For the first time since 2014, the Virginia Cavaliers will not play in the NCAA Tournament. However, they still have a postseason opportunity with a first round NIT game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Although MSU is seeded and Virginia is not, the Hoos will host as Mississippi State is renovating their arena.
The Bulldogs finished the season 18-5 (8-10 SEC), and ranked 44th on KenPom. Virginia (19-13, 12-8 ACC) ranks 84th on KenPom. Mississippi State avoided some of the bad losses that Virginia had. Their only truly bad loss came on the road against Mississippi and that was a rivalry game. The Bulldogs lost to Louisville, but early on before the Cardinals’ season went off the rails.
MSU is led in scoring by Iverson Molinar. He is aptly named, as his game is similar to Allen Iverson and he is projected in the second round of the next NBA draft. A year ago, Molinar shot 43% from three, while this year he made just 26% on a similar number of attempts. The difference is that he played off the ball more last season. This season, as the primary ball-handler, he has increased his FT rate significantly.
Up front, the Bulldogs have a bit of a twin towers thing going on. One of those is former UNC big man Garrison Brooks. He starts at PF, with 6’11” Tolu Smith starting at C. In four years at UNC, Brooks never once beat Virginia. He’ll get another shot tonight.
This pair of bigs makes MSU one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation, which is something Virginia has struggled with this season. The Hoos rank 222nd in the nation in defensive rebounding. Previously, the lowest a Tony Bennett team has ranked was 68th in his first season at Washington State. This should be a focus during the offseason for the Wahoo coaching staff.
This is Smith with a put-back against South Carolina in the SEC tournament first round win. You can also see Molinar causing problems by getting into the lane and drawing help. The Gamecock big man rotates to help and that leaves Smith alone underneath. Virginia will have to be sound in their matchups underneath.
One thing MSU is not particularly good at is shooting the basketball. They are one of the worst three point shooting teams in the nation, at just 29.5%.
This is Shakeel Moore, who led the team pointers made with 44. He and Brooks were the only rotation members over 30%. Molinar is the team’s best shooter though, and he’s deadly when he can step into a shot or spot up for a shot.
But he’s not as consistent off the dribble.
MSU’s offense relies a lot on Molinar’s ability to break down his man one on one, or off a screen. In the above clip of Moore knocking down a three, the play is made by Anderson Garcia getting into the lane. They need other people to step into playmaking roles, giving Molinar more of a chance to play off the ball.
This is not going to be a pretty game. Both teams want to slow the ball down and neither team is particularly good at shooting the ball. Virginia is more sound with the basketball, and has a few more weapons on offense and that should be enough. If UVA can keep the twin towers off the offensive glass, this should be a win for the guys in orange and blue.