Success might be at an all-time high for the No. 2 ranked Mississippi State University women’s basketball team, but the same cannot be said for the men’s team.
The Bulldogs fell to 14-6 after a 78-65 loss to Kentucky on Tuesday night. After getting off to a misleading 12-1 start by beating mediocre teams out of conference, MSU has shown their true colors since starting conference play, going 2-5 so far.
The biggest issue facing the Bulldogs right now is offense, specifically shooting. A combination of awful shot selection and just poor shooting when good opportunities arise plague this team.
MSU currently ranks 178th in the country in points scored, averaging 65.4 per game. Considering the Bulldogs play in a major conference and have played the majority of their games this season against inferior schools, the team’s lack of offense is alarming.
Three-point shooting is a major issue for the Bulldogs right now. There are currently 351 division one NCAA basketball programs and the Bulldogs are currently ranked 341st in team three-point field goal percentage in the nation.
MSU is ranked dead last in the SEC in this category. At 29 percent, MSU is one of only 13 other schools out of 351 to shoot under 30 percent from three-point range as a team this season.
Quite frankly, it is embarrassing the way this team has shot this season.
Another issue, and perhaps an underlining cause of the low shooting numbers, is MSU’s horrid shot selection. Throughout this season, multiple players routinely take shots making you want to cover your eyes.
Xavian Stapleton and Lamar Peters are perhaps the biggest culprits. Peters came into the season with a little hype as a potential second-round NBA draft pick. This hype has dissipated, and was honestly a reach to begin with.
Peters struggled all season to shoot from anywhere. He has the worst field goal percentage on the team of anyone playing over 10 minutes per game at 33 percent, and the second worst three-point percentage at 21 percent.
Stapleton has not fared much better, shooting 37 percent from the field and 27 percent from three. Tyson Carter was supposed to be one of the better shooters on the team, yet he is only shooting 29 percent from downtown.
Throw in Nick Weatherspoon at 29 percent from three, and Quinndary Weatherspoon shooting 30.7 percent from three, and the Bulldogs are stuck with a backcourt lacking a single player hitting a third of their shots or better from long range.
Everything is not all bad this season for the MSU basketball team as there are a few positives.
Number one is the defense. Despite the shooting struggles, I am impressed at the way head coach Ben Howland has gotten this team to buy in on the defensive end.
A lot of basketball teams, especially young ones like MSU, typically do not give great effort on defense when shots are not falling, but this has not been the case with this team. They play hard every game with a stingy defense. The Bulldogs are currently just outside the top 30 nationally in points allowed, giving up just 65.4 points per game.
Another positive is the play of juniors Quinndary Weatherspoon and Aric Holman, who are the Bulldog’s best players up to this point.
Weatherspoon is leading the team in scoring at 14.7 points per game and shooting over 50 percent from the field.
Holman is averaging 11.8 and is the team’s most efficient scorer, shooting over 60 percent from the field. Additionally, he has made 50 percent of his threes. If not for Holman this season, MSU would have nobody to consistently hit threes.
Nick Weatherspoon is not shooting the three well, but he has shown a lot of promise and played well as a true freshman. He can penetrate and get his own shot and has a bright future ahead of him.
Right now, if the Bulldogs want to salvage this season, they have to commit to changing the approach on offense and play more to their strengths. MSU shot 29 threes against Kentucky, and only hit five of them. At some point, this team must realize they are not a very good shooting team, and look to score in other ways.
The Bulldogs have two quality bigs in Holman and Abdul Ado, who have proven they can score inside. So, the primary focus on offense needs to be getting those two more touches. The guards may not be able to shoot, but they have proven the ability to finish inside, which means they have to start attacking closeouts when they catch the ball beyond the arc and turn down some of the three-point attempts.
MSU has reached the point where they do not need to attempt any threes unless the shot clock is running out, or players are wide open and in rhythm. This team, specifically the guards, must be willing to be patient, look for the highest percentage shots and drain the shot clock down to the very last second if they have to.
Before the season started, the players and Howland said they wanted to play fast this season. However, the fact of the matter is this: the team is not good enough to play fast. They need to slow it down, milk every possession and play to the biggest strength of the team, which is defense.
The Bulldogs will be back in action this Saturday at the Hump to take on Missouri. The game starts at 7:30 p.m.