Before we get into the nuts and bolts of this weekend’s Mississippi State game, I have to share some disturbing, life-alerting, news with you fine people. When first alerted to this information, I immediately called Crime Stoppers to initiate an investigation. After some uncomfortable questions regarding my ex-girlfriend’s whereabouts, and some stern remarks from McGruff, the probe was quickly shuttered. Nevertheless, after some dark web internet sleuthing, I persisted. What I present below has not been altered in any fashion:
“FRESHMAN” RJ BLAKNEY IS TWENTY-TWO FUCKING YEARS OLD!!!
A cursory look into Blakney’s biography reveals that he spent a year attending a prep school after his high-school eligibility ran out. Given that he was clearly one of the older kids in his class, it would, at most, put his age at 20 (the Obi Toppin exemplar). Which leads us to the obvious question: WHERE DID THOSE OTHER TWO YEARS GO???? Was he left back in two grades? Did he start school when he was 9? Maybe he was on a Special Ops tour? This dude will ostensibly graduate from UD when he is a month shy of his 26th birthday, madness.
Imagine dropping your son off for college and he calls you up to inform you his roommate is a 22 year-old man? That kid would be living in a Stuart single before the week was through. I need you guys to summon up false-outrage about this with me (I also have issues for the way Blakney spells his name. It leads me to pronounce it “Black-knee,” not “Blake-knee. I guess that pales in comparison to the fact he was legally driving in sixth grade, but, still, it is taking me time to get used to it).
That being said, Blakney’s old ass was one of the highlights of the Northern Kentucky win. While most of the squad seemed completely befuddled by NKU’s zone, Blakney was running to open spots, running the baseline and wasn’t afraid to put up a shot when he had an open look. While the UD bench will unfortunately be a work in progress for the foreseeable future, Blakney appears to be the most game-ready sub. We can collectively hold our breath for a Weaver waiver, and possibly the addition of Mustapha Amzil in January, but until that day comes Blakney’s contributions will be essential. Regardless, it seems likely that bench production will be a sore spot until further notice.
Now this is where it gets weird. I took that screenshot last night at around 11pm. Today, not 12 hours later, it appears the date of birth for Blakney has magically changed:
It’s apparent that the U of D knew I was onto this Pulitzer Prize level story and a coverup is afoot. Something is rotten in the state of Ohio. Where’s the birth certificate, RJ???? We will stop at nothing to uncover the truth.
As we mentioned on the Rapid Reaction pod this week, Dayton is not going to be successful keeping games in the sixties. You’d be hard-pressed to even find a handful of college teams that continually win without scoring the ball consistently. The Flyers simply don’t have the depth or talent on the defensive end of the floor to beat decent teams without persistent offense. Compounding the problem is the fact that UD’s Big Three (Crutch, Dirt Road and Ibi) provide the majority of the scoring. The Flyers already need to find around ten points a night to compete at a high-level — what will they do when one, or, god forbid, two, of their dependable scorers have an off night? Praying is not an option.
Fortunately for Dayton U, Mississippi State is also an offensive disaster. The Bulldogs are scoring just over 67 points per game, which has directly led to their slow start. MSU began the season with a 53-42 loss to Clemson, a game which should have encouraged both programs to rack up some false positives. A loss against Liberty and wins over Texas State, North Texas and Jackson State round out the program’s current resume. Suffice it to say, this is a game both UD and Miss State need to right the ship.
Howland’s squad returns two starters from last season’s twenty win club, and is led by a trio of scorers: sophomore guards Iverson Molinar (18.0 ppg/5.0 rpg) and DJ Stewart Jr. (16.4 ppg/47% 3pt), with 6’10” Tolu Smith (15.0 ppg/8.4 rpg) rounding out the Starkville Troika. Molinar, in particular, is key to the Bulldog’s success this season. After sitting out the first three games of the season with the COVID, Mississippi State is 2-0 with him in the lineup — he adds a perimeter presence the Bulldogs desperately need. Stewart can score in a variety of ways and is Howland’s best defender. Smith has an NBA body, scores well around the hoop and is more than serviceable passing the ball out of the post.
While most coaches have opted for almost position-less basketball, Howland, as has always been his reputation, remains obsessed with big bodies. In addition to the 6’10” Smith, Miss State will roll out 6’11” Abdul Ado, 6’9″ Javian Davis and 7’0″ center Quinten Post (according to KenPom, the Bullies have the sixth tallest program in the nation). While Howland’s bigs won’t set the world on fire with their offensive ability, they can rebound the ball with anyone. Which, I don’t have to tell you, is not an encouraging metric for the Flyers.
I’ll tag Matt in for some more in-depth analysis.
