Having earned their highest national ranking in The Associated Press Top 25 poll since being rated fourth in the final 1961-62 AP poll, coach Rick Stansbury's 21-1 Bulldogs are riding an eight-game SEC winning streak after claiming road wins over nationally ranked South Carolina (79-75 in OT) and Arkansas (77-70) last week. Owners of their longest regular-season league win string since that same 1961-62 campaign, the Bulldogs most recently posted an 80-56 home victory over rival Mississippi two weeks ago (Feb. 7) in Starkville.
Now 10-1 in league play and two games ahead of SEC East-leading Kentucky for the overall lead in this year's Southeastern Conference title race, Mississippi State is bidding to capture the school's first overall SEC crown since 1990-91 - the last season before the SEC went to divisional play with the additions of Arkansas and South Carolina to the league lineup. MSU last claimed a regular-season conference championship outright during the 1962-63 campaign, when coach Babe McCarthy's State squad capped a successful five-year run (1959-63) with a fourth SEC title and a school-first NCAA Tournament appearance.
Offensively, the Bulldogs top the SEC in scoring offense (73.8 ppg), scoring margin (10.9 ppg) and field-goal percentage (47.5%) for conference games only, while also leading the league in rebounding offense (38.5 rpg), rebounding margin (+7.7 rpg) and steals (9.5 spg) on the defensive end. Overall, this year's State squad is presently the highest scoring MSU team since 1991-92 at 76.0 points per contest for all games on the season. Having entered the week ranked 11th nationally in rebound margin (+7.0 rpg), the Bulldogs are aiming to lead the SEC in this important statistical category for the fourth consecutive season.
Individually, Mississippi State is paced by talented junior forward/center Lawrence Roberts, who hails as a national finalist for the Wooden, Naismith and Rupp player of the year awards. The SEC Player of the Year candidate ranks fifth in the conference in scoring (17.2 ppg), second in rebounding (10.0 rpg) and fifth in field-goal percentage (57.3%) for all games. Tied with LSU's Jaime Lloreda for the league lead with 13 double-doubles on the year, Roberts is tied for fifth nationally in double-doubles and ranks tied for fourth among the nation's active NCAA Division I players with 35 career double-doubles in his three collegiate seasons.
Also figuring prominently into the Bulldogs' success thus far this season, senior Timmy Bowers this week was named as one of 16 finalists for the inaugural Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award. The two-time team co-captain currently ranks 14th in the SEC in scoring (15.3 ppg) and is third among the league's leading playmakers at 4.5 assists an outing. Bowers also stands tied for fourth in the conference in made 3-pointers per game (2.4 treys/gm) and fifth in steals (2.1 spg).
Guided by former Crimson Tide standout guard and sixth-year head coach Mark Gottfried, Alabama is 12-10 overall and 4-7 in conference play after dropping six of its last seven league decisions. Most recently, the Tide fell at home, 70-67, to Vanderbilt after previously snapping a five-game losing skid by posting an 83-70 home triumph over Tennessee last Saturday. Sophomore forward Kennedy Winston leads a trio of double-figure Bama scorers on the year at 16.1 points per contest, followed by junior guard Earnest Shelton, who averages 15.5 points a game and ranks third in the SEC in made 3-pointers per game (2.4).
While these two teams have split the regular-season series eight times in the last nine years, the Bulldogs have claimed the last five State-Bama hardwood meetings in Starkville by an average margin of 16.6 points per game.