By Brett Hudson
A theme of Mississippi State’s drop from 2-2 to 3-4 in Southeastern Conference play has been the inability to shoot well away from Humphrey Coliseum. To a certain extent, that is an occupational hazard — shooting well on the road is more difficult than shooting at home, and that combined with other perils of the road is the reason most Power 5 teams avoid more than one true road game before league play.
The reasons for shooting woes on the road are obvious — hostile and uncomfortable environment, unfamiliar backdrop for shooters, etc. — but MSU’s recent woes have come with even more nuance. Joel Coleman of The Starkville Daily News found MSU is shooting 23.1 percent from 3-point range when forced to play with a Nike basketball on the road, but 41.5 percent when at home with its usual Wilson ball.
MSU coach Ben Howland played down the impact of the ball.
“I sure don’t want our players to think that. It’s still round,” Howland said. “We practice with them, and when I think about some of our games, I think we played with the Nike ball at Vanderbilt and won there.”
One thing that cannot be downplayed, however, is MSU’s shooting penalty by playing away from Humphrey Coliseum is more severe than that of its SEC brethren.
That shows in the below data. This is the difference in each SEC’s team shooting percentage when they play at home and when they play a true road game. (I filtered out neutral-site games given the drastic difference from neutral site to neutral site, whereas most true road games are all the same in that they’re all a tough spot to be in. All road games are hard but each neutral site game is its own adventure.)
Diff. between home shooting % and road shooting %
As you can see, most of the conference is worse at shooting when it plays on the road, but the conference median is around 1.5 to 3 percent worse. Mississippi State is far worse than that at 8.68 percent. Here’s the full list of numbers:
Texas A&M, +1.42 percent
South Carolina, -0.16
Ole Miss, -2.99
Mississippi State -8.68
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, focusing the numbers on 3-point shooting makes it even worse.
Difference in 3-point shooting when on the road compared to when at home
No team in the SEC struggles to shoot the 3-pointer away in road games like MSU does.
Texas A&M +5.91 percent
South Carolina -0.85
Ole Miss -3.96
Mississippi State -12.61
(I feel good about using true home game v. true road game splits in this situation because, as stated above, Power 5 teams tend to not go on the road unless it’s conference play or unless it can really do something for its NCAA Tournament resume. Basically, it’s unlikely that a team is going on the road to a bad team and boost the numbers that way.)
A closer look at MSU’s road schedule reveals the Bulldogs have had as good a chance as any to shoot the 3-pointer well on the road. MSU’s road games have been against Dayton (170th in 3-point shooting defense), South Carolina (262nd), Vanderbilt (73rd), Kentucky (267th) and Alabama (119th).
Getting right against the Rebels is certainly possible — they rank 238th in 3-point defense and have just the 10th-best defense in the SEC according to KenPom. But the time to do it is now.
KenPom currently projects MSU to lose at Ole Miss and ultimately go 9-9 in league play, but that projection comes with a catch: two of those projected wins are on the road, at Arkansas on Feb. 16 and at Georgia on Feb. 20. Road shooting performances like this one could make one of those feasible road wins slip away, a loss that could cost MSU a seed line come Selection Sunday, or even worse.
“I think that, on the road, you’re playing a team on their home floor and you have to be even more efficient in your execution to get good shots,” Howland said. “We missed good shots, some open shots in our last game, but we also took some tough shots, too. Everything with shooting has to do with quality of shot, in my mind.”