We can't talk about Sunday's Texas A&M/Mississippi State game without addressing the elephant in the room: Chennedy Carter's status.
Carter hasn't played since January 9 against LSU, when she exited the game with an ankle sprain. Carter — A&M's leading scorer and a probable WNBA lottery pick should she decide to leave A&M a year early — has now missed six consecutive games, with A&M going 4-2 over that stretch. They lost to a very good Kentucky team by 22, but seemed to figure out how to play without Carter after that, running off four wins in a row against the mid-pack teams in the SEC before dropping a one-point game to LSU this past weekend.
It's clear that the Aggies are going to struggle against top flight teams without their star player, and that's not a knock on A&M. The top teams in women's college basketball are very good, and the margin for error in these matchups is small. Losing one of the best scorer's in the country — Carter's 21.9 points per game rank sixth in the nation, plus she leads Division I in usage rate — is going to hurt. That's just the nature of the game, and it severely complicates A&M's path to victory against a team like Mississippi State.
There hasn't been an update yet about Carter's return, and it's probably safe to assume that she'll miss Sunday's meeting between the Aggies and No. 8 Mississippi State. In that scenario, what can the Aggies do to pull out a win?
First, let's talk some about this Bulldogs team.
At 20-3, and 8-1 in SEC play, this is the toughest team that A&M's going to play until their season-finale against South Carolina. Her Hoop Stats has the Bulldogs ranked 7th in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. They're 7th in field goal percentage. They eschew the three-ball for the most part — only 16 percent of their points come from three — in favor of a strong interior game.
Three Bulldogs players average 13ish points per game. Two of them — Jessika Carter and Jordan Danberry — shoot over 50 percent from inside the arc, while the other — Rickea Jackson — is the team's best shooting threat, making 40.7 percent of her threes, though she takes just 1.2 of them per game. In terms of 3-point volume, it's Chloe Bibby who has to be watched, as she takes 4.0 threes per game, making 37.4 percent of them.
Per Synergy, Mississippi State has been great in transition, scoring in the 97th percentile on those possessions, but they've only been slightly worse on half-court possessions, scoring in the 94th percentile.
A&M has been fine defending transition plays on the year, but they do rank slightly worse — 72nd percentile — when defending in the half-court.
But A&M's offense will want to slow the game down, because the Aggies have had some struggles on the offensive end when it comes to transition, as their 0.873 points per possession in transition rank in the bottom half of Division I. A&M wants to turn this contest into one that's very methodical.
The key for A&M is N'dea Jones. Jones has a double-double in 10 consecutive games, and they'll need her to score efficiently inside and control the glass if they want to score the upset victory. Since SEC play started, Jones two worst games by field goal percentage were both A&M losses, and if she can't get going inside, A&M will be in trouble.
Another key is Kayla Wells. With Carter out, Wells has become the most important shooter for the Aggies, and she's responded by shooting very well from three. Minus the win over Georgia in which she didn't attempt a three, since Carter's been out of the lineup, Wells has gone 12-for-23 from deep, and while you probably don't want her doing too much in this game, if she can get some good looks from outside while Jones and Ciera Johnson get things going inside, the Aggies should be able to keep it close against a very good Bulldogs team. And if you can keep it close, anything can eventually happen.
Sunday, February 9, at Noon on ESPN.