Football season has given way to basketball season, and Southeastern Conference play is well underway for the Mississippi State men’s basketball team.
Each week, The Dispatch will examine three relevant statistics regarding this year’s Bulldogs.
This week, the focus is on rebounding, steals and 3-point defense as MSU (10-3) gears up to face Ole Miss (8-4) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Oxford.
Crashing the glass
Mississippi State has been outrebounded in just two games. The Bulldogs lost the battle on the boards against Louisville on Nov. 25, 43-35. On Dec. 11, Colorado State collected 33 rebounds to MSU’s 31.
Mississippi State lost both games. In the 11 in which the Bulldogs came down with more rebounds, they emerged victorious in 10 of them (Dec. 5 against Minnesota being the exception.)
It’s a sign the Bulldogs’ skill at both offensive and defensive rebounding has correlated with winning games. MSU is 16th out of 358 Division I teams in offensive rebounding percentage at 36.3 percent while limiting its opponents to a 22.0 percent mark, 14th best in the nation.
The Bulldogs are eighth in the country in rebounding margin, averaging 38.8 rebounds per game to their opponents’ 27.9 — the third-fewest opponent rebounds in the entire country.
Several reasons might explain Mississippi State’s success on the glass. For one, Ben Howland’s bunch plays at one of the slowest tempos in the country, ranking No. 321. The Bulldogs’ average height is toward the top, checking in at No. 65; tall players who know intrinsically how to rebound or have been coached well can always help.
MSU is also a strong shooting team, boasting the 54th-ranked effective field goal percentage — which weights 3-point attempts above 2-pointers. The fewer the misses, the fewer the rebounds for either team.
And there’s always the unpredictability of which way a ball will bounce off the rim, introducing dumb luck into the equation.
But there’s something to be said for the Bulldogs’ rebounding success, and it’s helping Mississippi State win games.
Bulldogs stealing their way to success
MSU’s skill at stealing the basketball is also contributing to victories.
The Bulldogs matched a season-high mark with 12 steals Dec. 29 against Arkansas and have recorded double-digit steals five times. Their 107 steals rank 65th in the nation, but it’s even more impressive given the slow tempo and limited number of possessions. Mississippi State’s steal rate of 12.4 percent ranks 28th in the country.
That’s buoyed by the skill of guard Shakeel Moore and forward Cameron Matthews, who boast steal rates among college basketball’s best. Moore has 2.3 steals per game on a 4.7 percent steal rate (24th nationally), while Matthews has 1.5 percent and a 4.5 percent clip (33rd). Other players contribute, too: Andersson García has a 4.9 percent steal rate but is not qualified, while three other players are above 3.7 percent.
But while Mississippi State is strong in steals, other types of turnovers haven’t happened much. The Bulldogs are No. 348 in non-steal turnovers, which include traveling violations, offensive fouls and more, per KenPom.com. Typically, teams good at getting steals are also effective at forcing non-steal turnovers, but the Bulldogs can’t say that.
But that could be partially attributable to MSU’s solid block rate, which ranks 39th nationally.
“In human terms, teams that block more shots tend to get more steals but fewer non-steals,” site founder Ken Pomeroy wrote in 2015.
Opponents continue to fire 3s
In basketball parlance, it’s known as “the math problem”: Simply put, three is greater than two.
Teams that take more 3-pointers can score more points, even if they convert at a lower clip, than those who rely mostly on 2s.
Mississippi State’s opponents seem to have embraced that. The Bulldogs haven’t.
Three-point attempts account for 45.9 percent of field goals taken against the Bulldogs, the 19th-highest percentage against any defense. MSU’s opponents have made roughly a third of those shots — ranking No. 179 in the country — but they have scored the seventh most points off 3s in all of Division I. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs take 3s on just under a third of their shots, which ranks No. 291.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Mississippi State shoots a solid 35.6 percent from behind the arc, and its overall defense is a respectable 65th in the country. But made 3s have hurt MSU throughout the year.
Minnesota made 12 to sink the Bulldogs. Six days later, Colorado State made 11. Furman — the only team to shoot above 50 percent from deep against MSU — knocked down 14 in a near-upset Dec. 17 in Starkville.
North Alabama, Montana and Richmond all attempted more than 30 against Mississippi State, although the Bulldogs won all three games.
Furman is one of the most prolific 3-point shooting teams in the country, taking the 11th-most 3s of any team. Detroit Mercy, which MSU beat on Nov. 17, ranks No. 26. But none of the Bulldogs’ other opponents is even inside the top 60, so it must be something about Mississippi State’s defense that encourages 3-point attempts.
As long as Mississippi State can keep opponents’ 3s from finding their mark, the Bulldogs will be just fine. But that’s easier said than done.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.