Observations from the Mississippi State-Saint Louis Matchup in the 2021 NIT

April 9th, 2021

By Alan Lu

This time around, I decided to take the time to watch Mississippi State’s 6-6 redshirt sophomore forward, D.J. Stewart play in a NIT basketball game against my alma mater, Saint Louis that took place on March 20th.  Stewart is a second round prospect that had been gaining some traction as a draft prospect this year, and he played very well in the NIT.  This was also an opportunity to watch the Saint Louis Billikens play during the 2020-21 season.  The Billikens were fun to watch, and they had a very athletic squad that really competed all the way through, but Stewart was able to lead Mississippi State to a victory, as he scored 20 points in this game.  Here are my thoughts on how he fared, as well as how he and other various prospects may currently stack up as prospects for the NBA.

Mississippi State’s D.J. Stewart scored 20 points in his team’s first round win over Saint Louis in the 2021 NIT.
(Photo:
Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press, Daily Journal)

Mississippi State’s 6-6 redshirt sophomore forward, D.J. Stewart had a solid showing in his team’s win over Saint Louis.  He is a tough, physical swingman that can shoot and pass the basketball.  While he’s not overwhelmingly athletic, he can get where he needs to with the basketball, and he primarily excelled as a shooter and scorer in this game. Stewart shot the ball very well, especially from downtown.  He excelled at making pull-up threes, and he also was very effective at dribbling off of a screen, as he managed to dribble behind the screener once to score from way out.  He also moves fairly well off the ball, as he was able to make an open corner three.  He also ran off of a ball screen to score and draw free throws on mid-range jumpers.

On the downside, he struggled to consistently score when he would look to drive to the hoop.  Stewart can effectively go to his left to score off the dribble, but he would tend to struggle to score in traffic, as he would have trouble getting all the way to the basket.  He had a few of his shots blocked, and he would take tough, contested shots that would lead to misses.

As a playmaker, he looked to be fairly average at best.  Stewart is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, and he can throw solid interior passes to set up scores for his teammates.  He threw an accurate lob pass to a teammate on the break, and he also was able to find a cutter, as he can find teammates on the move.  On the other hand, he was quite turnover prone in this game.  He would tend to throw hasty, inaccurate passes, as he had a couple of them get intercepted, and he also threw others that would wind up going out of bounds.  Another time while inbounding, he was indecisive and he took too long to throw it in, and he was called for a 5-second violation.  He also struggled to handle the ball when pressured, and it would lead him to commit ball-handling turnovers. He also was able to chase down balls to grab his fair share of defensive boards in this game, and sometimes Stewart would push the ball quickly up the floor.

Defensively, he looked to be fairly average in this game.  For the positives, Stewart was able to run in to deflect a loose ball off of an opponent to force a turnover, and he also was able to contest a couple of threes to force misses.  He also showed good footwork when defending an opposing ball handler to force his man to pass the ball another time.  Sometimes though, he would take bad gambles defensively.  On one play, he whiffed on a steal attempt, and he didn’t hustle back to get back front of an opponent on a drive in transition, as his team ended up allowing a score.  He also was caught ball watching and was late to get out onto his man, and he should’ve called for a switch when defending a screen, as his team allowed a score that time as well.  He and another teammate blitzed an opposing ball handler, but his man managed to get the pass to an open man, which left his team in a scramble situation that led to a corner three score for an opponent.  Other times, he can tend to get caught and stuck on screens, which then would put his teammates in a bad spot defensively.

In general, D.J. Stewart played well in his team’s win over Saint Louis.  He is a mobile, skilled swingman that can shoot and score the basketball, and he also was able to make some good passes in this game.  Currently projects to be a borderline second round candidate in the 2021 draft.  He will need to improve his decision-making and cut down on his turnovers, and he will need to be a more disciplined defender in games. Still, his ability to shoot and make effective use of screens as a shooter and ball handler could make him a fairly solid prospect for the NBA, and in a favorable scenario, he could end up being an effective role player similar to former journeyman guard, Keith Bogans in the association.

Saint Louis’ senior swingman, JaVonte Perkins scored 21 points, and he also threw down a thunderous dunk off of a drive in his team’s first round loss to Mississippi State in the 2021 NIT.
(Photo:
Sara Diggins/St. Louis Post Dispatch)

Saint Louis’ senior swingman, JaVonte Perkins played fairly well in his team’s loss to Mississippi State.  He started off strong, and he threw down a high-flying dunk midway through this match.  He scored 21 points overall, but he struggled with his outside shot down the stretch in this game. Perkins did a good job of scoring on strong drives to the hoop.  He would run off screens to get the ball in the high post, and he showed a knack to drive in to score on quick layups.  He also drove off of a screen to score on a thunderous dunk while getting an extra free throw.  Though he preferred going to his right hand, he also managed to score quickly using his left-hand off the glass.  He did miss on a couple of tough, off-balanced shots, but Perkins generally excelled as a scorer when driving hard to the basket. He also excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  He ran the floor to score on the break, and he also managed to score on a quick, backdoor cut to the hoop.

