*Five straight losses have effectively cost State chance of a first-round bye at next week's SEC Tournament, with 8-6 Alabama and Tennessee contending for the fourth spot. Now the Bulldogs are battling for best possible seeding in New Orleans, as well as to maintain their probable NCAA Tournament status. But a loss this week could cripple that chance as well.
*This is Mississippi State's longest losing streak, SEC or overall, since 2006 when those Dogs dropped seven-straight games.
*The losing streak dropped State out of the rankings, where they resided for twelve straight weeks. State reached a high of #15 in the writers poll, most recently on January 2.
*A hopeful sign for this week: State's league wins have come in pairs, three times.
*State was missing a starter last game as SF Rodney Hood recovers from a bone bruise to his left knee suffered last Tuesday. He has resumed some practicing this week and is a game-time decision tonight. Hood has scored the 10th-most points by a Bulldog freshman and played the fourth-most minutes ever for a rookie.
*Backup SF Shaun Smith is now done for the season with a broken finger on his shooting hand suffered at Alabama.
*PG Dee Bost and PF Arnett Moultrie are among the finalists for the Howell Trophy given to the state's premier college player.
*Mississippi State leads the series 15-8 with five-straight wins, and has not lost since 2007. Rick Stansbury is 11-5 against South Carolina. The MSU coach has 291 career wins and ranks 9th on the SEC list needing 297 to tie for 7th place.
The Opponent: Not that they have any room to be cocky, but on paper the Bulldogs couldn't ask for two better season-ending matchups to snap out of a losing streak. South Carolina is playing out the 2012 string and quite possibly the Darrin Horn era as well. A seeming sure-thing when hired away from Western Kentucky he had a nice start in 2009 with a 21-win season and tie for the SEC East…but that wasn't good enough for a NCAA bid. And the Gamecocks have since gone 15, 14, and now just ten wins so far in the fourth year. Worse, this year's cellar-dweller status was pretty much foreseen. The problem is neatly summarized by two SEC-game stats: South Carolina is last in league shooting and 11th in field goal defense, a lethal combination. In fact State finally gets to shoot against a team that is worse defending the arc than the Bulldogs themselves. No Gamecock is among the SEC's top-20 scorers in league play, either. The low rebounding rate is surprising because there are a lot of missed shots to chase and SC does have nice size in this starting lineup. Only 6-9 forward Damontre Harris is shooting over 54%, and you don't want him going to the foul stripe where he's good on 82% of chances. So what is there to worry about in this matchup? The Gamecocks can run for one thing; they will get up and down the court with anyone and make liberal use of the bench to keep their pace. And while the team shoots poorly overall, their three-point percentages are just about the same as on closer shots. And just about everyone will throw up a longball, too, so the entire perimeter must be covered at all times. And there are a couple of things South Carolina does better than the Bulldogs: block shots and make steals. It's enough to keep the visitors on their toes…or ought to be considering what is at stake.
Projected Starting Lineups (full season stats):
SOUTH CAROLINA: F Anthony Gill, FR 6-8 235, 7.8ppg, 4.8rpg; F Mallik Cooke, SR 6-6 215, 12.4ppg, 4.9rpg, 80%fts; F Damontre Harris, SO 6-9 225, 6.7ppg, 5.3rpg, 66 blks, 54%fgs; G Damien Leonard, FR 6-4 190, 6.5ppg, 45 3ptrs; G Bruce Ellington, SO 5-9 195, 10.8ppg, 2.9apg, 34 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: F R.J. Slawson, SO 6-8 195, 4.8ppg, 3.9rpg; G Eric Smith, SO 5-11 210, 4.4ppg, 20 3ptrs; F Lakeem Jackson, JR 6-5 230, 3.5ppg, 2.8rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Arnett Moultrie, JR 6-11 249, 16.4ppg, 10.8rpg, 55%fgs; C Renardo Sidney, JR 6-10 285, 10.1ppg, 5.0rpg, 52%fgs; G Dee Bost, SR 6-2 175, 16.0ppg, 142 asts, 63 3ptrs; G Brian Bryant, SR 6-3 168, 6.6ppg, 4.6rpg, 50 asts; G Jalen Steele, SO 6-3 195, 8.0ppg, 54 3ptrs.
