Keys to the game: MSU at Arkansas hoops

On the road at Arkansas, Rick Ray and Mississippi State are hoping to get back above .500 in the SEC after dropping the previous two contests. The Bulldogs’ matchup with the Razorbacks tonight at 8 (central) on CSS, gives them that opportunity, but it won’t be easy against an 11-6 team which presents a tough test for MSU.

SFFQFRAVKDIMNQV.20121108195535Hogs head coach Mike Anderson runs what is not-so-affectionately called “40 Minutes of Hell,” a style of play where his team runs constantly, subs often and keeps the opponent under duress.

Ray’s style at MSU is not totally dissimilar, but he’s only got about half as many players to do with it, and so comes the issue for the Bulldogs.

The good news for State, however, is that, despite the low numbers, it has remained active and hard-nosed throughout full contests. If the offseason conditioning holds to form – and MSU keeps out of foul trouble – it will go a long way.

Outside of handling Arkansas’ defense, MSU will also have to contain a high-scoring offense, which Ray mentioned earlier this week as an issue for his team.

When State was winning, Ray said, they were holding teams in the 50s. When they’ve lost, teams have been scoring in the 70s.

The Razorbacks? They average 78.6 points per game. MSU? 61.6

The pressure will be on from both sides, but Ray has found a couple of keys for MSU to focus on.

Perhaps top of the list is turnovers, an issue for MSU all season, and even more so against Arkansas’ style of defense. The Bulldogs are averaging 17.2 turnovers per game while the Hogs, for comparison’s sake, average 11.8

Ray saw the issues Alabama’s press gave his team and he’s hoping to handle Arkansas’s more effectively.

“I think anybody who saw that film knows we might struggle against the run-and-jump and the press, Ray said. “That’s obviously all Arkansas does is press. We’ve gotta take care of the basketball. That’s our No. 1 concern going into the game offensively and defensively. Offensively, you don’t wanna turn the basketball over, and when you turn the basketball over, you don’t have a chance to set your defense.”

Said Ray, “You’ve gotta take care of the basketball. You give them easy points if you try to run fast against their pass or if you score early against their press.”

The other key is a two-for-one, as the Bulldogs have a high-scoring duo to be concerned with on defense.

Guard B.J. Young and forward Marshawn Powell are the top two scorers for Arkansas, averaging 17.2 and 15.2 points per game, respectively.

Not only do they both score a lot, they do it in multiple ways.

“I think Young is a guy that’s just hard to keep out of the paint,” Ray said. “It’s not just gonna be a one-man effort with Young. Our guys have gotta move to Young and they’ve gotta move to Powell. Whether Powell’s in the post or on the perimeter, I think he’s a problem. We’ve gotta keep Young out of the paint. He’s the type of guy that tries to drive one way and if you cut him off, he’ll cut or spin and probe the defense the other way. You’ve gotta constantly be moving to him and not allow him to get penetration.

“Then Powell’s a skilled forward. He can score in the post, he can score off the post, he can catch and shoot. We’ve gotta do some things when he catches the ball off the block to try to move to him and not give him gaps to move forward.”

What to watch for tonight seems pretty clear, having heard from Ray: how MSU’s offense gets the ball up the court and how MSU’s defense contains the two big Hogs. If State can do both well, it will find itself at 3-2 in the conference and ready to host a big game against Florida on Saturday.

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