Wright State Raiders vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Wright State Raiders (6-3 SU, 5-3-1 ATS) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-2 SU, 4-2 ATS), 7:00 p.m. EST, Wednesday, December 16, 2009, Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss. TV: ESPN2
by Ryno of Predictem.com

Point Spread: Wright State +11/Mississippi State -11
Over/Under: 134.5

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Mississippi State came into this season with high expectations after winning the SEC Tournament last year and reaching the NCAA tournament. But a slow start had the Bulldogs at 3-2 after a home loss to Rider and a neutral loss to Richmond. But since then, they have won four straight games, all very impressive victories. Next on the list for Mississippi State is a home contest with Wright State.

The Bulldogs opened the season with a 14-point loss at home to Rider. After three wins over weak opponents, they lost by a point to Richmond in the South Padre Island Invitational. The next day, they rebounded with a 14-point win over Old Dominion. A week later, the Bulldogs really took out their frustration with a 105-53 win over a decent St. Bonaventure team. They continued their hot play last week with a 76-45 win over DePaul and then a 72-54 win at UCLA in their first road game. After such a slow start, Mississippi State is now perhaps playing as well as they can possibly play.

Mississippi State’s offense is based around one big man and a bunch of quality outside shooters around him. Jarvis Varnado, the two-time reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year, is a 6-foot-9 center with a 7-foot-4 wingspan. He has improved significantly on the offensive end during his college career. He doesn’t have a lot of range, but he does most of his scoring in the post and around the basket. Varnado is especially an incredible defensive player who can block any shot. He is averaging 14.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.2 blocks per game. The excellent outside shooters surrounding Varnado are Ravern Johnson, Dee Bost, Kodi Augustus and Barry Stewart. Johnson, who leads the team in scoring with 14.4 points per game, is shooting 48.2 percent from 3-point range, Bost is shooting 45.8 percent, Augustus at a remarkable 64.3 percent clip, and Stewart at 34 percent. All five of those players are averaging more than 10 points per game. The Bulldogs have made at least eight 3-pointers in every game this season and at least nine in all but one game. They were 16-for-28 from beyond the arc against St. Bonaventure.

Wright State has been a very solid team this season with a 6-3 record. But all three losses have come by five points or less. The Raiders opened the season with a 74-69 loss at Washington, a close loss that gave them some confidence going forward. After wins over Portland State, Belmont and Central Michigan, the Raiders lost by three at Northeastern. After three more wins over Cleveland State, Youngstown State and Toledo, they lost their last time out by just one point at Miami of Ohio, 56-55.

The way Wright State plays keeps them in a lot of games. The Raiders are well-coached and run a disciplined offense and shoot well from the perimeter. Todd Brown, Vaughn Duggins, Troy Tabler and Cooper Land can all shoot the ball well from deep. Brown leads the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game and is shooting 45.9 percent from 3-point range. Duggins is averaging 14.2 points per game and Tabler checks in at 12.1.

The Raiders won’t have too much trouble matching up size-wise with the Bulldogs because they have 6-foot-7 Cory Cooperwood, 6-foot-8 Land and 6-foot-9 Ronnie Thomas. They actually out-rebounded Washington, 26-25. Defending Varnado won’t be a huge issue, but instead the Raiders will need to focus on defending the 3-point line. Mississippi State will definitely shoot a lot of 3-pointers, but if the Raiders don’t double-team and they get a hand up on the perimeter they can force bad shots and control the tempo.

Ryno’s Pick: If the Raiders can force the Bulldogs into contested outside jumpers, they should be able to execute well enough on offense to keep the game close. But with so many shooters on the court at once, it’s tough to stop Mississippi State’s offense. The Raiders have enough big bodies to limit Varnado, but if the Bulldogs are hot then the Raiders have no chance at all. Duggins didn’t even play against Washington, so it’s certainly realistic with him in the lineup that the Raiders can make this a game. Take Wright State +11.