Preview & Prediction: By Evan Dorey
On a very light Thursday evening featuring just 8 games across the nation, two teams that have found themselves in a bit of a rut lately meet when #171 Southern Mississippi (4-3) travels to the Sprint Center in Kansas City to face #111 Kansas State (5-3).
Kansas St. opened the season 5-0, with a decent win at Cleveland St., but since they travelled to Las Vegas at the end of November, they’ve lost three straight, dropping games to Kentucky, Iowa and Oregon, all by 5 points or less. Southern Miss’ record isn’t as strong, as they’ve lost back to back games to South Alabama and New Mexico, along with a Paradise Jam loss to Miami (FL). There’s been some talk of Southern Miss as a potential NCAA team out of Conference USA, but it looks as if their hopes are resting on the conference tournament at this point.
Before I begin, I must issue an important public service announcement. If you have small children, or know someone that does, and live in the Kansas City area, hide them, this game may potentially be dangerous to their enjoyment of basketball! These two teams are both among the worst in the nation in fouling their opponents, which means we can expect a lot of whistles. Each o f Kansas St.’s last three opponents have had more than 30 trips to the line, with the low-point being Kentucky’s 35 FT attempts to 32 FG attempts. Southern Miss has been similarly profligate in their fouling, sending teams to the line at least 30 times on a number of occasions, including against Miami and New Mexico. This build-up of fouls should favor Southern Miss, which has shot more than 70% at the line, clearly better than the Wildcats, who barely crack 65%.
Offensively, Southern Miss tends to shoot the ball from inside, the problem is they don’t do it particularly well. While they do get to the line, and don’t commit many turnovers, their shooting simply isn’t very good, and they a lot of their attempts end up blocked. They make up for it with their other play enough to be average offensively, but that level of shooting means they will depend on Kansas St. sending them to the line. Kansas St. head coach Frank Martin described his team’s main weakness as defensive rebounding, and he’s been proven right so far (other than the rampant fouling), as they haven’t been good there. Fortunately for him, they have defended shots on the inside well, and forced a lot of turnovers, and their interior defense could lead to a long night for the Golden Eagles.
When Kansas St. was one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams last season, I just chalked it up to the ‘Beasley factor’. He was a huge force on the offensive glass, but the Wildcats are still pretty good (not quite as good) without him, among the national leaders, suggesting that a lot of their second chances come from coach Martin’s system. Beyond that, the Wildcats do little great, but most things well on the offensive end, and do have some inside strength, as they rarely get blocked, but only shoot an average percentage . Kansas St. tends to focus more inside, but it may end up trying to exploit Southern Miss’ weakness in perimeter defense, as shooting over the Golden Eagles hasn’t proven to be much of a problem so far.
In his interview, Coach Martin talks about his team’s strength, and points to the guards, and while two of his guards are leading the team in scoring, they haven’t been his team’s most effective players. Jacob Pullen is the team’s top scorer, but his shooting has been really weak, under 45 eFG%. He’s been a little weak from behind the arc, but has really struggled inside. A similar story is true for second leading scorer Denis Clemente, though his percentages are somewhat more palatable. Inside, sophomore Dominique Sutton has been a key player, shooting over 50% and avoiding the three point shot, while doing a solid job of crashing the boards. Another important player is 6-10 Luis Colon, who averages just 16 minutes a game, but is effective in those minutes, averaging nearly 5 boards and again shooting over 50%. But the best of the inside players may come off the bench, as freshman Jamar Samuels has been dynamite, shooting 58% (better from the field than the line), and grabbing around 5 rebounds a game. While Pullen and Clemente will probably get more of the points, the offense needs these inside guys to battle and get easy scores.
The Southern Miss roster doesn’t fit that well with the stats, as it features mostly small guards and slashers, and there is very little size available to coach Larry Eustachy. However, for a team with mostly guards, very few of their shots come from three, with only one player surpassing 20 three-point attempts on the year. That player is leading scorer Jeremy Wise, a 6-2 junior who also leads the team in assists, and is second in rebounding. Wise’s three-point percentage is fine, but his overall shooting suffers due to a low inside percentage. A similar story could be told about the other three-shooting guards, bench player Craig Craft and senior starter RL Horton. 6-3 Courtney Beasley is the teams’ leading rebounder and second leading scorer, and does it almost entirely inside the arc, having not made a three this year. He doesn’t shoot very well, though, so he can end up being a bit of a drain on the offense as a whole. Inside, the only starter above 6-6 is junior Andre Stephens, who has often found himself in foul trouble, and has shot under 40% when he’s been on the floor. The only other players taller than 6-6 are part-time freshman Cory Smith at 6-7 and little used freshman Gustavo Lino, who’s 7-1. Starter Sai’Quan Stone is a competent rebounder, but his offensive skills need work.
I think that Kansas St. will come out strong after three straight losses, and, while the Golden Eagles will gain an advantage at the foul line, Kansas St. can exploit the inside both offensively and defensively to their benefit.
Winner: Kansas St. Margin: 5-9
-- Evan Dorey's game previews & rankings are based on Elo Ratings. Elo Ratings are fairly simple, all teams are assigned an initial number of points, which is the same for all teams, eliminating preseason bias. Then, as the season progresses, when a team wins it gains points, and when it loses it drops points. The amount of points that are gained or lost depend on the level of the opponent (beating a cupcake gets you little, beating #1 will be a big increase), the scoring margin of the game (which is capped), and the game’s location. To take a look at Evan's College Basketball Elo Ratings, visit his website or blog where he discusses the rankings along with other statistical observations about big games and interesting teams.
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About Evan Dorey
Evan Dorey - Game Previews
A recent university graduate from Markham, Ontario, who loves analyzing the statistics of sports in general, and college basketball in particular.