Top Backups: C Wendell Lewis, SO 6-8 253, 3.9ppg, 4.1rpg, 28 blks; G Deville Smith, FR 5-11 165, 4.9ppg, 47 asts.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 71.4, SC 61.6
Scoring Defense: MSU 66.8, SC 64.9
FG Shooting: MSU 45.6%, SC 40.3%
FG Defense: MSU 43.3%, SC 44.8%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.4%, SC 32.3%
Rebounding: MSU 36.4, SC 31.2
Rebound Margin: MSU +3.0, SC -1.9
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 69.4%, SC 70.3%
Turnovers: MSU -1.2, SC +1.6
BULLDOG NOTES: *Three Bulldogs were pacing the SEC in minutes played per league game, until SF Rodney Hood missed the whole second half against Kentucky with his injury and dropped to 4th. So now it is just PG Dee Bost (37.0) and PF Arnett Moultrie (36.3) who are 1-2 in the league ironman standings.
*In their losing streak the Bulldogs have averaged 60.8 points. They have not topped 70 points since February 4 in a 91-88 win over Auburn at home.
* State's average SEC winning margin is 4.5 points; in the eight league losses the margin has been 8.6 points. But in the last three losses have been by a dozen points on average.
*In their six SEC wins the Dogs have shot almost 40% on three-pointers. In eight losses it is 36.6%, not much of a difference…but in the five-loss streak it has been 30.3%.
*And don't blame the refs. State has shot more free throws than the opponent in five of their league losses.
*PF Arnett Moultrie had his three-game string of double-doubles snapped at Alabama when he scored a season-low seven points, taking just three shots (also a season low). Moultrie still has 16 DDs out of 26 games played, and is the only SEC player averaging double-figures for both points and rebounds.
*Moultrie has averaged 21.0 points in SEC wins, 11.1 in losses.
*He is the SEC's second-most accurate shooter at just under 55%.
*In the team's losing streak Moultrie has been reliable at the line making 14-of-17 chances.
*Moultrie needs to average 11.0 boards for a top-ten State season.
*PG Dee Bost now has 1,581 career points, #8 on the program chart. He needs 1,602 to catch former teammate Barry Stewart for seventh place.
*He is about to become the first Bulldog ever with 600 career assists. Bost has 596 in his 118 games at State. He has not had less than four assists since the January 7 Arkansas game.
*Bost has averaged 15.5 points in SEC wins, but 16.3 in losses.
*In the losing streak Bost has 17 turnovers against 24 assists.
*When Bost fouled-out against Auburn in the home, it was his first time to draw five personals since the 2009-10 opener against Rider; a 68-game stretch. In the six games since he has just ten total personals.
*Just the fourth Bulldog with 200 career treys, Bost now has made 228. He needs 258 for third place.
*C Renardo Sidney missed the road Auburn game with back spasms, and had just three points against Kentucky. But he seems fine now after putting up 14 against Alabama, and taking every shot inside the arc.
*Before the back acted up Sidney was shooting 20-of-35 in the previous four games, and scored double-digits in all; his longest such stretch of the season.
*Despite depth issues, State is limiting Sidney's minutes. He had 21 against Kentucky, 20 at Alabama.
*G Jalen Steele went into a brief slump, 1-of-7 at the arc in losses at LSU and Auburn. But in the last two games he is 6-of-15 there.
*In SEC play, Steele has taken 98 shots; 79 of them are trey-tries.
*C Wendell Lewis is a 62% shooter. But he also has not taken more than three shots in the last nine games and scored just 14 total points.
*Lewis is 2-of-7 for entire SEC season on free throws.