He struggled to consistently knock down outside shots, though.  He did a decent job of making quick, mid-range jumpers, and Perkins would run off the ball quickly to score on mid-range shots off of pin downs.  He also was able to make a couple of spot-up threes, but Perkins struggled to knock down threes late in this game, as a couple of more makes could’ve really swung the momentum back in his team’s favor.

As a playmaker, he looked to be fairly average.  Though he looked to score quite often, Perkins was able to find a cutter to set up a scoring chance for his teammate.  He also set a good off-ball screen to help his teammate score on a jump shot another time.  On the downside, he would sometimes throw hasty passes that would get intercepted, and he also threw an ill-advised crosscourt jump pass that got picked off once.  He drove aggressively into traffic, but then an opponent knocked the ball off of him out of bounds to get him to commit another turnover. Also, he was able to leap up to get his fair share of rebounds, and he was able to get boards on both ends of the floor. 

Plus, Perkins also played satisfactory defense in this game.  He is an athletic, rangy player that moves his feet well, and he was able to block shots off of drives due to possessing solid length, athleticism, and timing.  He is also an active, aggressive defender that would deflect passes and jump on loose balls.  He also would contest threes to force misses.  He showed good footwork when defending out on the perimeter, and he was able to stay in front of an opposing ball handler to get his man to pass the basketball.  On the downside, he would tend to be too aggressive on close outs, and while he would hustle to make plays, he would tend to foul shooters and opponents off of drives.  On one play where he ran hard into a screener, he managed to grab an opposing driver to commit a foul that time.  Another time, he took a misstep when guarding his man, and he then stumbled and was slow to fight through screens or to close out, as his team allowed the opposing player to score on a long two.

Saint Louis’ JaVonte Perkins threw down a mesmerizing dunk in the middle of this game against Mississippi State.
(Source: Twitter/@SaintLouisMBB)

In summary, JaVonte Perkins had a fairly good showing in his team’s loss to Mississippi State.  He had a solid senior season this past year, and he has a shooter’s reputation, but Perkins showed some impressive athletic gifts and he played solid defense in this game.  He did struggle with his three-point shot down the stretch, but it has been reported that he will return to Saint Louis for a fifth year.  That surely will make Billikens’ fans happy, and he will likely have a very good season next year.  Currently, he projects to be a borderline second round candidate for the 2022 draft, and while he may not have much draft buzz, he is a talented prospect that could project into a 3 and D role, as he could end up being a solid role player similar to journeyman guard, Maurice Evans in the NBA.

Saint Louis’ Hasahn French had 17 points and 10 rebounds in his team’s first round loss to Mississippi State in the 2021 NIT.
(Photo:
Associated Press/News Tribune)

Saint Louis’ 6-7 senior big man, Hasahn French also played well in his team’s loss to Mississippi State.  He scored 17 points, had 10 rebounds, 4 blocks, 3 assists, and 3 steals, and he also showed some solid point forward skills when he was on the court. French generally did a good job of scoring on hustle plays.  He scored on a roll to the rim, and he also managed to score on a put back.  He also ran the floor and he managed to throw down an impressive, double pump, reverse 180 dunk on the break.  He’s a solid athlete that can finish plays powerfully around the basket, but there was one play where he missed on a tip-in, as he couldn’t quite channel his tip to score that time.

Also, French did a decent job of scoring in the post.  He can score on strong drop steps and turnaround jump hooks, and he was able to drive in from the high post to score another time.  Sometimes though, he would not always be able to get deep position when he would try to back his man down, and he would sometimes miss on turnaround jump shots in traffic, as he would occasionally struggle to score over taller, longer players.