When Dayton eventually meets with A10 foes like Hasahn French, Michael Hughes, and Osun Osunnyi, they will not be lacking experience facing off against brutes that eat up rebounds for three square meals a day. After facing off with teams that featured the 11th and 12th best offensive rebound rates in the country, Dayton heads to Atlanta to try and beat the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who have the 7th highest offensive rebound rate in the nation (40.7%). Break out the ice packs, because it’ll be another physical game for the Gem City Cagers.
To rack up a lot of rebounds on the offensive end, you have to miss a lot of shots — and the Bulldogs have definitely done that this season so far. They are averaging 66.8 points a game, a scant better than our Flyers, at 65.3 points a game. Dayton is actually shooting the ball at a decent clip but just can’t stop getting into the Christmas spirit by gift wrapping the ball to opposing defenses. Mississippi State ups the ante, having the indignity of struggling to put the ball in the hoop and turn it over at a less than ideal pace.
While still not quite at the level that the Flyers has thrown the ball all over the court this season, the Bulldogs are squandering possession on 22% of their trips down the floor. When they do get a shot off, the Bulldogs haven’t shot it effectively this season. While MSU is shooting an above average 35.1% from the perimeter this season, their effective field goal percentage of 49.3% illustrates that their ability to score from deep isn’t being utilized fully. In addition to featuring competent shooters from three, Mississippi State is also an above average team when it comes to scoring at the rim efficiently. The Bulldogs have scored on 69.7% of their field goal attempts in the paint, which is a very impressive 1.39 points per possession. So if MSU presents solid shooters from behind the arc, and score it efficiently at the rim, why are their overall shooting numbers so mediocre? Our good friend, the hero-ball midrange jumper, is the culprit yet again.
So far this season, 39.6% of Mississippi State’s field goal attempts have been two-point jump shots. Compare that to 33% of attempts at the rim and 27.4% from three, we can clearly see that the largest portion of the MSU offense comes from those oftentimes wasteful jumpers. With the Bulldogs averaging 0.60 points per possession on midrange attempts, it is logical that Mississippi State have had games where they struggle to score — 42 points in their season opener against Clemson, as an example. Of course, all of these misses present plenty of opportunities for the Bulldogs to flex their rebounding muscles. Three MSU players are averaging an offensive rebound rate over 12%, so it will require a Flyer team effort to effectively box out and get rebounds.
On the other end of the court, MSU is a bit of a mixed bag. The Bulldogs have done well protecting the paint through five games, earning a 16.9% block rate which is 8th highest in the country. Their opponents are only converting 40.8% of their two-point field goals. Teams are mostly content not bothering to try and get anything at the rim against Howland’s club, attempting, on average, just 19.4% of their field goals down low. In between the Bulldogs ability to rebound, score efficiently at the rim, and lock down the paint, it could be a long day for Jordy and the rest of the Flyer frontcourt.
While the paint could be a no fly zone for UD on Saturday, it seems that the Bulldogs sell out to protect the paint at the expense of giving up shots from the perimeter. 47% of Mississippi State opponent’s shots have come from beyond the arc this season. Teams have been able to convert a higher than average percentage of their three-point attempts against the Bulldogs, hurting them from deep may be at least one weakness to exploit on Saturday. There will be plenty of opportunities from deep for the Flyers, will they be able to convert them? While Dayton has not exactly gone deep into the bench so far this year, only two Flyers have been effective from three so far this season: Ibi Watson and Chase Johnson have been able to shoot it well, with 46.7% and 66.7% three-point percentages respectively (to be fair, Dirt Road’s performance are a result of only six attempts, so while Chase’s shot looks good, it will definitely regress).
Jalen Crutcher has only hit four of fourteen three-point attempts this season, which equals a less than stellar 28.6%. There has been plenty of discussion about Jalen’s early struggles this season. It’s fair to wonder if his issues are linked to the big Obi-sized hole that is in both the Flyers lineup and our hearts. However, Jalen is a career 37% three-point shooter. He’s conclusively a better perimeter shooter than we have seen so far, and we will no doubt see an improvement in his shooting sooner or later. If Jalen can get right from the perimeter against the Bulldogs, Dayton will be on track to leave Atlanta with a win.
An empty NBA arena, a noon tip, and two teams that experience pronounced scoring droughts is a recipe for a real shit fest (ShitFest, consequently, has been canceled this year. For obvious reasons). Quite obviously, Miss State’s size and rebounding ability concerns me greatly. MSU is outrebounding its opponents by thirteen a game and employs a stifling brand of defense around the basket. I commented on the Dayton’s award-winning podcast this week — UD needs Dirt Road Johnson to get baskets to win ballgames. From what I’m seeing from Mississippi State, DRJ may be a complete no show. Simply put, where do the Flyers get the scoring if Dirt Road is shutdown? I guess we will find out. Additionally, this seems like a game in which Chimichanga will be in serious foul trouble. Buckle up for a nasty one. Bulldogs 68, Flyers 63. #LOWD