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Get To Know A Marquette Basketball Opponent: Mississippi State

The Golden Eagles face off with the Bulldogs in the semifinals of the Rocket Mortgage Tip-Off in Fort Myers, Florida.

NCAA Womens Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament-Louisiana State vs Mississippi State Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Mississippi State University for Agriculture and Applied Science

Well, that’s very fancy: Yes, and MSU is probably a lot easier to think about than MSUAAS.

Location: Mississippi State, Mississippi

Wait, I thought it was in Starkville: Let me put it this way: MSU’s president’s office is addressed as Lee Hall, Suite 4000, Mississippi State, Mississippi. Google Maps says it’s a whole one mile distance from the pinned location for Mississippi State University to the pinned location for Starkville, so feel free to keep thinking it’s in Starkville. Officially, though: It’s not.

None of this helps me figure out where it is on a map, though: If you imagine a triangle formed by Jackson, Memphis up in Tennessee, and Birmingham over in Alabama — and you can, because I-22, I-20, and I-55 do exactly this — then Starkville is located right exactly in the middle of that triangle. Northern half of Mississippi, over towards Alabama, if that helps.

Founded: The state legislature passed the legal end of the creation of the college in 1878, but classes did not start until the fall of 1880. They got their start as The Agricultural and Mechanical College of the State of Mississippi, but was commonly referred to simply as Mississippi A&M. A simplification of the name came along in 1932 as it was changed to just Mississippi State College by the legislature, and they granted university status in 1958 after the expansion of graduate programs to doctoral studies amongst other developments.

Enrollment: 23,086 students in the fall of 2021, with 18,584 undergraduates.

CLANGA: If you’ve ever turned on a MSU football game in the last decade, the preponderance of cowbells making all sorts of noise has probably jumped out at you. The specific start of this tradition has been lost to the ages, but it’s clear that they were common and popular by the 1950s. You have to figure that Mississippi State’s ability to deafen opponents at Davis Wade Stadium had a lot to do with the SEC banning artificial noisemakers in 1974, and that ban lasted for nearly 40 years, up through 2010 when the SEC said “ah yes, proud history and all, let’s give it a one year trial run.” Not sure how you can have a proud history and tradition when you go over 30 years without it, but whatever, the trial run went well, so now it’s a permanent fixture.

Nickname: Bulldogs

Why “Bulldogs”? It took a minute for them to end up there, at least officially. They seem to have started off as Aggies, which shouldn’t surprise you given the original name of the school. Maroons caught on for a while because of the school colors. The Bulldogs name was locked in back in 1961, not long after gaining university status, but school historical records find Bulldogs being used to refer to the play of the football team dates back as far as 1905, used right along side with Aggies and Maroons. There has been a live bulldog mascot as far back as 1935, and the modern day Bully, the 21st in the line, resides at MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Bulldog Bash: No, they’re not training the dog to fight. Every year, they have a huge free outdoor concert alongside a home football game. It’s now regarded as the largest free outdoor concert in the state, although that’s an awful lot of qualifiers to get you to that designation.

Can I interest you in two weeks of orientation? That’s what they’ve got, calling it Dawg Days. I presume it’s a lot of fun activities as opposed to Very Serious Campus Acclimation kind of stuff, but still, two weeks is a long time. Then again, if you’re trying to move approximately 4,000 freshmen onto campus — in other words, literally half of MU’s total undergrad enrollment as first year students — you’re probably going to try to spread that out a bit.

Cheese! Remember, MSU got its start as an ag school, so of course they’re interested in cheese production. They produce an artisanal Edam, Cheddar, and Vallagret cheese right on campus, selling well over 100,000 blocks, wheels, and balls every year. I think we should be closer friends with Mississippi State.

Notable Alumni: Frank Dowsing, the first black football player at MSU when he enrolled in 1969; Cynthia Cooper, whistleblower in the 2002 WorldCom fraud scandal; author John Grisham; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott; Dalton Pritchard, a color television pioneer at RCA Laboratories; Sharion Aycock, the first female federal district court judge in Mississippi; MLB player Rafael Palmeiro, currently #13 on the all-time home runs chart; and finally, Jaelyn Young and Muhammad Dakhlalla, federal convicts due to their attempts to join ISIS in 2015.

Bonus Alumni Note: Machine Gun Kelly — the Prohibition era criminal, not the modern day rapper — studied agriculture at MSU for a couple of years. I now bring you a note straight off his Wikipedia page:

Kelly’s first sign of trouble came when he enrolled in Mississippi State University to study agriculture in 1917.

You can’t write jokes like this.

Last Season: 18-16 with an 8-10 record in SEC play under the direction of Ben Howland. They lost in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament after beating South Carolina in the first round, and then lost 60-57 to Virginia in the first round of the NIT.

Final Ranking: #49

Final T-Rank Ranking: #64

This Year So Far: 4-0 with big wins over three teams in the KenPom top 200 and one over Arkansas Pine Bluff which is one of the worst teams in the country.

Current KenPom Ranking and Projection: #27 and projected to go 20-9 overall with a 10-8 record in SEC action. That would shape up to be sixth place in the league.

Current T-Rank Ranking and Projection: #38 and projected to go 20-10 and 9-9 in the SEC. That would land them in a three-way tie for seventh place in the conference.

