Scouting Report: Mississippi State
The Commodores hit the road again, and that has not been a friendly place for them. While Vanderbilt has been close in its road games (a three-point overtime loss at Missouri, an eight-point overtime loss at South Carolina, and a three-point loss at Tennessee,) it has not figured out a way to get over the hump.
With two games (apiece) looming against Kentucky and Florida, and one more game with Tennessee, it's important when the Dores come out victorious when they visit an SEC West opponent.
Two factors are not in Vanderbilt's favor as it travels to Starkville. One, after two bad SEC losses, MSU desperately needs this win and will have the crowd behind it. Two, Stallings's club has not won at MSU since Bill Clinton's first term. With three conference games in six days, including a trip to Gainesville, it's important the Commodores figure out how to win on the road starting Thursday night.
MISSISSIPPI STATE AT-A-GLANCE
The Bulldogs come into Thursday night's game struggling, having lost six of their past nine games. To make matters worse for coach Rick Stansbury's club, those three wins have not come against quality opposition. Having defeated San Diego, a middle of the pack West Coast Conference team, and Ole Miss and Auburn, neither of whom are the elite of the SEC, doesn't amount to very much. The Bulldogs have also squared off with two of Vanderbilt's non-conference opponents, defeating Appalachian State by two and losing to St. Mary's 94-72. Both teams of course were double-digit victories for the Commodores if you are a big proponent of the transitive property.
As was the case last year with Mississippi State, the Bulldog program is better known nationally for what happens off the court rather than on it. Last year was marred by the saga of Renardo Sidney's eligibility and if he would ever play in Starkville. This year, the story again surrounds Sidney and his fight in the stands in Hawaii (during a pre-Christmas tournament) with now former teammate Elgin Bailey. Bailey has since transferred and Sidney is back on the court after a suspension. It must be nice to have all that talent. Imagine if that were a walk-on.
The Bulldogs still try to push the ball up the floor, but their transition game is slightly tempered with Sidney being in the lineup. He brings an offensive presence to the low post for Mississippi State that just was not there with Jarvis Varnado. Sidney's defensive game though is nowhere close to Varnardo's.
Forward – Kodi Augustus – Senior, 6-8, 220; 2010-11: 12.1 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.2 steals per game
Augustus would be significantly better if he spent more time near the basket than proving he is an outside shooter like Bost and Johnson. Augustus only shoots 26 percent beyond the arc, and 64 attempts from 3-point land are way too many for an athlete of Augustus' stature. He would be highly effective going to the basket more, drawing fouls, and earning foul shots, which he makes at a rate of close to 80 percent. As its stands though, expect Stallings to put Jeffery Taylor on Augustus to begin with. This would allow Taylor to double-team the post should Stallings want to go that route, and of the four players Stansbury allows to shoot beyond the arc, Augustus is the one Vandy would want to take most of those shots.
Forward – Renardo Sidney – Sophomore, 6-10, 275; 2010-11: 14.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg
Much has been made about the Saga of Renardo Sidney after his eligibility and teammate-related battles. What Vanderbilt needs to be concerned about is that Sidney is an offensively skilled post player who has been in double-figures in scoring in five of his six college games. While he is gifted offensively, Sidney has not yet figured out the college game defensively. A year ago, Varnado would block shots left and right. This year, Sidney, at 6-10, does not block even two shots a game. Vandy's best method of countering Sidney's offensive game may be to go right at him offensively. Obviously this involves depending on the health of Vanderbilt's bigs, which has been a iffy proposition as of late. Should Kevin Stallings and staff be able to go inside offensively, Sidney is known for picking up fouls. Sidney becomes very easy to defend when he is sitting on the bench.
Guard – Riley Benock – Senior, 6-4, 193; 2010-11: 7.5 ppg, .455 3-PT %
Benock rarely saw the floor a year ago but now he is starting in MSU's three-guard lineup and playing almost 33 minutes a game. Benock is the designated sniper for the Bulldogs, rarely stepping inside the 3-point arc. Since he is shooting close to 46 percent out there, why bother? Benock should be a good matchup for John Jenkins since guarding him will not require much tedious work defending the dribble. Of course Rick Stansbury is probably thinking the same thing about having Benock guard Jenkins.
Guard – Dee Bost – Junior, 6-2, 176; 2010-11: 17.0 ppg, 6.5 assists per game, 3 steals per game
Bost is one half of the Bulldogs' backcourt dynamic duo. After missing 14 games due to ineligibility and NCAA suspension for improperly withdrawing from the 2010 NBA Draft, Bost has played in only four games for MSU. While his scoring and assist numbers are up from his sophomore year in the early going, his long-distance shooting has tapered off. Bost is not even making 30 percent of his 3-point shots. The MSU point guard likes to push the ball and then execute a catch-and-shoot maneuver off return passes. Look for Brad Tinsley to get the first crack at him, but expect Kyle Fuller, who stood out defensively against St. Mary's and its stellar backcourt, to spend some significant time with Mr. Bost on Thursday night.
Guard – Ravern Johnson – Senior, 6-7, 175 2010-11: 18.5 ppg, .363 3-PT %
Johnson continues to be the player to watch for in defensive transition for the Dores. He possesses the ability to both shoot and drive. Though Johnson can be an effective outside shooter, Mississippi State is at its best when Johnson is attacking the rim and earning trips to the foul line. Too often he gets into that bad Bulldog habit of settling for 3-pointers. Stansbury expects more, or at least he should, from a senior starter.
For a team that likes to push the ball, MSU has little depth. With Elgin Bailey leaving the team, 6-8 Wendell Lewis is the only frontcourt depth. That brings consternation to Stansbury considering Sidney's propensity for picking up fouls.
Most of MSU's bench scoring comes from its backup guards, Brian Bryant and Jalen Steele. Those two guards average 6.2 and 5.5 points per game respectively, with Bryant the more accurate long-distance shooter.
Keys to the Game
1) Pound the paint. If Sidney gets into foul trouble, MSU becomes very one-dimensional. While it's easier to live by the three or die by the three at home, the Bulldogs are simply more dangerous with an inside offensive presence surrounded by good shooters. 2010 Kentucky the Bulldogs are not, but it's the same type of style. Vandy needs to get the ball onto the block, force the Bulldogs into double-team situations, and find its guard scoring on kick outs.
2) Use the St. Mary's tape for lessons in perimeter defense. Vanderbilt took SMC's high-scoring backcourt and shut it down last week thanks to the emergence of Kyle Fuller and Jeffery Taylor. With Taylor more than likely having to defend a forward this week, someone else will need to step it up on perimeter defense. If that does not happen, look for Stallings to move Taylor over to Ravern Johnson and let Lance Goulbourne guard Augustus.
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