As you may have heard, Florida State has earned a ninth straight NCAA Tournament invitation. The eleventh seeded Seminoles (17-13, 10-8 ACC) will face the eleventh seeded Missouri State Bears (23-7, 14-4 MVC) of the Missouri Valley Conference in a First Four game. MSU is a very solid program having made the Sweet 16 in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments. Let’s take a deeper look at the Bears.
Team Profile (NET Rankings)
Overall Record: (23-7, 14-4 MVC); Last 10: (8-2)
NET Ranking: 44
Q1 Record: (3-2); Q2 Record: (6-4)
Best Win: #10 Virginia Tech N (76-68)
Worst Loss: #119 Illinois State H (52-51)
Missouri State is in this tournament because of the impressive 3-2 record in Quadrant one games as well as the 9-6 record in combined Q1 and Q2 games. However, a substantial asterisk comes with those records. The asterisk can be explained in two words: Jasmine Franklin.
On December 21st, Missouri State was playing Toledo. Franklin had played 20 minutes and was on her way to another double-double. However, Franklin went down with an injury that was later determined to be a torn ACL. Franklin was second in the nation in rebounding at the time of the injury. Franklin was playing in her eleventh game of the season when she was injured. Other than the Toledo game Franklin had posted double digit rebounds in every game that she played except one when she had nine rebounds. In a game against Oklahoma State Franklin snared a whopping 19 rebounds. She also scored double digit points in every game she played this season except the Oklahoma State game. Franklin was on her way to her best season. She was leading the Bears in points (14.9/gm) and rebounds (12.1/gm) when she went down. She would be a major problem if she was playing in this game.
As noted earlier, MSU has three Q1 wins. All of those wins came when Franklin was healthy. It’s clear that if she had not gotten hurt, MSU would not be playing in the First Four. The Bears would probably be MVC champions and would very likely be ranked right now. They would probably be seeded in the 5-7 range. However, she did suffer the unfortunate injury and will not be available on Thursday.
MSU is still a solid team even without Franklin. Even though the schedule has been a bit light, the Bears are a respectable 15-5 since Franklin’s injury. Let’s discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the current Missouri State team.
Missouri State is a good defensive team. The Bears rank 27th nationally in defensive field goal percentage (36.1%). MSU is also a good rebounding team ranking 23rd nationally in rebound margin (7.3/gm). The Bears are also careful with the ball ranking 30th nationally in turnover margin (4.61/gm).
The rebounding statistics are slightly skewed by Franklin’s brilliance but MSU is still a solid rebounding team. Florida State will need to bring their hard hats to this game and get after it on the boards.
With Franklin not available, MSU’s best player is 6’3 forward Abigayle Jackson. The senior is averaging 13 points and 6.7 rebounds. Jackson is also tough defensively averaging 2.47 blocks per game. How she matches up with Valencia Myers and River Baldwin down low will be a key to this game.
Another player to watch for the Bears is Brice Calip. The 5’8 senior guard averages 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.39 assists per game. The former MVC Player of the Year is very good defensively. Calip is also their best three point shooter.
Sydney Wilson is a 5’11 wing. The senior is averaging 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. Wilson also leads the team in free throw shooting at 83%.
Missouri State’s biggest weakness is pretty obvious. This is a poor shooting team. The Bears shoot 37% overall from the field and a putrid 26.4% from deep. I mentioned that Calip is their best three point shooter but she only hits 28.7% from behind the arc. If the Bears have their normal shooting performance in this game it will be difficult for them to advance.
FSU will also have a depth advantage. Without Franklin, MSU basically plays seven players. Florida State can comfortably go 10 or 11 deep. This personnel versatility also allows the Seminoles to throw different looks at the Bears that they may not have time to prepare for in the short tournament time frame.
Missouri State is a tough and experienced group that is used to making the second weekend of the tournament. They won’t be intimidated in the least by Florida State.
However, MSU will still be missing their best player and in contrast FSU is getting healthy at just the right time. The advanced metrics have Florida State as a six point underdog. That prediction is based on all of the results throughout the year including earlier in the year when the Bears had Franklin and the Seminoles weren’t healthy.
Based on how these two teams look now, unless the Bears shoot the lights out or the Seminoles throw the ball all over the gym I see the Noles having the advantage in this game.
My prediction is that Florida State advances to face Ohio State defeating Missouri State by a 65-57 score.