Still receiving votes in both of the current national polls, the Bulldogs are paced by sophomore Mario Austin, who ranks among the SEC's statistical leaders in scoring (15.8 ppg; 11th in SEC), rebounding (7.9 rpg; 5th) and field-goal percentage (56.5%; 2nd). Last week's SEC Player of the Week following his career-high, 32-point performance in State's recent win over Kentucky, Austin is averaging 17.9 points and shooting 60 percent from the field over his last seven outings.
Entering this week's action needing 33 more points to become the 24 member of Mississippi State's 1,000-point club, senior swingman Marckell Patterson is averaging 13.5 points (19th in the SEC), 4.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists per contest on the year. Averaging 11.8 points over his last dozen games, sophomore guard Timmy Bowers adds 10.6 points an outing and leads the Bulldogs with 23 made three-pointers. Junior point guard Derrick Zimmerman continues to rate as one of the league's top playmakers in leading the SEC in assists (6.3 apg) and standing second in steals (2.7 spg). The team tri-captain from Monroe, La., is also averaging 9.9 points, including a career-high 17 points at Arkansas last week, and 4.0 rebounds an outing.
The hard-luck Vols of Tennessee come to Starkville with a misleading 6-8 overall record and 1-2 conference mark after dropping yet another last-second decision, 73-70, to Georgia this past Saturday in Athens. Guided by first-year head coach Buzz Peterson, formerly of Tulsa and Appalachian State, the Volunteers have had six of their eight losses on the year decided by a combined total of only 15 points. Tennessee opened league competition with an 82-76 home triumph over Mississippi on Jan. 6, only to fall, 104-100, in overtime at home to the third-ranked Florida Gators one week ago.
Tennessee is powered by the veteran frontline of Vincent Yarbrough, Ron Slay and Marcus Haislip, who combine to average 49.6 points and 20.8 rebounds per game on the season. A senior and reigning all-SEC standout, Yarbrough presently leads the league in scoring (19.5 ppg) and tops the Vols in rebounding (7.1 rpg). Juniors Slay (15.5 ppg & 6.9 rpg) and Haislip (14.6 ppg & 6.8 rpg) rank as Tennessee's second- and third-leading scorers and rebounders, respectively.
While Tennessee holds a 68-36 all-time series advantage over MSU through the years, the Bulldogs do own a 9-6 series lead over UT in games dating back to the 1990-91 season. Spanning back to the 1994 SEC Tournament in Memphis, the last nine MSU-UT hardwood meetings have been decided by an average margin of just 6.9 points per game.