*Mississippi State remained in the top-twenty despite an opening loss at Arkansas, the sixth-straight week in this club with a highest ranking of #15 so far. Alabama opened the season #19 and reached 12th place in November but dropped from the polls midway of December. The Crimson Tide is on the verge of regaining a ranking though, just two spots out.
*Alabama holds a healthy 114-72 edge in the rivalry, though lately things have gone streaky for each side. From 2002-09 the Bulldogs won ten of 16 meetings with a five-straight stretch. Now the Tide has won four of the last five including a 75-57 decision at the Hump in 2011.
*Rick Stansbury is 15-13 against Alabama. He now ranks 9th in career victories among all SEC coaches with 286, and is second of active league coaches. He needs 297 wins to tie for 7th place.
*Bulldog guard Dee Bost has been in a shooting slump lately, but Alabama has been a good opponent for the senior. He has averaged 15.7 points in six games against Tide teams.
*Mississippi State has not had an overall SEC Player of the Week so far this season. Rookie forward Rodney Hood was tabbed Freshman of the Week back in November.
The Opponent: If one believes in annual progression, year-three under Anthony Grant's management should be Alabama's breakout season. He's taken the Crimson Tide from 4th in the SEC West his '10 debut to first last winter, with a 25-12 record. It didn't suffice for NCAA respect (they haven't gotten a bid since 2006) so Alabama settled for, and made good use of, a NIT opportunity with a run to the finals. Now with the core of that club back and a good rookie class it's time for the next step. Or looked at another way, it's now or never for superb senior JaMychal Green. He's certainly done his part to carry the program through transition, and now is third among active SEC players in career scoring and first in rebounding along with blocked 190 shots. But, he isn't pacing this Tide team in points. That is his frontcourt cohort as small forward Tony Mitchell is popping nearly 15-per game…including twenty treys. Which is a worthwhile, umm, point because this is not a club counting on perimeter punch. They're last in the league in made treys in fact, which is saying something in a conference not loaded with lots of long-range aces. Alabama just prefers the higher-percentage approach and 47% overall shooting affirms it. Of course it helps that they're stingy on defense as well, holding foes under 37% and fewest field goals in the league; not to mention just 26% on three-point tries. This backcourt gets after you on defense despite giving away inches and/or pounds to many peers. Trevor Releford might be the most under-appreciated SEC guard, scoring almost 13 points with three assists and steady defense. He's led the team in scoring four of the last five games, and is who Alabama wants to have the ball in foul settings. The latest lineup shows a pair of freshmen joining soph Releford, bringing needed height along with other skills. Certainly Levi Randolph and Trevor Lacey lend a hand on the boards, and given how well Alabama defends there's a lot of caroms for catching. Lacey has also improved the outside offense with 15 treys. Grant hasn't had a ton of depth his first two years and even now with some fresh bodies seems to limit subbing anyway. Rookie forward Nick Jacobs adds bulk, not to mention shot-blocking, in the middle while 6-6 Rodney Cooper is a new swingman in the mix with some outside potential. This is a team that just does the basic things well; take and make good shots, convert on free throws, limit turnovers and force mistakes, and D-up everywhere. Whether they can take that expected next step depends on how much more outside offense can be coaxed from the lineup, because even a squad that has allowed more than 60 points just three times (none since December 17) is going to eventually have to outscore people sometime. Probably not this Saturday though given both side's propensity to defend the goals.
Projected Starting Lineups:
ALABAMA: F Tony Mitchell, JR 6-6 185, 14.9ppg, 7.4rpg, 20 3ptrs; F JaMychal Green, SR 6-9 220, 14.2ppg, 6.8rpg, 55%fgs; G Trevor Releford, SO 6-1 180, 12.8ppg, 3.2apg, 87%fts; G Levi Randolph, FR 6-6 175, 6.3ppg, 3.9rpg, 2.3apg; G Trevor Lacey, FR 6-3 200, 7.4ppg, 3.5rpg, 15 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: F Nick Jacobs, FR 6-8 250, 5.4ppg, 3.8rpg, 18 blks; G Andrew Steele 6.3ppg, 2.7rpg, 3 games; G Rodney Cooper, FR 6-6 205, 4.1ppg, 2.9rpg, 7 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Rodney Hood, FR 6-8 200, 12.2ppg, 5.3rpg, 33.8mins; F Arnett Moultrie, JR 6-11 249, 15.9ppg, 10.8rpg, 57%fgs; C Renardo Sidney, JR 6-10 285, 10.3ppg, 4.9rpg, 58%fgs; G Dee Bost, SR 6-2 175, 16.0ppg, 74 asts, 34 3ptrs; G Jalen Steele, SO 6-3 195, 7.3ppg, 27 3ptrs.
