*The last time these next-state neighbors began a SEC season against each other was in 1998, with State winning at Alabama. The Bulldogs have won the last five home games with Alabama.
*Rick Stansbury teams have won 11 of their 12 SEC home openers, the only loss in 2003 to Florida. His teams are 10-2 in all league lidlifters.
*Saturday marks the junior-season debut for PG Dee Bost, who served a combined MSU/NCAA suspension the first 14 games. Bost is already booked to start in his return, just as he started all previous 72 games of his college career.
*Bost has averaged 15.5 points in four games with Alabama.
*And tomorrow also returns C/F Renardo Sidney to the active roster after a two-game team suspension. Sidney had already served a one-game suspension during the December road trip; and prior to that had waited one full season and nine games this year to complete his NCAA penalties.
*State can certainly use these additions; three Dogs rank among the SEC's top-ten in minutes played per game through pre-league play. In fact G/F Ravern Johnson is 1st at 35.8 minutes, G Riley Benock 2nd at 34.5, and PF Kodi Augustus 8th at 31.1.
The Opponent: Based solely on record there wasn't noticeable improvement in year-one. But on the court clearly a fresh approach with a new coach is making a difference. Anthony Grant made the most of what he had to work with for a 17-15 initiation and now in their second season Alabama basketball is closer to competitiveness. How close usually depends on how good graces talented and tempermental forward JaMychal Green is in at the moment. He was suspended one SEC game last March, and then again for three more pre-conference contests this past semester. But when the guy is cleared to play and comes to do so he has to be the SEC West's best at each end of the floor, with a pre-league scoring pace of 14.8 is ahead of his 14.1 average last season. Speaking of improvement, complementary forward Tony Mitchell has greatly upgraded his game from 9.2 points to a current 14.6, besides blasting the boards. In Green's absence he carried the club with two double-doubles and missed a third by one rebound. Second-year senior Chris Hines, a juco forward, has been a serviceable center so far and more useful on the defensive end. This isn't a perimeter-punch team with just 70 made-treys to date; and right at half of those have come from a single source with Charvez Davis having thrown in 34. He's a 43% marksman at the arc as well, but since nobody else has more than nine makes it's obvious who to guard out there. Alabama has gone with a three-guard set at times moving frosh Charles Hankerson (recently suspended himself for a game) into the lineup, but mostly it's a standard two-guard approach as senior Senario Hillman runs the point and as needed scores points. Frosh Trevor Releford has been a quality addition to the backcourt but after missing most of a year with knee problems the return of soph Andrew Steele is what has the Tide even more hopeful of a SEC run. Depth certainly helps from the aspect of this being a foul-prone club, a reflection of how hard Grant has them playing defense. Alabama leads the SEC this week in scoring defense and is second in steals, and if they can keep it up over the coming ten weeks Grant has a chance to take the Tide back to some sort of post-season play for the first time since the 2007 NIT.
Projected Starting Lineups (full-season stats):
ALABAMA: F Tony Mitchell, SO 6-6, 14.6ppg, 7.9rpg; F JaMychal Green, JR 6-8, 14.8ppg, 7.2rpg, 1.7blks; C Chris Hines, SR 6-8, 5.2ppg, 6.7rpg, 1.9blks; G Senario Hillman, SR 6-2, 9.0ppg, 2.3apg; G Charvez Davis, SR 6-3, 10.0ppg, 34 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: G Trevor Releford, FR 6-1, 9.1ppg, 3.4rpg; G Charles Hankerson, FR 6-5, 3.4ppg, 1.6rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, SR 6-8, 13.1ppg, 8.1rpg, 16 3ptrs; F Renardo Sidney, SO 6-10, 15.5ppg, 4.5rpg; G Dee Bost, JR 6-2, first game; G Ravern Johnson, SR 6-7, 20.1ppg, 41 3ptrs, 3.6rpg; G Riley Benock, SR 6-4, 7.7ppg, 4.1rpg, 34 asts.
