early while season-ticket holders will have had more time to plan the game-day trip.
"No question, all teams play better at home, we're no exception to that," said Stansbury. "Having them at home is definitely much better than playing at Bradley."
State should be full-strength for the weekend, though a cloud is now over senior Dietric Slater following his Wednesday arrest by Starkville City police. Stansbury said Slater, the starting guard-forward who typically defends big forwards, was pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt and arrested for a suspended license. "That wasn't really suspended. It's already taken care of, he just didn't have it on record. It wasn't nothing to anything else, he was immediately released when they found out all the truth about the situation." However, there also appear to be other issues raised by the arrest that will be coming out later in the day.
Saturday's winner advances to the third round to meet the winner of the Michigan-Florida State game. As #1 regional seed the winning Bulldogs would host one more time, though the schedule was still being set. "I've heard rumors it will be Tuesday," Stansbury said.