#2 seed MSU to meet #15 seed Monmouth in Orlando

STARKVILLE, Miss. - Rewarded with their highest NCAA Tournament seeding in school history, the Southeastern Conference Champion Mississippi State Bulldogs (25-3) begin competition in the 2004 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship this Friday with a first-round contest in Orlando, Fla., against the Monmouth Hawks (21-11) of the Northeast Conference. Tip-off time for the meeting between No. 2 seed MSU and 15th-seeded Monmouth is set for 7:10 p.m. ET at the TD Waterhouse Centre.

CBS Sports is slated to televise the entire NCAA Tournament, with Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Len Elmore (color commentary) and Dwayne Ballen (sideline reporter) scheduled to call the action from Orlando. The winner of Friday's MSU-Monmouth first-round contest will advance to meet the Louisville-Xavier winner Sunday afternoon at either 12:10 p.m. or 2:40 p.m. ET.

Ranked in the Top 10 of both national polls for the seventh consecutive week, coach Rick Stansbury's 25-3 Bulldogs have fallen to eighth in this week's Associated Press poll and ninth in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Top 25 after dropping a 74-70 second-round, overtime decision to Vanderbilt in last week's SEC Tournament played at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Having now played back-to-back overtime games for the first time since 1997-98, MSU's four extra-session contests this season (3-1 record) are the most for the Bulldogs since that same 1997-98 hoops campaign.

Establishing new school standards for most overall regular-season wins (25) and league victories (14), this year's Bulldog contingent is also making school history by claiming a fourth consecutive postseason tournament appearance and earning a third straight NCAA Tournament berth under the guidance of this year's AP SEC Coach of the Year. Stansbury has also earned district coach of the year honors this season by both the NABC and USBWA organizations. In addition, MSU is making its 10th postseason tournament appearance (6 NCAA & 4 NIT) since 1990 and 12th all-time in 92 years.

Offensively as a team, Mississippi State enters postseason competition leading the SEC in scoring offense (77.1 ppg) - the team's highest scoring average since 1990-91 - and scoring margin (+10.8; 17th in the NCAA), while ranking third in field-goal percentage (46.8%). On the defensive end, the Bulldogs are topping the conference and ranked among the national leaders in rebounding margin (+7.5; 4th in NCAA) for the fourth consecutive season, along with pacing the league in steals (9.2 spg) for the second straight year. MSU has outrebounded or tied 22 of 28 opponents this season with a 21-1 record in those contests.

Individually, State continues to be powered by the first-team, all-league tandem of SEC Player of the Year Lawrence Roberts and senior co-captain Timmy Bowers. Leading the conference and tied for fourth nationally with 16 double-doubles on the season, Roberts ranks as the SEC's No. 5 scorer (17.0 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (10.4 rpg), while also rating fifth in the league in field-goal percentage (52.1%). Having been named All-American First Team by SI.com, both the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) and United States Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) organizations, along with the Adolph F. Rupp Award committee, Roberts is bidding to become the first MSU player since Rickey Brown (1979-80) to average a double-double for an entire season. Bowers, a national finalist for the inaugural Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award, stands as the league's 13th-leading scorer (15.3 ppg), in addition to ranking third in assists (4.7 apg), fourth in made 3-pointers per game (2.4 treys/gm) and sixth in steals (1.9 spg). On the verge of cracking the school's all-time Top 10 list with 287 career assists, Bowers currently ranks 12th on MSU's all-time scoring chart with 1,280 career points.

Located in West Long Branch, N.J., and having been a Division I member since 1983-84, Monmouth University owns a 21-11 overall record and shared first-place, regular-season honors with a 12-6 mark in Northeast Conference play. Guided by seventh-year head coach and 1991 Monmouth grad Dave Calloway, the Hawks earned an automatic bid to the NCAA's by winning the NEC Tournament on their home floor as the league's No. 1 seed. MU is led in scoring (16.6 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg) by junior forward Blake Hamilton, a first-team, all-league pick and NEC tourney MVP.

Gene's Page Top Stories