*Last year the Bulldogs opened their SEC season with a 80-75 win at Ole Miss.
*Mississippi State leads the series, the most-played by both teams, 136-105. Ole Miss holds a 77-42 advantage on the home court but has lost the last two meetings there.
*Rick Stansbury is 18-7 against the Rebels, the most wins of any series in his 13 seasons. And his teams are 6-6 in Oxford games.
*These Bulldogs are on a three-game losing streak though, and have gone 4-6 in the last ten contests. That includes consecutive double-digit setbacks for the first time since January 2006.
*State guards Dee Bost and Ravern Johnson have thrived in this rivalry over their careers. Bost has averaged 15.5 points in four games with the Rebels, while Johnson has scored 10.8 in six games and hit 13 treys.
*MSU's Sunday game with Auburn has been moved back to a 2:00 tipoff instead of the original 1:00.
The Opponent: It would be naturally tempting for Andy Kennedy to look at his lineup and bench alike and ponder what might-have-been. Specifically, had not three juniors bolted for presumably more promising prospects elsewhere. Departures and graduations took four starters from a 24-team that made the NIT semifinals. Then again, the fifth-year coach is too busy with his revamped club that already has half as many wins as last year and might even have a shot at the school's first NCAA appearance since 2002. Yes, a nine-man class of newcomers has helped rebuild, yet the core is actually players who were already in the program and developing behind those departees. The lone returning starter is assuredly playing like one, as senior guard Chris Warren leads the team and is third in SEC scoring at 18.6 points. But he distributes as well with 4.3 assists-per…and don't foul the league's best marksman at the stripe, 94% so far. Teammate Zach Graham is a 85% free thrower as well, so no surprise Ole Miss is leading the SEC here. The starting guards aren't quite the most prolific perimeter pair in the league but take and make open shots as available, backed up by veteran alternate Trevor Gaskins and rookie Dundrecous Nelson. Yet defenses cannot focus on the backcourt, because the Rebels play a high-percentage game nearer the basket too. In fact this is the SEC's most accurate shooting club so far, as well as third in scoring. It's easy to see why. Soph forward Reginald Buckner may only average 7.5 points but he makes a league-leading 68% of them; while cohort Terrance Henry is a 53% shooter himself. By the way, Buckner showed he could swat a shot as a rookie with 64 blocks and he's ahead of that pace with 46 already this year. The team's weak point, so to speak, has been giving up a few more points than necessary at times; and opponents do throw in threes against this squad, something sure to be emphasized Thursday night by the visitors. And Ole Miss is last in SEC steals so they don't take a lot of defensive gambles. But neither do they turn the ball over too often and the Rebels hit the defensive glass hard. Yeah, it's still worth wondering what if some of those '10 underclassmen had stuck around. Then again their successors are, well, succeeding and might even have better club chemistry. In this unstable SEC West that counts for a lot.
Projected Starting Lineups (full-season stats):
OLE MISS: F Reginald Buckner, SO 6-8, 7.5ppg, 6.9rpg, 46blks; F Terrance Henry, JR 6-9, 9.0ppg, 6.3rpg; G Chris Warren SR 5-10, 18.6ppg, 4.3apg, 39 3ptrs; G Nick Williams, SO 6-4, 8.5ppg, 4.3rpg; G Zach Graham, SR 6-6, 13.9ppg, 18 3ptrs, 4.4rpg.
Top Reserves: F Steadman Short, JR 6-9, 3.2ppg, 3.7rpg; G Trevor Gaskins, JR 6-2, 9.5ppg, 3.5rpg, 18 3ptrs; G Dundrecous Nelson, FR 5-11, 6.4ppg, 20 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, SR 6-8, 12.9ppg, 8.3rpg, 16 3ptrs; F Renardo Sidney, SO 6-10, 11.0ppg, 6.0rpg; G Dee Bost, JR 6-2, 14.0ppg, 5.0apg; G Ravern Johnson, SR 6-7, 19.2ppg, 43 3ptrs, 3.5rpg; G Riley Benock, SR 6-4, 7.7ppg, 4.2rpg, 34asts.
Top Backups: C Wendell Lewis, SO 6-8, 4.3ppg, 4.1rpg, 18blks; G Brian Bryant, JR 6-2, 7.1ppg, 4.3rpg, 36asts; G Jalen Steele FR 6-3, 5.8ppg, 13 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 68.2, OM 77.6
Scoring Defense: MSU 69.6, OM 67.6
FG Shooting: MSU 41.1%, OM 47.5%
FG Defense: MSU 42.2%, OM 40.9%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 33.2%, OM 34.5%
3-point Attempts PG: MSU 22.5, OM 21.3
Rebounding: MSU 37.1, OM 37.9
Rebound Margin: MSU -0.8, OM +5.7
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 69.4%, OM 74.6%
Turnovers: MSU 13.1, OM 12.9
BULLDOG NOTES: 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.
*In their last five games the Bulldogs have managed only a single basket each time off true fast breaks.
An extended shooting slump has pulled G/F Ravern Johnson under the 20-plus point average of December. But the senior still leads the SEC in scoring this week at 19.2 points.
*Johnson began the season hitting 34-of-72 at the arc in his first eight games. In the last six contests he is just 9-of-43.
*But then the senior may be tiring already at mid-season. He played all 40 minutes against Alabama and leads the SEC in average minutes at 36.0
*With 220 career made-treys Johnson is third on the MSU chart, 38 behind Daryl Wilson (1994-96) for second place. His 563 attempts are also third-most.
* 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 1,237 career points which ranks Johnson 19th on the MSU list. Eight more points will move him past Jerry Graves (1959-61) for 18th place.
*In his first three seasons, PF Kodi Augustus had a pair of double-doubles. But 15 games into his senior year he has seven, most in the SEC.
*Augustus has scored double-digit points a dozen games this season.
*But after shooting 36.8% at the arc last winter, he's hitting just 27% there this season.
*Augustus had 27 assists all last season; he has 32 through 15 games this year.
*G Riley Benock is just half-way through the senior season but already has more three-point goals (30) than any previous entire year. And his 45% arc accuracy this year is also a career-best.
*But he's only been to the foul line 8 times in 14 games, making six.
*Benock is third in SEC game minutes at 34.1.
*Junior G Dee Bost started all 72 games of his first two college seasons. After serving a half-season suspension, he was immediately returned to the starting lineup on activation.
*Bost resumed his career assist pace too, with five against Alabama. He has 349 scoring passes in three seasons and ranks 8th in MSU history, needing two more to tie for 7th.
*Bost has made 125 three-pointers, and needs four more to catch Jamont Gordon for 10th place on the career chart.
*Bost needed one steal in the SEC opener to reach 100 for his career; he got two and needs 26 more for top-ten State status.
*Bost is just a 37.7% shooter overall for his career, but is 34.2% at the arc.
*After scoring double-digits in his first two college games, C/F Renardo Sidney struggled in his SEC debut with only two points on 1-of-6 shooting.
*But he hit the boards for nine rebounds, as many as he garnered in the preceding two appearances.
*He's missed all four trey-tries so far.
*Sophomore C Wendell Lewis got his first double-digit scoring game as a Bulldog against his home-state team, with 10 points off Alabama.
*Lewis has netted 21 rebounds in his last four games, all off the bench.
*Freshman G Jalen Steele has shot 5-of-9 in his last two games.
* Steele is averaging 16.5 minutes but works his way to the foul line consistently. In 14 games he is 22-of-29 at the stripe.