Plus, he also displayed solid playmaking skills in this game.  French handles the ball well, and he has good court vision.  He can throw crisp passes off the dribble as well as pass out of the post, and he would routinely find cutters, and he also did a fairly good job of recognizing double teams early to pass the ball.  He also led the break and threw a nifty bounce pass to a teammate ahead on the break to set up a score another time.  He also has a wide frame that would enable him to set solid screens to help his teammates score on open jump shots and drives to the hoop.  On the downside, he dribbled too carelessly when using a spin move out of the post, as an opponent then deflected the ball off of himself to force the turnover.  Another time, he brought the ball up and crossed mid-court, but passed it backwards to his teammate that had not yet crossed the half court, which led to an over and back violation. Also, French did a very good job of rebounding the basketball.  He would often chase down balls to get boards on both ends of the floor, and sometimes he would bring the ball up and push the pace afterwards.  On the downside, he would sometimes commit fouls when going for boards due to over-aggressiveness.

He also played good defense in this game.  French has a very good motor, and he would rotate to block shots to help his team protect the paint due to possessing solid timing and footwork.  He also would frequently intercept passes to get steals, and he also would deflect passes and poke balls away to disrupt his opponents’ timing and force other turnovers.  He also showed the ability to defend out on the perimeter as well as in the post, and he has good feet that enabled him to successfully contest shots as well as force turnovers defensively.  On the downside, he would sometimes be late on his rotations, which would then cause him to struggle to defend shooters in one-on-one situations.

Saint Louis’ Hasahn French threw down a terrific, highlight reel worthy dunk early in the second half of this game.
(Source: Twitter/@SaintLouisMBB)

Overall, Hasahn French had a strong showing in his team’s loss to Mississippi State.  He excelled as an inside scorer, rebounder, and defender, and he also showed off some interesting point forward skills.  The main things that’s holding him back is his lack of a jump shot or a shooting stroke, as he is a terrible free throw shooter, and he rarely looks to score outside of the paint.  It seems unlikely that he will develop a three-point shot anytime soon, as he will have to build up his shooting stroke from the ground up.  Right now, he may be an unlikely bet to be drafted regardless of when he decides to enter the NBA draft, as his lack of size and outside shot may hinder his chances to get drafted.  Still, French is a very productive player at the collegiate level, and he could likely carve out a solid career in the G-League or overseas, and his skills may give him a slim chance to make it to the NBA despite not possessing ideal skills to play either forward position.  If he does make it to the NBA, he could end up being a backup big man similar to former journeyman forward, Jeff Adrien in the association.

Mississippi State’s 6-3 sophomore guard, Iverson Molinar also had a solid showing in his team’s win over Saint Louis.  He is a speedy, skilled scorer that can get to anywhere he wants on the court with the basketball in his hands, and he was able to score 19 points in this game. Molinar generally excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  He was able to score on a quick drive in transition, and he would frequently draw fouls off of drives in transition and off cuts to get to the free throw line. He also did a very good job of knocking down mid-range jumpers.  He would quickly dribble around defenders and run quickly off of ball screens to knock down mid-range shots both off the catch and dribble, and Molinar showed that he can quickly score from that range.

He also was able to use a hesitation move to score off of a baseline drive.  Molinar has a solid first step, and he can absorb the contact to get to the free throw line.  On the downside, he would miss on tough, contested shots, especially when he wouldn’t get foul calls.  He also missed on all three of the three-point shots that he hoisted up from beyond the arc.

Also, Molinar displayed fairly average playmaking skills.  He is a quick guard that can push the pace and throw solid passes off the dribble to set up scoring chances for his teammates.  He only was able to get a pair of assists, but he also did not turn the ball over on offense in this game, either. Additionally, he was able to leap up to get several defensive boards in this game.

He also played adequate defense in this game.  Molinar would run in to get his hands on passes to help his team get steals and deflections.  He also contested a corner three to force a miss.  On the downside, he would sometimes be too aggressive on the defensive end.  He bit on a pump fake that led to a scramble situation where an opponent scored on a mid-range jump shot.  Another time, he rotated to commit a reach-in foul in the post, but his team ended up allowing a score and an extra free throw that time.  He also would struggle to fight through screens at times.

Overall, Iverson Molinar is a quick, agile guard that can put up points in a hurry, and he is a microwave type of scorer that can bring instant offense to his team in games.  He will need to improve in the other elements of the game, but his ability to shoot and score the basketball could make him a prospect to watch, as he may project to be a second round prospect whenever he decides to enter the NBA draft.

Saint Louis’ senior guard, Jordan Goodwin had his ups and downs in his team’s loss to Mississippi State.  He struggled to consistently make shots, but he excelled in the non-shooting or scoring related elements of this match.  On this day, he scored 14 points on 5 of 16 shooting, and he also had 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and 6 steals in this game. Goodwin thrived as a scorer in transition.  He would score on speedy drives on the break, as he would evade swipes to score on layups, and he also scored on a powerful, two-handed dunk after getting a steal another time.