Top Backups: C Wendell Lewis, SO 6-8 253, 5.3ppg, 4.5rpg, 22 blks; G Brian Bryant, SR 6-3 168, 7.7ppg, 4.8rpg, 25 asts; G Deville Smith, FR 5-11 165, 6.1ppg, 43 asts.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 74.8, ALA 67.7
Scoring Defense: MSU 64.8, ALA 55.7
FG Shooting: MSU 47.2%, ALA 47.1%
FG Defense: MSU 41.7%, ALA 36.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 35.4%, ALA 27.7%
3-point Attempts PG: MSU 322, ALA 231
Rebounding: MSU 37.3, ALA 36.2
Rebound Margin: MSU 4.4, ALA 3.5
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.5%, ALA 70.8%
Turnovers: MSU +0.6, ALA +1.4
BULLDOG NOTES: After giving up 98 points at Arkansas, the Bulldog defense was back on form Thursday allowing just 58 to Tennessee. Only twice this year has an opponent scored over 70 on State.
*These Bulldogs are not as reliant on outside shooting as previous teams, and scored just five treys against the Vols. That was less than the 6.8 season average, which is down from 7.9 the year before.
*At the same time, State is holding foes to 30% at the arc.
*In their two SEC contests, the Dogs are 79.2% on free throws. They've also taken 48 free shots in league play compared to just 35 for the foes. And only once in the last eleven games has State been charged with more fouls, at Baylor.
*State has been out-rebounded only three times this season, and just once was it a loss (also at Baylor).
*PF Arnett Moultrie has eight double-doubles on the season, but not in either of his SEC contests. He had just nine points at Arkansas, then just four rebounds against Tennessee.
*Moultrie is still #5 in SEC scoring, and first in rebounding by one whole board.
*He is trying to become the third Bulldog in eight years to average a double-double for a season. Jarvis Varnado did it in 2010 and Lawrence Roberts in both 2004 and '05.
*Moultrie hasn't taken as many shots as his coach and club should want, just 14 in two league games. Because he's made ten of them for a season shooting rate of 57%, 2nd-best in the SEC this week.
*The real surprise Thursday was Moultrie going just 1-of-3 on free throws, as at one point he was nearing 90% accuracy. He's still at 85%.
*After fouling-out at Arkansas, Moultrie had just one personal assessed in the UT game. In fact he's only once drawn more than three fouls, and the game he fouled-out one of the whistles was a technical.
*PG Dee Bost didn't shoot well (3-of-11) in the Tennessee game, but did have the clinching dunk after a Volunteer turnover. Still it's been a struggling stretch for the senior who is 21-of-76 in the last six games, and 6-of-30 at the arc.
*Because he scooped up that loose ball Bost was awarded a ‘steal' on the play, giving him four for the game. That brings his career total to 168, and ranks Bost 3rd all time at MSU. He needs 205 to match 2nd place.
*His 524 career assists are the program record. Bost leads all active SEC players in both career assists and steals.
*Bost's next three-pointer will tie Timmy Bowers for fourth on the career MSU list with 197.
*Bost has started all 106 games of his four State seasons.
*Bost is now 15th in career scoring at 1,392 points.
*C Renardo Sidney returned to the starting lineup Thursday after a one-game change. He tied for the team scoring lead and was game-best in rebounds, but actually played less than his season's average minutes with just 20.
*Starting or subbing, Sidney has been consistent on offense the last eight games with 39-of-52 shooting.
*And the center has hit a trey, or two, in the last three games.
*Freshman F Rodney Hood has been playing farther from the goal lately, and in the last three games is 5-of-13 at the arc. He has made at least one trey in the last ten games.
*G Jalen Steele has made two treys in each of the last four games; in fact all his baskets in this stretch were longballs.
*But Steele hasn't shot 50% or better since the December 10 Troy game.
*And he hasn't taken a free throw for four games now.
*C Wendell Lewis hasn't been much for offense since a 14-point night against Northwestern State. He's scored four points in the last four games.
*But he's hitting the boards off the bench, and blocked five shots against Tennessee; as many swats as he had in the previous five games combined.
*G DeVille Smith exploded for 25 points off the bench at Arkansas, easily most of his freshman season. He came back with two free throws and no baskets Thursday, but did match a season-high with five assists.