*The Bulldogs have not lost at home to Vanderbilt since 1993 and own an eight-win streak in the Hump in this series.
*State has also won eight of the last dozen meetings with Commodore clubs, including a 10-point victory last March in the SEC Tournament played in Vanderbilt's home town. VU still holds a healthy 72-44 lead in the series.
*MSU coach Rick Stansbury is now 45-46 against Eastern Division teams, including SEC Tournament play. He is 10-6 against Vanderbilt.
The Opponent: Waitaminit…didn't Vanderbilt lose their top two scorers, off a 24-win NCAA squad? So what is this Commodore club doing in the rankings themselves while knocking off some other poll participants and taking the shape of a serious East contender again? Why, doing exactly what Kevin Stallings always does; assembling another squad that likely won't win the Division (something Vanderbilt has not done since 1998, by the way) but will absolutely have a say in who does. And it's being done in the great Chromed Dome's standard fashion, by developing players over the course of a career. This year's excellent example is Festus Ezeli. After two seasons in A.J. Ogilvy's shadow he's blossomed as the starting center, going from 3.8 scoring last year to almost 13-per this winter and is currently the league's highest-percentage shooter. But arguably the team's most-improved is big forward Lance Goulbourne. He's nearly quadrupled his rebounding as a junior and in four SEC games has averaged a startling 11.5 boards. There are plenty caroms to go around too because Vandy is allowing under 39% shooting in league play as one of the better defensive groups in the land. Forward Jeffrey Taylor gets to five boards a game himself, but it's on the other end he makes a bigger name with 14.8 points while still distributing to open teammates as needed. Yet another junior, Brad Tinsley, is the league-leader in assists with 82 already and nearly two-to-one rate against his turnovers. And of course he'll take and make the longball, a program specialty. This winter's top gunner though is soph John Jenkins, who actually tied for tops on the team last year with 72 treys. He has 55 already this year, in 17 games, most in the SEC at this moment and the main reason he is pacing conference scoring. It's an excellent lineup in almost all respects. The challenge is depth, especially with veteran backup Andre Walker sidelined the last nine games with an ankle injury. In the interim Stallings has stuck with a eight-man rotation biased to the frontcourt with junior Steve Tchiengang keeping muscle in the middle and 6-9 frosh Rod Odom getting apportioned minutes as needed. Another rookie, Kyle Fuller, gives some relief in the backcourt without providing many points. Then again as long as the available bodies keep playing sound defense (SEC foes make under 30% at the arc against this group), and make the most of their own shots, Vanderbilt will be right in the thick of the East fight. And you figure someday they gotta win it, right?
Projected Starting Lineups (full-season stats):
VANDERBILT: F Lance Goulbourne, JR 6-8, 8.8ppg, 8.0rpg; F Jeffrey Taylor JR 6-7, 14.8ppg, 5.2rpg, 2.4apg; C Festus Ezeli, JR 6-11, 12.6ppg, 59%fgs, 6.3rpg, 2.3blks; G Brad Tinsley, JR 6-3, 10.4ppg, 4.6apg; G John Jenkins, SO 6-4, 18.7ppg, 3.1rpg, 55 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: C Steve Tchiengang, JR 6-9, 5.4ppg, 3.6rpg; F Rod Odom, FR 6-9, 4.5ppg, 3.0rpg; G Kyle Fuller, FR 6-1, 2.1ppg, 30 asts.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, SR 6-8, 11.7ppg, 8.4rpg, 16 3ptrs; F Renardo Sidney, SO 6-10, 16.1ppg, 6.1rpg; G Dee Bost, JR 6-2, 13.6ppg, 6.5apg; G Ravern Johnson, SR 6-7, 16.8ppg, 48 3ptrs, 3.3rpg; G Riley Benock, SR 6-4, 7.2ppg, 3.8rpg, 32 3ptrs.
