MSU Scouting Report: Woeful Bulldogs lack depth and experience

The bad news from yesterday, of course, was Rotnei Clarke’s 30-foot, running one-hander at the buzzer that knocked Marquette from the winner’s bracket of the Maui Invitational. The good news, however, is that the Golden Eagles will face one of the weakest BCS teams in the country this afternoon when they take on Mississippi State at 1:30 CT.

It’s a rebuilding year in Starkville, where four of the Bulldogs’ top players from a year ago left the program. Arnett Moultrie left early for the NBA Draft; Renardo Sidney left school after three turbulent seasons; And DeVille Smith and Rodney Hood, a former Marquett target, transferred from the program.

Combining those four with point guard Dee Bost’s and shooting guard Brian Bryant’s graduation, Mississippi State loses six of its top seven leading scorers from last year’s team. First-year head coach Rick Ray has his work cut out for him, and the results have not been pretty to start.

Mississippi State lost at Troy to begin the year, picked up its first win at home against Florida International, and was embarrassed in the opening round of the Maui Invitational, losing 95-49 to No. 9 North Carolina.

Vander Blue scored 21 points in Monday’s loss to Butler. (Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

Making things worse for the Bulldogs is that Jalen Steele, expected to lead the team in scoring this year, broke his wrist last week and will miss six weeks. And junior college transfer Colin Borchert was suspended by the team and did not play against North Carolina. Also, Shaun Smith and Kristers Zeidaks were dismissed from the team over the summer.

Forward Roquez Johnson missed the Bulldogs’ opener with a concussion, but scored team-highs in points (17 and 12) the last two games. The sophomore averaged 3.5 minutes per game in 10 games last year, but has taken on a bigger role by default. He has good size at 6-foot-7 and should be another good challenge for Jamil Wilson.

Local freshman Gavin Ware is second on the team in scoring, playing all three games off the bench in just 23 minutes per game. At 6-foot-9, 280 pounds, he is MSU’s biggest player and leads the Bulldogs with 4.3 rebounds per game.

The other 6-foot-9 center, starter Wendell Lewis, averaged 7.0 points through three games but just 2.6 rebounds. He’s efficient and plays good defense, but his rebounding numbers leave plenty to be desired. He did, however, have a nice game against North Carolina, going for 9 and 6.

Marquette faced a player in Clarke who wasn’t afraid to shoot the 3 (4-of-14) yesterday, and it’ll play another in freshman shooting guard Fred Thomas. The first-year starter has attempted 23 3-pointers in three games (making 5), including 10 attempts yesterday against North Carolina. He has attempted just nine 2-pointers, so look for him to sit at the arc, waiting for looks.

Ray attempted to balance his roster by hitting the JuCo trail, and he did so in grabbing Trivante Goodman. The 6-foot sophomore point guard has averaged 8.6 points a team-best 3.6 assists, but isn’t much of an outside threat and has turned the ball over nine times.

Shooting guard Craig Sword started in place of the injured Steele, and scored six points in 26 minutes, but also turned it over five times, against North Carolina. He doesn’t give much from outside, but does have good size.

Tyson Cunningham, a 6-foot-3 shooting guard, has played big minutes but has produced almost nothing. He’s taken five shots in 60 minutes off the bench, and is more of a defensive stopper, if anything.

And that’s about it. The Bulldogs really go just seven players deep, seeing as they only have nine available to play. Rough.

Where the Bulldogs are good

Chalk it up to whatever you’d like, but the inexperienced Bulldogs are forcing turnovers at an impressive rate. Through three games, opponents have turned the ball over 19.5 times, the 26th best mark in the country. That includes 11 steals per game, 23rd best. They had just six against North Carolina, but Marquette must take care of the ball.

Marquette must rebound from yesterday’s heartbreaking loss. (Photo by A. Martina Ibanez-Baldor)

— The Bulldog defense isn’t as bad as North Carolina’s 95-point outing showed, but they aren’t as good as 53 and 56-point outings the first two games. Even without depth, they have good size inside with Ware and Lewis and, facing a Marquette offense still looking for an identity, could have a good showing. Plus, they’ll want to rebound from yesterday’s performance.

Where the Bulldogs can be beat

Mississippi State can only go nine players deep, and only seven really play. Lewis was the only player on the roster who had started a collegiate game, and he only started eight. This is an inexperienced team still trying to work with each other, and Marquette should wear them down over 40 minutes.

Butler made just 4-of-21 3-pointers yesterday, and the range won’t get much better today. The Bulldogs have made 10 3-pointers in three games, but they’ve attempted 43 of them. That 23.2 percent mark is 320th in the nation, and the 10 makes are 312th. Simply put, MSU is not a threat from beyond the arc.

Three keys to the game

1. Don’t allow emotions to run high

Yesterday afternoon’s game-winner stunned Marquette, especially considering a date with No. 9 North Carolina would have been scheduled for today. Losses like these can ruin a team in this kind of setting, but it’s likely that a Buzz Williams team will have moved on from yesterday’s loss and focus on the opponent at hand. A smooth start should set the tone for the game.

2. The return of the fast break

Marquette is still trying to figure out its identity, but part of that must be the fast break. Yesterday the Golden Eagles had just four fast-break points, a number that must improve to find some sort of rhythm to help the half-court sets. Against a bigger team without depth in Mississippi State, Marquette should be able to run early and often.

3. Vander’s encore?

Vander Blue had 21 points yesterday, the second-highest point total of his career. When he scored 26 against Winthrop last year, he followed it with 11 the next night at the Paradise Jam. When he scored 18 against Northern Colorado, he had 4 against LSU in the next game. Blue did have a nice stretch in Big East play, but some consistency from Blue is needed before getting too excited.

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