This year’s Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off has the chance to truly tip-off a great start to the season as all four competitors enter this MTE with undefeated records.
- Mississippi State (3-0)
- Northwestern (3-0)
- Rhode Island (3-0)
- Washington State (2-0)
Fun Fact: All BHOF Tip-Off teams are UNDEFEATED leading into this weekend. 🏀
— University of Hoophall (@hoophallu) November 16, 2023
First Round (Saturday, Nov. 18)
- Mississippi State vs. Washington State – Noon (ESPN+)
- Rhode Island vs. Northwestern – 2:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
It’s year 2 of the Chris Jans era for Mississippi State and they’re looking just as good if not better than Jans’ productive first season. Last year, the team opened the season with 11 straight wins as well as a First Four appearance in March and is certainly trying to repeat that success as they enter the Hall of Fame Tip-Off with an undefeated record. Mississippi State certainly hasn’t lucked into any early wins as evidenced by their 22-point average margin of victory over their first three contests. The Bulldogs earned some votes in last week’s AP Poll and will be looking to leave Mohegan Sun with enough votes to have a ranking.
With five upperclassmen in his projected starting lineup, Jans has no shortage of experience in this team. Junior guard Trey Fort leads the team in scoring at 13.7 ppg and is tied with ESPN Top 100 freshman Josh Hubbard with 9 three-pointers made on the season. While these guards have been leading the offense for State, this team’s defense is what they hang their hat on. Mississippi State is currently ranked 5th in the country for Adjusted Defensive Efficiency per KenPom. Their defensive presence is highlighted by forward Jimmy Bell Jr. who is averaging 11.7 rebounds per game along with 2.0 blocks per game.
The Northwestern Wildcats are coming off of one of their best seasons as a program in recent history after finishing second in the Big Ten and having a player named to the All-Big Ten First Team. Head Coach Chris Collins has kept that momentum going as the Wildcats are 3-0 to start the season and are looking to go 4-0 for the third straight season.
5th-year senior Boo Buie is the star of this Northwestern team as he leads the team in nearly every scoring category with his 21 points per game. He is accompanied on the scoring chart by Brooks Barnhizer and Ryan Langborg who average 17 and 12.7 points, respectively. Where this Northwestern team may struggle is in finding a 4th scoring option, but if Boo continues to be a star then a 4th option may not even be needed.
The Rhode Island Rams enter this weekend’s Tip-Off event as the local team and possibly as the team with the most to gain from this MTE. The Rams are coming off of a very disappointing season in the first year of Archie Miller’s time in Kingston where they finished with a 9-22 record. Known as a strong recruiter, Miller hit the transfer portal strong this off-season and his new additions of Jaden House and Zek Montgomery have fit in well as the Rams are off to a 3-0 start. This is the first time since 2009-10 that Rhode Island has won each of its first three games by double figures.
Guard Jaden House is the leading scorer for the Rams at 20.7 points per game and has scored at least 15 points in each of Rhode Island’s three games this season. Interestingly, the Rams have been a high-scoring team averaging 81 points per game yet do not rely on the deep ball to get those points as they have made just 16 three-pointers through this point in the season.
In his 5th season at the helm, Kyle Smith and the Washington State Cougars look to build off of last year’s 5th place finish in the PAC-12. The Cougars have had two convincing wins to start the season with an average margin of victory of 21.5 points. Two of Washington State’s statistical highlights include shooting an efficient 54% from the field as a team while also leading the PAC-12 with 8.5 blocks per game.
The Cougars’ offensive leaders include Andrej Jakimovski and Isaac Jones who respectively average 17.5 and 15.5 points per game. While this may only be Isaac Jones’ second year of Division I basketball and first at Washington State, the 5th year senior has already earned a large role as he had his first double-double of the season in the Cougars win over Prairie View. Jones has the chance to take a huge step up in his game and could be an X-factor for the Cougars this season.
Hall of Fame Tip-Off Predictions
First Round: Mississippi State vs. Washington State
An interesting opening matchup of the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off finds two Power 5 programs looking to take that next step towards competing at the top of their respective conferences. Both sides certainly have talented players, but one of the more intriguing matchups is between Isaac Jones’ potent offense and Jimmy Bell Jr. ‘s post-defense.
Washington State is going to have to rely on their first team to get things going offensively right away in order to overcome the challenges that their slower-paced offense may have with Mississippi State’s suffocating defense. While Washington State may be 2-0 all-time against Mississippi State, the Bulldog’s defense will be too much for the Cougars to handle as they get handed their first loss of the season.
Mississippi State wins.
First Round: Rhode Island vs. Northwestern
Jaden House going up against Boo Buie is going to be a seriously fun matchup as they’ve both been prolific scorers to start the season. Both teams are relatively balanced on paper, but the star power certainly is in Northwestern’s favor. Depth may be a concern for the Wildcats so if Rhode Island is going to make this game interesting then they will need to carefully choose the individual matchups that they go after in order to maximize the advantages they do have.
Ultimately, with two new transfers being the focus of Archie Miller’s squad, it will take some time for House and Montgomery to settle into Miller’s system and this tough matchup against Northwestern will be a great learning experience for the Rams moving forward. Northwestern is a team with very serious goals of winning in March and being able to stay steady against a rising mid-major is something that any March-bound team needs to be able to handle.
Championship Game: Mississippi State vs. Northwestern
The Hall of Fame Tip-Off title comes down to two hungry teams looking to make their case to be included in next week’s AP Poll. While getting a ranking may not be guaranteed for Northwestern with a win, it certainly doesn’t hurt to bring some hardware home. Outside of Buie and Barnhizer, Northwestern does take a slower, more methodical approach to offense which may help them to dissect the Bulldogs’ tough defense. At the end of the day, Mississippi State won’t be as impacted by a slower pace which may even strengthen the impact that their experience and toughness can have on both ends of the floor.
Mississippi State wins