Top Backups: C Wendell Lewis, SO 6-8, 3.8ppg, 3.5rpg, 16blks; G Brian Bryant, JR 6-2, 6.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 39asts; G Jalen Steele FR 6-3, 5.5ppg, 14 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 68.9, VAN 78.7
Scoring Defense: MSU 70.0, VAN 65.7
FG Shooting: MSU 42.5%, VAN 46.5%
FG Defense: MSU 41.8%, VAN 38.5
3-Point Shooting: MSU 33.4%, VAN 38.3%
3-point Attempts PG: MSU 22.3, VAN 20.7
Rebounding: MSU 36.4, VAN 39.9
Rebound Margin: MSU -1.7, VAN +5.1
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 69.3%, VAN 74.0% Turnovers: MSU 13.6, VAN 14.9
BULLDOG NOTES: The Bulldogs' record is reflected in their shooting. In wins State has shot 45.6%, while they are just 38.4% shooters in losses. It's even more marked a difference at the arc where the Dogs have made 38.8% in wins, just 26.4% in defeats.
*Yet through the first four SEC games State is actually the second-best shooting team at 45.8%.
*State's starters have accounted for all but one three-pointer made in SEC season.
*And the starting lineup scores almost 85% of the team's points. Though, that rate is just about the same as last season.
*The Bulldogs had just seven assists at Georgia. And only once in the last ten games (Auburn) have they had more assists than turnovers.
*After setting the SEC shot-blocking pace for three seasons, these Bulldogs have just 15 swats in four games. Two league players have as many or more than the whole State team.
*It's easy to see the difference having G Dee Bost back in the lineup makes. Activated in time for SEC season he's tied for 7th in league-game scoring at 17.0 points.
*This, despite shooting just a rusty 44.2% overall and 29.6% at the arc. Bost is also just 14-of-23 on free throws, a career-low.
*The junior leads the whole league in SEC-game assists at 6.5, way ahead of #2 Dustin Ware of Georgia at 5.2. By the way, Bost has twice as many SEC assists as turnovers.
*Bost has started all four games since activation, thus has maintained his career trend of taking tipoff every college game to date. He's at 76-and-counting now.
*With 370 career assists Bost is sixth on the MSU chart, needing 4.13 for top-five status.
*He just broke into the career-top ten in treys with 132, breaking a tie with Jamont Gordon (2006-08). Bost is now even with Tang Hamilton (1998-01) for ninth place.
*Bost is closing in on the 1,000 Point Club, with 928 now.
*This week Bost leads in SEC-game steals at 12.
*C/F Renardo Sidney is off to a strong start towards his own career scoring marks with 113 points in seven games so far.
*After his SEC debut fell flat, Sidney has scored 24, 15, and 15 points the last three league games; and shot 20-of-35 in this stretch.
*During his year-plus wait to play, Sidney seems to have spent time at the foul line. He is 80% on free throws in SEC play and 76% overall.
*But he's limited his own playing time by fouling out twice and notching four personals two more games.
*SEC season has been rough on Ravern Johnson. He still ranks #4 in overall scoring this week with 18.2 points, but his 12.0 league-game average is only 27th-best.
*Johnson seemed to have snapped a serious shooting slump with a 8-of-15 day against Auburn; only to go 5-of-15 at Georgia. *He is 8-of-30 at the arc in SEC play, compared to his overall 37% accuracy for the season. For his career Johnson is a 39% three-point marksman.
*Only once this season has Johnson played less than 31 minutes, a 26-minute night against North Carolina A&T. He has played 147 out of a possible 160 SEC minutes.
*With 226 career treys Johnson is third on the MSU chart, needing 32 more to catch Daryl Wilson (1994-96) for second place.
*His 1,277 career points place him 17th in Bulldog history. Next up is the 1,300 points by Timmy Bowers (2001-04).
*In his first three State seasons PF Kodi Augustus had a pair of double-doubles. Now he has seven this senior season.
*In his first three SEC games Augustus had 32 rebounds; fast foul trouble at Georgia limited him to three boards.
*Augustus is also having a career-year at the stripe making 75.0% and getting to the foul line more than any other Dog.
*But after shooting 36.8% at the arc last winter, he's hitting just 27% there this season.
*C Wendell Lewis began SEC season with 10 points against Alabama. He's had four points in the last three games.
*He's no ‘Swat' but Lewis is leading the team in blocks with 21.
*Senior G Riley Benock is 7-of-14 at the arc in SEC play, third-best in the league standings this week.
*PG Brian Bryant had 14 points against Washington State on December 22, but has scored just 17 total points in the seven games since.