We are continuing this week's series on important questions each SEC team needs to answer. Today Andrew Parrish takes a look at Mississippi State and Missouri.
Mississippi State: Can they make free throws in big games to steal wins in SEC play?
Mississippi State’s free-throw shooting woes are no secret to anyone who watches them play, but their efforts from the line have reached historical levels. The Bulldogs have made only 63% of their free throw attempts this season, which is the among the lowest conversion rates of any SEC team in the KenPom era. These struggles at the line have had a major impact on their results, with two of their four losses coming when they shot less than 50% from the line. Compounding these issues is the fact that the Bulldogs get to the line at a fairly decent clip (67th in the country in free-throw rate), which detracts from their offensive efficiency as they finish possessions at the line with missed free throws. The Bulldogs have seen some recent improvement in their performance from the line (19-21 against Missouri), but the Bulldogs will need to improve their consistency in that area to complement their excellent three-point shooting and stellar interior defense that has allowed the Bulldogs to overperform their preseason expectations to this point.
Missouri: How will the Tigers react when they aren’t getting to the line?
Missouri started their season 7-0 with multiple impressive victories over top-10 rival Illinois and PAC-12 contender Oregon, as well as mid-major stalwarts Wichita State and Liberty. Their success has been in large part to their top-30 defense which has been fueled by their three-point defense as well as their ability to get to the free throw line. The Tigers boast a top 25 free throw rate (frequency of getting to the line), averaging 23.3 attempts per game and 25 attempts per conference game. When the Tigers get to the line, they have great success in controlling the game and the tempo of how they want to play, as well as allowing for them to play half-court defense rather than having to defend in transition. However, in their recent game against Mississippi State, the Tigers only got to the line six times throughout the game, including zero attempts in the second half. In that second half, the Tigers were outscored 51-24 en route to a 15-point loss in Starkville. This trend is alarming due to the sheer variability in the officiating in SEC play. The Tigers need to be able to score on the offensive end in other ways than getting to the free throw line if they expect to have widespread success moving forward through SEC play.
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