He also showed an adequate ability to knock down threes. He was able to make a corner three, as well as a smooth, pull-up three another time.  On the downside, he was fairly streaky with his outside shot, as he also missed his fair share of threes, and he also miss mid-range jumpers due to rushing.  He also struggled to consistently score inside the arc when his team would operate in half-court sets, as he would tend to miss on rushed, contested shots around the basket.

He also displayed adequate playmaking skills.  Goodwin can throw solid interior passes to set up scores for teammates on the break, and he also threw an accurate lob pass to set up an alley-oop dunk for a teammate in transition.  He also threw good passes off the dribble, and he is an athletic guard that can consistently get into the lane to pass the basketball.  On the downside, sometimes he would throw hasty passes that would go astray, as two of them wound up going out of bounds, and he also threw a hasty, no look, behind-the-back pass that got intercepted.  Another time, he dove for a loose ball to get a steal, but he then got tied up, which led to another turnover.

Also, Goodwin did a good job of rebounding the basketball, and sometimes he would quickly push the ball up the floor afterwards.  He also played good defense in this game.  Goodwin showed a knack for running in to intercept passes and jump on loose balls to get steals, and he also would deflect passes to help his team force other turnovers.  He also poked a ball away to get another steal, and he even managed to blow up a dribble handoff to intercept it, as he then drove up the court to score on a dunk on the break.  He is a very active defender, and he has solid feet to defend out on the perimeter.  On the downside, he would sometimes take bad gambles defensively.  He took a bad angle on a screen as he got caught on the screen and he then fouled an opponent on a drive.  He also got beat off the dribble to allow a score another time. 

Late in the game, with his team down three with the other team having the ball with 40 seconds left, but with 27 seconds still on the shot clock, Goodwin made a questionable decision to commit a reach-in foul in the backcourt.  His team did not need to foul that time, and if they had forced the miss and grabbed the rebound, they could have been only down 3 with about 13 seconds left even if the other team tried to whittle it down to the last second on the shot clock.  Instead, the opponent ended up making a trip to the free throw line, made both of his free throws to put Mississippi State up 5, and Saint Louis’ hopes to try to win was out of reach by then.

Overall, Goodwin had some good moments, and he also struggled in other parts of this game in his team’s loss to Mississippi State.  He did not shoot the ball efficiently, but he generally passed and rebounded the ball well, and he also played good defense.  He did make some questionable decisions at times, and he will need to play more under control and improve his long-range shooting.  Most likely, he may need to stay in school for another season to continue to improve as an overall player.  Currently, he may be a long shot to be drafted, but his athleticism, motor, and two-way potential could at least allow him to carve out a professional career in the G-League and/or overseas when his collegiate career ends.  If he does make it to the NBA, Goodwin could end up being an effective role player to Golden State Warriors’ guard, Kent Bazemore in the association.

Mississippi State’s 6-9 freshman forward, Derek Fountain played very well in his team’s win over Saint Louis.  He excelled as a shooter, scorer, and defender, and he showed off versatile scoring skills in this game. Fountain excelled at making open, spot-up threes to provide floor spacing for his team on offense.  He also ran the floor to score on an emphatic, two-handed dunk on the break.  He also showed some low post scoring skills, as he used a quick ball fake to score on a strong drop step move.

On the downside, he was quite fairly turnover prone on offense.  For the positives, he is an unselfish player that will look to find the open man, and he can throw accurate passes off the dribble.  He also set a solid, off-ball screen to help his teammate score on a jump shot.  On the downside, he passed up an open shot around the basket, and he decided to throw a fancy, behind-the-back pass that got intercepted.  He also threw a weak inbounds pass that got intercepted another time, and he can sometimes tend to throw hasty passes in games. Also, Fountain was able chase down balls to get his fair share of rebounds, as he was able to a board on both ends of the floor.

He also played good defense in this game.  Fountain would intercept passes to get a wealth of steals, and he also rotated to block a shot around the basket.  He would often contest shots inside the paint using length, athleticism, and timing to force misses.  He also was able to successfully challenge a couple of threes to get stops for his team.  On the downside, sometimes he can be caught ball watching, as he would be late to rotate back to his man and then give up too much space to shooters, which would lead him to allow scores to them.

Overall, Fountain played very well in his team’s win over Saint Louis.  He is an athletic, skilled forward that could be a prospect to watch next season, as he is a versatile, skilled scorer that also defends well.  He will need to be more assertive on offense, but if he plays well next season, he could swiftly move up draft boards to improve his odds to be selected in the 2022 draft.

