*Mississippi State has lost its last two SEC openers, after winning three-straight from 2008-10. Bulldog teams are 44-35 in all conference debuts with a 29-15 home record.
*State and South Carolina haven't met in a league opener since 1999 with the only other such setting in 1995. The Bulldogs won both times. The last time State began SEC play against an East Division team was 2007 with a loss at Tennessee.
*This has been a profitable series for Mississippi State, with a six-win streak over the past five seasons. That includes a SEC Tournament victory for the Bulldogs in 2009 en route to their championship. South Carolina last won against MSU in 2007, in Starkville.
*State is 8-2 against Gamecock teams in Humphrey Coliseum.
*Only one current and available Bulldog has ever played against South Carolina. Junior G Jalen Steele played 33 minutes, and scored five points, in his one encounter with the Gamecocks. Senior C Wendell Lewis has played two games in the series but is out with injury.
The Opponent: Four years with 23 conference wins and no NCAA appearances were enough to end the Darrin Horn experiment. Now Frank Martin, hired away from Kansas State with one conference Coach of the Year award on his resume, has begun the next rebuilding job in Columbia. It can't be any tougher than his previous jobs such as a college bar-bouncer. Or abruptly taking over from Bob Huggins at KSU after just a year together. Martin does have some real advantages over his Mississippi State counterpart with 57% of team scoring and just over half the rebounding back. Back from a 10-21 team admittedly which had just two SEC wins, but hard experience seems to be paying off. Most obviously, this team has already matched the last's win total. The greater portion of the seasoned squad is in the backcourt and Martin has, mostly, used them to start such as G Eric Smith. The junior has upped his own scoring a little but raised his assists rate three-fold to everyone's benefit. F Lakeem Jackson is the only other Gamecock to have started all 13 games and he leads the lineup at 32 minutes to boot. He's also gone from a three-point scorer last year to 10.2 as a senior. The biggest jump though is by junior G Brenton Williams; he's doubled his scoring and is lighting it up at the arc with 47% accuracy. And now that bowl season is done Bruce Ellington returns to the backcourt where he was second in team scoring last year at 11.0 per. But a pair of newcomers have made immediate difference. Southern Miss transfer G Lashay Page is doing just what he did in Hattiesburg in this new league with a 11.7 points average (don't foul him either at 87% stripe shooting). Freshman F Michaeal Carrera is the fourth double-digit scorer on the squad, and a big boost to rebounding as well. Martin has divvied-up the minutes nicely and used lots of lineups so far. Tomorrow's tipoff of SEC season will show who he is really counting on.
Latest Starting Lineups:
SOUTH CAROLINA: F Mindaugas Kacinas, 6-7 FR, 8.3ppg, 5.7rpg, 59%fgs; F Lakeem Jackson, 6-5 SR, 10.2ppg, 7.6rpg, 61%fgs; G Eric Smith, 5-11 JR, 5.7ppg, 4.2 apg; G Brenton Williams, 5-11 JR, 13.1ppg, 47%3ptrs; G Brian Richardson, 6-4 JR, 8.8ppg, 1.6apg, 41%3ptrs.
Top Reserves: G Damien Leonard, 6-4 SO, 4.1ppg, 2.0rpg; F Michael Carrera, 6-5 FR, 10.4ppg, 7.3rpg; F R.J. Slawson, 6-8 JR, 5.0ppg, 3.8rpg; G LaShay Page, 6-1 SR, 11.7ppg, 3.3rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Rocquez Johnson, 6-7 SO, 12.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 10 blks; C Gavin Ware, 6-9 FR, 9.3ppg, 7.5rpg, 53%fgs, 13 blks; G Craig Sword, 6-3 FR, 8.4ppg, 3.2rpg, 24 stls; G Trivante Bloodman, 6-0 SO, 6.1ppg, 33 asts; G Jalen Steele, 6-3 JR, 11.0ppg, 3.0rpg, 47% 3ptrs
Top Backups: G Fred Thomas, 6-5 FR, 10.3ppg, 20 3ptrs; F Colin Borchert, 6-8 JR, 7.7ppg, 4.7rpg; G Tyson Cunningham, 6-3 JR, 2.8ppg, 3.1rpg.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 63.1ppg, SC 74.0ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 63.3ppg, SC 69.1ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 41.2%, SC 46.0%
FG Defense: MSU 40.2%, SC 43.8%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 27.5%, SC 35.1%
Rebounding: MSU 37.4rpg, SC 38.8rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU +1.8, SC +9.5
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 66.1%, 70.1%
Turnovers: MSU -0.5, SC -3.6
BULLDOG NOTES: *The season-shuffles for injuries and inexperience and all other factors have produced five starting lineups through a dozen games. State has started the same quintet in the past two games, but the return of veteran Jalen Steele should bring the next adjustment.
*Since returning from a wrist injury, Steele has scored 10 and 16 points coming off the bench. He has made 6-of-12 at the three-point line in these games.
*That has pushed the junior over 100 career treys. He has 105 now in just 64 games, having missed four games with a late-freshman year knee injury and eight more this season.
*Steele has made 27 consecutive free throws going back to last season, and around his eight-game absence. He is 8-of-8 this year.
*C Gavin Ware has taken over the starting post job with impressive results. In the last four games the freshman has averaged 13.0 points on 66% shooting.
*Ware has averaged 10.7 rebounds over the past three games.
*He also has 16 of the team's 33 dunks.
*F Rocquez Johnson carried the club offensively for most of two months, scoring double-digits in the first six games. In the last three games the soph has contributed 30 points.
*Johnson has shot 9-of-23 in this stretch but that is actually a bit better than his preceding four-game span of 11-of-32.
*The forward has turned into an unlikely outside shooter, making a trey in both the last two games.
*His shooting style isn't textbook by any means. But G Craig Sword has been more consistent than recognized lately, making 12-of-24 shots in the past three games and averaging 11.0 points. He's also stopped throwing up so many (missed) treys since the semester break began.
*And Sword has had two or three assists in the last nine games.
*The real outside-shooting surprise has been G Tyson Cunningham. He's hit five treys in the last four games off nine tries, two of them shot-clock heaves that went down.
*G Fred Thomas hasn't seen a shot he didn't like this freshman year and his 24% arc-accuracy reflects it. But the energetic freshman is finding other and closer shots now and managed 16 points against New Orleans.
*His coach wants Thomas to attack more inside because at the stripe he is a 77% shooter.
*And Thomas has a knack for getting to outside shots on the other end, having swatted a series of three-point tries. He has eight blocks on the year so far.
*F Colin Borchert made his first three-pointer since November 13 in last week's win over UNO. But working closer to the goal has let him make 58% of his shots the past three games.
*Borchert also had a four-assists, five-steals night against UNO.