Head coach Rick Stansbury's team jumped out to a big lead versus number 18 Texas A&M and held on for the victory to advance to the final round of the tournament. MSU enters the game with a record of 3-1, with victories over Eastern Kentucky and South Alabama coming in between a 10-point loss to Akron.
After a junior season in which he scored 15.3 points per game and earned Second Team All-SEC honors, Dee Bost has been selected to the preseason All-SEC first team. Bost, a 6-foot-2, 176-pound guard, has started all 93 games in his career that he has appeared in and is without a doubt the team's best player.
The senior looks poised for an even bigger year this season, as he's already averaging 18 points on 41.7 percent shooting from the field. Factor in his 5.3 rebounds and three assists in 34.5 minutes per outing and it's clear that Bost is one of the top guards Arizona will face this season.
He's coming of a 20 point performance against Texas A&M, and Arizona's guards will need to stay in front of him as much as they can to prevent him from getting into the lane for easy baskets.
Also starting at guard is 6-foot-3, 168-pound senior Brian Bryant, who while not being the same offensive force as Bost is the team's fourth leading scorer at 8.8 points per game. He's struggled a bit shooting the ball though, hitting on just 37.1 of his attempts so far in the young season. Bryant has also been effective on the boards, and is tied for third on the team with five rebounds in 29.5 minutes per game .
Freshman Rodney Hood came to Mississippi State as a heralded recruit out of Meridian (MS) High School, and he's been thrown into the action right away and asked to make an impact. He's lived up to expectations so far, as the nation's number five small forward and 25th ranked player overall in the class of 2011 is third on the team with 11.8 points per game.
Ranked a five-star prospect by Scout, the 6-foot-8, 204-pound forward has been excellent shooting the ball as a freshman, hitting on 50 percent of his field goal attempts and 43.8 percent of his shots from three-point range. In 33.2 minutes of action, Hood also is averaging five rebounds per contest and is off to a great start in his first year in the program.
If Stansbury can get Renardo Sidney playing consistently, the Bulldogs have a good chance to finish higher than the projected. The 6-foot-10, 280-pound junior has had a number of issues during his career at Mississippi State, including a groin injury this season that has limited his production.
He's being worked back slowly, averaging 23.3 minutes per game, but he hasn't done all that much in his time on the floor. He's averaging just eight points and 4.3 rebounds per outing, and fans in Starkville are still waiting for him to live up to the potential that made him the number seven player in the class of 2009 as a teammate of Solomon Hill's at Los Angeles Fairfax High School.
The team hasn't had to rush Sidney back due to the fact that 6-foot-11, 249-pound junior Arnett Moultrie is off to a great start this season. A transfer from Texas-El Paso, Moultrie is averaging a double-double, with 14.3 points and 11.5 rebounds in a team-leading 35.5 minutes per game this season.
Moultrie is a very athletic big man that can hit shots facing the basket or in the paint. He'll be a tough challenge for Kyryl Natyazhko and Angelo Chol, who will both have to have good games in order to limit the junior big man from having a big game.
The rotation for Mississippi State is only three deep, as the starters for Stansbury's teams get most of the minutes. The leading scorer off the bench is 6-foot-3, 194-pound sophomore Jalen Steele, who is coming back from a knee injury that cost him the final four games of his freshman year. In 16.5 minutes as a reserve, Steele is averaging 5.3 points on 36.8 shooting from the field.
Wendell Lewis, a 6-foot-9, 260-pound junior, will see about 21 minutes off the bench in relief of Sidney, averaging 4.3 points and 4.5 rebounds in four games, including one start. Finally, 5-foot-11, 165-pound freshman Deville Smith averages 3.3 points in 13.3 minutes per outing, but has appeared in only three of the team's four games this year.
While the Bulldogs lack the quickness and foot speed of St. John's, they certainly make up for it with their size on the front line. They've been very inconsistent this season, and have struggled in the second half of games, outscoring its opponents by just two points in four games.
That may bode well for an Arizona team outscoring its opponents by an average of 10.5 points per game, and has used second half comebacks in its past three games to secure victories.
Sean Miller's team continues to find a way to win games, and has a chance to move to 5-0 on the young 2011-2012 season. In a year in which the Pac-12 appears to be wide open, two victories at Madison Square Garden would go a long way in the continued development and improvement of this year's team.