Hey, wait a minute, those records don’t line up: Yes, T-Rank has an extra game listed. MSU has scheduled a contest against Jackson State on December 14th that has not made it onto KenPom’s schedule page yet.

Returning Stats Leaders

Points: Tolu Smith, 14.2 ppg
Rebounds: Tolu Smith, 6.5 rpg
Assists: Shakeel Moore, 2.2 apg

Actual Stats Leaders

Points: Tolu Smith, 17.8 ppg
Rebounds: Tolu Smith, 8.5 rpg
Assists: Cameron Matthews & Eric Reed, 2.5 apg

Shooters? Mississippi State’s most prolific shooter this season has been D.J. Jeffries, who is 8-for-21 (38%) from long range through four games. He’s a 34% career shooter behind the arc, but connected on 37% of his attempts for two seasons at Memphis. Last year was not good for him at .29.3%, but it certainly looks like he’s regained his touch. Shawn Jones, Jr., is averaging just over three attempts per game off the bench, but he’s only hitting 31% so far after a rough start. Jones has hit three of his last seven attempts over MSU’s last two contests.

Dashawn Davis went 5-6 before getting shutdown for the time being because of an ankle injury, but he only made 19% of his threes at Oregon State last season. The Bulldogs said he was “day to day at best” on November 15th, so I’d rule him out for this one. Jamel Horton has gone 2-for-4 to this point of the year, and Cameron Matthews is 1-for-3. Horton was a 36% shooter at Albany, while Matthews has never shown an ability to hit the long ball regularly in his previous two seasons with the Bulldogs.

Bigs? There are two guys on the Mississippi State roster measuring in at 6’11” and another chap who is 6’10”. We can dispense of the 6’10” guy, KeShawn Murphy, as the freshman from Alabama has played in every game but never longer than the season high eight minutes he had last time out against South Dakota. We probably need to keep our eyes on Will McNair, Jr., who is 6’11” and 265 pounds. He’s averaging 14 minutes a game, which is a notable amount of playing time. The Bulldogs don’t count on him to score at 3.5 points per game, but 5.0 rebounds and a steal on average while never playing more than 17 minutes in a game this season is pretty good stuff. This is his first year in Starkville after playing at New Mexico State for the three years before that.

The guy we haven’t mentioned yet is pretty important. Tolu Smith was their best returning scorer and rebounder and he’s leading the team in both departments to this point of the season. At 6’11” and 245 pounds, he’s got some size to throw around, and that’s getting him to 17.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game so far this year. He is an elite offensive rebounder, landing in the top 200 in OR rate per KenPom in each of his first two years in Starkville after transferring from Western Kentucky. He’s exactly the kind of big you think he is, blocking shots and drawing fouls, and he has a new wrinkle so far this year: He doesn’t get whistled for fouls. Marquette’s #1 job in this game? Cooling him off from his 71.4% shooting percentage on the season.

Head Coach: Chris Jans, in his first season at MSU, his seventh as a Division 1 head coach, and his 12th as a head coach anywhere since 1996. Jans spent five years at New Mexico State after getting his start for one year at Bowling Green in 2014-15. He is, of course, 4-0 at Mississippi State, but 143-44 as a Division 1 head coach and 302-89 overall.

All-Time Series: Marquette is 1-0 all time against Mississippi State. The lone meeting came in 2012 as Davante Gardner put up a 15/12/2/1/1 off the bench in 22 minutes to push the Golden Eagles to an 89-62 victory in the consolation bracket of the Maui Invitational.

What To Watch For: So far this season, when Marquette plays at a speed that generates at least 80 possessions according to, they are 3-0. Yes, that means that they are 0-1 when they don’t, and the specifics of the Purdue game are important here. That game in West Lafayette had just 66 possessions, and a large part of that has to be because the Boilermakers, coming in at #331 in the country in tempo right this second, wanted it that way.

I thought the key to victory in that game was to go as fast as possible to try to run Canadian big man Zach Edey out of the game. Marquette did not do that for sustained periods, or at the very least seemed to be much more passive about their approach to the game, and maybe that’s why things fell apart late for the Golden Eagles.

I say all of this because Mississippi State is currently ranked at #316 in tempo by KenPom. Thanks to the mere existence of Mississippi’s very own Tolu Smith, you can see why head coach Chris Jans is trying to keep things on the slower end of the spectrum. Even if his top player wasn’t his 6’11” center, Jans’ career shows a regular trend of trying to play as slowly as possible. They don’t want to go fast. Neither did Purdue, and that worked out for them eventually. I certainly believe that if the Golden Eagles want to find a way to down KenPom’s #15 ranked defense on Monday night, their best path to that comes through speeding up the Bulldogs past their comfort point.

One other thing to note: KenPom currently has MSU in the bottom 40 in the country in both the rate that they allow teams to shoot three-pointers against them AND how many assisted baskets they allow. If we know anything about Marquette under Shaka Smart so far, it’s that he wants to shoot a lot of open threes, usually off of some kind of kickout to the arc to a wide open guy to maximize the chance of an assist on the eventual make. In other words: One of the true flaws in Jans’ defense so far this season — and KenPom has them at #15 in that category through four games so it’s not like there are a lot of them — just so happens to be a core belief and focal point of attack from head coach Shaka Smart as to how he wants his team to play. Is activating that kind of play to take advantage of MSU’s weaknesses something that we’re going to see down in Fort Myers?