Not all 2-5 records feel the same.
On paper both LSU (11-7 overall) and Mississippi State (7-12) have the same win-loss tally in conference play, but the two SEC teams have taken vastly different paths to get there.
State, under first-year coach Rick Ray, began its SEC slate with wins over South Carolina and Georgia. Since the road win in Athens on Jan. 12, the maroon-and-white Bulldogs have lost five straight by an average of 22.8 points.
Johnny Jones' Tigers, on the other hand, are gaining steam of late, winners of two of their last three, including Wednesday night's 73-70 triumph over No. 17 Missouri in Baton Rouge.
The two clubs heading in different directions meet in Starkville Saturday at 4:30 p.m. inside Humphrey Coliseum. FSN will have the television broadcast.
Here are the projected starting lineups for this afternoon's contest.
LSU (11-7, 2-5)
G Anthony Hickey (So., 5-11, 178) – 12.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.6 apg, 3.7 spg
G Andre Stringer (Jr., 5-10, 182) – 11.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.9 apg
G Charles Carmouche (Sr., 6-4, 187) – 9.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.2 spg
F Johnny O'Bryant (So., 6-9, 258) – 11.9 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 47.0% FGs
C Andrew Del Piero (Sr., 7-3, 254) – 4.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.3 bpg
Key Rotational Players: F Shavon Coleman (Jr., 6-5, 195; averages 11.9 ppg and 7.2 rpg) and G Malik Morgan (Fr., 6-4, 188; averages 5.3 ppg and 3.3 rpg)
Mississippi State (7-12, 2-5)
G Trivante Bloodman (So., 6-0, 182) – 5.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.6 apg
G Craig Sword (Fr., 6-3, 189) – 9.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg, team-high 79 TOs
G Jalen Steele (Jr., 6-3, 194) – 9.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 36.2% 3s
F Colin Borchert (Jr., 6-8, 231) – 7.2 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 77.8 % FTs
F Gavin Ware (Fr., 6-9, 270) – 8.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 53.1% FGs
Key Rotational Players: G Fred Thomas (Fr., 6-5, 191; averages 10.6 ppg and 3.3 rpg) and F Roquez Johnson (So., 6-7, 210; averages 9.6 ppg and 4.7 rpg)
Unlike LSU's last two opponents, Kentucky and Missouri, Mississippi State wants to play at a slower pace. Of course, that's likely as much out of necessity as it is design.
The Bulldogs are averaging just 60.6 points per game, a direct result of a putrid 40.3% shooting mark from the field as a team. Of MSU's usual starters, only one player – forward Gavin Ware (53.1%) – averages better than 39.5% field-goal shooting.
Suffice it to say State isn't likely to shoot out the lights in Starkville.
They also aren't likely to rack up a high number of assists. Consider that starting point guard Trivante Bloodman's 2.6 dimes per game is tops on the team. State collectively averages just 9.7 assists per contest (compared to 17.8 turnovers per game).
That final tidbit is also a good indicator that LSU could have success pressing the home team early and often inside the Hump.
Perhaps the one area where the Bulldogs are consistent offensively is in getting balanced – though not spectacular – scoring. Six State players average between 7.2 and 10.6 points per game. That total would be seven, too, if not for a knee injury suffered by center Wendell Lewis in December that's sidelined the big man.
Oddly enough MSU's top two scorers for the season, guard Fred Thomas and forward Roquez Johnson, come off the bench for Ray, who came to Starkville after several years as an assistant at Clemson.
For LSU Saturday will be a game all about imposing a style and pace on the home-standing Cowbell Crew.
Jones confirmed Thursday that full-court pressure is in the game plan for the Bayou Bengals, but he warned that the bigger challenge will be staying in front of MSU in halfcourt sets, where the Bulldogs will try to end up more often than not.
"We certainly won't change a lot in terms of what we do. The press is somewhat part of our identity," Jones told reporters. "We will definitely be pressing some. To see the success of it, I guess that will be determined on Saturday. Although they do turn it over, that's something that we look forward to. We're hopeful that we can be really good in the halfcourt defense because they look to run a lot of their sets as well."
Translation: If this game's played slow and methodically, the home team can stay in it, warts and all offensively. If LSU can up the tempo, the Tigers have a good shot at scoring more than the Bulldogs can.
The other good news for Jones and the Tigers is that their big two are finally starting to step up at the same time.
Point guard Anthony Hickey put the team on his back Wednesday night in the second half, standing toe-to-toe with All-SEC candidate Phil Pressey and providing offense as Missouri stormed back from a double-digit deficit. He's now taken over the team lead in scoring average from Shavon Coleman. Hickey is averaging 12.4 points per game.
Power forward Johnny O'Bryant is also getting into a groove after he spent some time at the beginning of the SEC schedule coming back from a high ankle sprain. O'Bryant has logged four straight double doubles and is now the team leader in rebounding average, leapfrogging Coleman up to 8.3 boards per game.
LSU will need both to continue their stellar play to pick up the road victory at Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs may be struggling and look inferior on paper, but that's not where games are played. And so far this season LSU is 1-5 away from the friendly confines of the PMAC, 0-3 in the SEC.
Jones' crew will have to keep up its recent momentum to buck that trend.
PREVIEW: LSU vs. Mississippi State
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