Mississippi State’s 6-11 redshirt senior center, Abdul Ado didn’t have his best game, as he struggled to put up shots on offense, and he didn’t block any shots, but he was able to set good screens on offense, and he also was more active as an interior player down the stretch in this contest. Ado was able to score on hustle plays in this game.  He managed to score on a tip-in after leaping up to grab an offensive rebound.  He also would draw fouls in the post as well as on a drive in transition to get to the free throw line.  On the downside, after using a pump fake down low, he missed on a contested turnaround jumper.

Also, he was quite turnover prone on offense.  For the positives, he would tend to set good, firm screens to help his teammates score on numerous jump shots and drives to the basket.  On the downside, he really had trouble protecting the basketball, or passing or handling the ball in general.  He would tend to lose the ball or get it poked away whenever he would get pressured.  Another time, he ran in to get the ball in the backcourt, but he then quickly turned and threw a long pass that ended up getting intercepted.

He was able to chase down balls to get his fair share of rebounds, and he was able to get boards on both ends of the floor.  He also was able to leap up to get a defensive rebound in traffic.

Defensively, he looked to be about average at best.  For the positives, Ado would hold his ground when defending in the post, and he would contest shots around the basket to force misses.  He also was able to successfully challenge a couple of mid-range jumpers as well.  Sometimes, he would inadvertently set a pick on his own teammates when defending screens, which would lead his team to allow opponents to score on drives to the hoop.  Other times, he would tend to be too aggressive in trying to make plays, which would lead him to commit fouls and to be out of position defensively. 

Overall, Abdul Ado didn’t really stand out in his team’s win over Saint Louis, but he is an athletic shot blocker that once blocked 9 shots in a game against Auburn last year as a redshirt junior.  He will really need to improve his skill set offensively, and he will need to work on his jump shot and playmaking skills.  There were quite a few times in this game where he would mishandle the ball, and it’s uncertain if he’ll ever be a main focal point of a team’s offense. 

Right now, he’s probably an unlikely bet to be drafted, and he may need to consider staying in school for a sixth season to continue to work on his game in order to improve from an offensive standpoint.  Most likely, his size, shot blocking, and defensive skills could enable him to make it to the G-League and/or overseas when his collegiate career ends.  If he does make his way to the NBA, he could end up being a backup center similar to former journeyman center, Dwayne Jones in the association.

Saint Louis’ 6-4 sophomore guard, Terrence Hargrove Jr. also played well in his team’s loss to Mississippi State in the first round of the NIT Tournament.  He showed off impressive athletic gifts, and he excelled as a shooter and scorer in this game.

Hargrove excelled at scoring on hustle plays.  He ran the floor and caught a lob pass to score on a high-flying, alley-oop dunk in transition.  He also drew free throws on a strong dunk attempt off of a backdoor cut.  Another time after getting the ball on a cut, he drove in from the high post, but he ended up missing on a contested layup. He also did a good job of knocking down open, corner threes off the catch to provide floor spacing for his team on offense.  Though he didn’t grab many rebounds in this game, he was able to chase down a couple of balls to help his team get defensive rebounds.

Defensively, he struggled in this game.  For the positives, he was able to close out on shooters to force a couple of misses.  On the downside, he tended to commit fouls, as he fouled an opponent on a mid-range shot to allow a score and an extra free throw, and he also committed a reach-in foul when trying to intercept a pass another time.  He had trouble defending quicker guards off the dribble, but he also struggled to defend taller opponents in the post.

Overall, Hargrove had a solid showing in this game, and he is a very athletic, energetic combo guard that could be due for a breakout season next year as a junior.  He’s a talented prospect that should get a lot of playing time on Saint Louis’ team next season, and a strong junior season could make him a potential second round prospect in 2022.

Mississippi State’s Cameron Matthews threw down a rim-rocking dunk late in this game in his team’s first round win over Saint Louis in the 2021 NIT.
(Source: Twitter/@HailStateMBK)

Mississippi State’s 6-7 freshman forward, Cameron Matthews had a decent showing in his team’s win over Saint Louis.  He didn’t shoot the ball very often, but he was able to throw down a thunderous dunk off of a speedy drive in transition.

He also rebounded the ball well, and he is a high-motor player that would really get after it on the glass.  He also defended well, as he would dive for loose balls, poke balls away, and intercept passes to get steals for his team. Overall, Matthews is a very athletic, glue guy that was able to make good hustle plays down the stretch to help his team get the win.  He will need to be more assertive on offense, and he will need to improve his jump shot, but he could be a prospect to keep tabs on in the future.

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