Top Backups: C Wendell Lewis, SO 6-8, 3.9ppg, 4.1rpg, 16blks; G Twany Beckham, SO 6-5, 2.9ppg, 2.2rpg, 29asts; G Brian Bryant, JR 6-2, 7.6ppg, 4.4rpg, 35asts.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 69.0, ALA 67.9
Scoring Defense: MSU 69.2, ALA 56.5
FG Shooting: MSU 41.7%, ALA 45.8%
FG Defense: MSU 41.7%, ALA 36.0%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.2%, ALA 32.4%
3-point Attempts PG: MSU 22.3, ALA 15.4
Rebounding: MSU 36.9, ALA 38.5
Rebound Margin: MSU -0.7, ALA +5.4
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.7%, ALA 71.2%
Turnovers: MSU 13.0, ALA 14.9
BULLDOG NOTES: A limited roster certainly took a toll on Mississippi State's efficiency at each end of the court prior to SEC season. The Bulldogs ranked 11th in the league for both field goal shooting and field goal defense, as well as 11th in scoring defense.
*Maybe more critical has been the lack of reliable play-making, with the MSU offense ranking last in the SEC in both assists and turnover margin.
*But regardless of lineups one offensive fact doesn't change here; Bulldogs just keep throwing up three-point attempts. Though State is only 11th in overall accuracy, they are 5th-best in outside accuracy and 4th in made-treys.
*Though, this season so far only—only—40% of Bulldog shots have been from beyond the arc. Last year MSU set the SEC season record with 918 long shots, or 44% of all their attempts.
*It has been 16 years since a Bulldog led the league in treys-per-game; that was Daryl Wilson in 1995 with 3.1. Now, State has a clear contender again. Going into conference season G/F Ravern Johnson is pacing the SEC with 3.2 made-treys a game. He's just ahead of Arkansas' Rotney Clark at 3.1.
*Johnson also finished pre-SEC season as the league's leading scorer overall at 20.1 points; the only player over 20-per in fact. He is trailed this week by Ole Miss' Chris Warren at 18.5.
*Playing almost 36 minutes a night has contributed to a shooting slump for Johnson. After hitting 34-of-72 at the arc in his first eight games, he is just 7-of-33 in the last five contests.
*But at the free throw line he's been steady, 18-of-22 in the last five games. Johnson went three seasons rarely drawing fouls, but as a senior he's had games of 13-of-14 (Tennessee State) and 11-of-15 (St. Mary's) free throwing.
* Johnson became the 32nd member of Mississippi State's 1,000 Point Club on the opening night of his senior season, ironically by scoring 32 points. He now has 1,229 career points which ranks Johnson 20th on the MSU list, a single bucket behind Erick Dampier for 19th place.
*With 218 career made-treys Johnson is third on the MSU chart, 40 behind Wilson for second place. His 553 attempts are also third-most.
*PF Kodi Augustus has made the most of his senior pre-SEC season, posting six double-doubles out of 14 games. And he missed another by a single board. Augustus begins league play #4 in SEC rebound average.
*Augustus is 20th in SEC scoring average this week. He has scored double-digits 11 times this season. That includes a career-best 26 points against Appalachian State back in November.
*But after shooting 36.8% at the arc last winter, he's hitting just 27.1% there this season.
*Augustus had 27 assists all last season; he has 30 through 14 games this year.
*In his last two games Augustus is 16-of-18 at the free throw line, and he is 4th in SEC average.
*G Riley Benock is just half-way through the senior season but already has more three-point goals (28) than any previous entire year. And his 44% arc accuracy this year is also a career-best.
*Benock is 5th-best in SEC outside shooting this week.
*But he's only been to the foul line 8 times in 14 games, making six.
*Mississippi State is obviously eager to have PG Dee Bost back in the lineup, to resume his assault on the assists record. Bost was credited with 344 scoring passes his first two seasons, which already ranks him 8th on the career list.
*Bost has made 124 three-pointers through two years, and needs 5 more to catch Jamont Gordon for 10th place on the career chart. He is already #10 in attempts with 360.
*Bost's next steal will be #100 of his Bulldog career.
*C/F Renardo Sidney has only played two college games, but scored double digits (12 and 19 points) in them. He has made 57% of his shots.
*He's missed all three trey-tries so far.
*In his two games Sidney has garnered nine fouls.
*Sophomore C Wendell Lewis is looking for his first career double-digit scoring game.
*Freshman G Jalen Steele is averaging 17.0 minutes but works his way to the foul line consistently. In 14 games he is 22-of-29 at the arc.