DePaul vs. Mississippi State Game Preview

The DePaul Blue Demons face the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the 2009 DIRECTV SEC/BIG EAST Invitational in Tampa on Thursday night. In this preview, we hear from DePaul head coach Jerry Wainwright and senior guard Will Walker about the matchup with the Bulldogs.

Key Information

DePaul Blue Demons vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs – Thursday, December 9th, 5:30 p.m. Central – Tampa, Florida

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Game Preview

On Thursday night, the Blue Demons (5-2) face their third SEC opponent of the season in the 2009 DIRECTV SEC/BIG EAST Invitational on ESPN2. Mississippi State (5-2), who is coming off a 105-53 rout of St. Bonaventure, features All-SEC senior forward Jarvis Varnado.

"They have an exceptional inside kid," DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said of Varnado. "He tested the waters. He's a little bit different kind of kid in that he's one of the leading inside forces defensively in the country."

Varnado is leading the nation in blocked shots with 37 and is just 105 blocks away from the NCAA career record.

"He affects the game because of his defense," Wainwright said. "He's a really good player."

DePaul faces the challenge of facing Varnado without center Mac Koshwal who has been sidelined with a foot injury. Koshwal's condition is improving as he is no longer walking around in a protective boot.

Varnado leads the Bulldogs in blocks, scoring (14.4 ppg) and rebounding (9.7). If freshmen big men Renardo Sidney and John Riek were eligible for Mississippi State, it would be a lot worse on the interior for DePaul. Sidney has yet to be cleared to play by the NCAA. Riek must sit out the first nine games of the season due to an amateurism issue.

"Their overall size is much bigger," said Wainwright. "Varnado probably is the best defensive center in the SEC. He has made his mark as an off the ball defender. He kind of plays a one-man zone. He shoots high percentage shots by dunking it."

Mississippi State returns all five starters from a team that won the SEC championship to advance to the NCAA tournament last season.

The Bulldogs have both the inside presence of Varnado to go along with an awfully good perimeter game. Mississippi State is knocking down 42% of their 3-point shots and are taking 24 shots from beyond the arc per game.

Sophomore point guard Dee Bost and junior guard Ravern Johnson have been the marksmen from 3-point range for the Bulldogs. Bost is averaging 13.4 ppg and 4.6 assists per game. He is 12th in the nation in 3-point shooting at 52.5%. Johnson also strokes it at 12.4 ppg and 42 % from three.

Junior forward Kodi Augustus (11.6 ppg) and senior guard Barry Stewart (11.1) are also averaging in double-figures.

"They've got really good speed," Wainwright said. "They spread out and they've shot the ball really well in the early going."

The Blue Demons are going to have to do something to keep up with the Bulldogs' inside-out game. With a force like Varnado in the middle, DePaul is going to have to step up on both the perimeter and the interior.

"Our most discernible weaknesses is at the free throw line and a lack of inside production," Wainwright said. "You take Mac out, that's 15 points out of the lineup."

"We just need to get Krys (Faber) and Tony (Freeland) going," Wainwright added. "We need some baskets out of Krys to get back to more of a balanced attack. We need another wing to step up, a Mike Stovall or a Mario Stula. We have to get better offensively without losing who we are defensively."

Both Wainwright and senior guard Will Walker identified sophomore forward Devin Hill as a player that can make a difference in this game.

"Devin Hill has really stepped forward," Wainwright said. "I really like what he's doing."

"I like the way Devin Hill has been practicing, just inside and outside," Walker said. "He's been playing real hard. He's been guarding and talking a lot on defense. He's been hitting his shots. I like the way that he's been mixing his game up lately. He's shooting the ball. He's sweeping when he's got a big guy on him. That's the way we've always wanted him to look out on the floor. He's really starting to get comfortable with that. I think that will be the guy who really steps up."

Walker will likely be assigned to guard either Bost or Johnson on the perimeter and looks forward to the challenge.

"I always look at it like it's easier to guard shooters than it is to guard drivers, when it comes to the getting tired aspect," said Walker. "It's more tiresome to stop a guy from driving than closing out and stopping a shot."

DePaul has been preparing to keep up with Mississippi State's barrage of three pointers.

"Coach has been putting in new plays for me and other guys to get more shots and better looks," Walker said. "We're going to take the new plays and the plays we already have and run them better and cleaner to get more shots off."

Thursday's game is the first of a Big East vs. SEC doubleheader and will be followed by Syracuse vs. Florida.

The Last Time

The Blue Demons and Bulldogs have only met once before. DePaul was the victor in a 62-60 win in the opening round of the 1988 USF&G Sugar Bowl Classic in New Orleans.

Mississippi State Roster

No. Name Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. Exp. Hometown (Prev School)

1 Renardo Sidney F 6-10 260 Fr. HS Jackson, MS (Fairfax [CA] HS)

2 Ravern Johnson G 6-7 175 Jr. 2L Lyon, MS (Coahoma County HS)

3 Dee Bost G 6-2 170 So. 1L Concord, NC (Hargrave Military Academy)

4 Twany Beckham G 6-5 190 So. 1L Louisville, KY (New Hampton [NH] School)

5 Romero Osby F 6-8 230 So. 1L Meridian, MS (Northeast Lauderdale HS)

10 Shaunessy Smith G 6-6 195 Fr. HS Macon, MS (Noxubee County HS)

12 Charles Parker G 5-10 154 Fr. HS McKinney, TX (McKinney HS)

15 Riley Benock G 6-4 180 Jr. 2L Battletown, KY (Meade County HS)

20 Taylor Luczak F 6-8 220 So. 1L Glen Falls, NY (Glen Falls HS)

21 Baxter Price G 5-9 145 Fr. HS Brandon, MS (Northwest Rankin HS)

22 Barry Stewart G 6-3 170 Sr. 3L Shelbyville, TN (Shelbyville Central HS)

24 Kodi Augustus F 6-8 220 Jr. 2L Baton Rouge, LA (Maine Central Institute)

25 Phil Turner G 6-3 170 Jr. 2L Grenada, MS (Grenada HS)

30 Wendell Lewis C 6-8 240 Fr. HS Selma, AL (Selma HS)

32 Jarvis Varnado F 6-9 230 Sr. 3L Brownsville, TN (Haywood HS)

33 Brandon Bolen G 6-3 195 Jr. 2L Madison, MS (Madison-Ridgeland Academy)

45 Elgin Bailey F 6-8 265 Jr. 2L New Orleans, LA (Belaire HS)

50 John Riek F 7-1 242 Fr. HS Khartoum, Sudan (IMG Academy [FL])

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