*For MSU veterans, Tuesday night is a return to the court where they clinched the 2004 SEC Championship. Last March 6, the Bulldogs rallied from 19 points down in the second half to force overtime and ultimately seize a 82-81 victory. That win gave State a final 14-2 conference mark and meant the Dogs did not have to share their league crown.
About the Crimson Tide
Alabama ended 2004 on a roll and the Crimson Tide has carried that post-season momentum into this regular season. With four starters back from a 20-13 club that recorded the school's first ‘sweet 16' appearance, the Tide is primed for a shot at breaking Mississippi State's grip on the Western Division and, with luck, a repeat of Alabama's 2002 conference title. Coach Mark Gottfried, who scored his 200th career win last week, has the tools for the job. Every starter is a threat to score on any play, and hotshots like swingman Kennedy Winston and guard Earnest Shelton can ring up 20 or more points against any opponent. Gottfried found his starting lineup early and has used it all season without a change. The new face in the fivesome is rookie Ronald Steele, a two-time state ‘Mr. Basketball' who has made a fast transition to SEC playmaking and is a good reason why three starters average double-figures. Winston, a national Player of the Year candidate, is a nightmare matchup able to blow by defenders of equal size and overpower smaller guards. He's all the more effective on the wings with senior Earnest Shelton, the SEC leader in made-treys, firing away from outside. 6-10 soph Jermareo Davidson started 28 games last year and is set at center, pulling down eight boards a game. He and junior Chuck Davis make a stout front line, and Davis has upped his scoring average four points from last season. Tide backups aren't asked to score a lot, just spell the regulars enough so they can return and pick up the 50% shooting pace this team has shown seven times already. As long as this lineup is healthy Alabama is going to stay in front of the pack in this year's Division and league races. And last week's win at Arkansas shows that this team might be solving the Tide's longstanding issues with SEC road games.
Probable Starting Lineups
Alabama: F Kennedy Winston, 6-6 JR, 16.9ppg, 6.2rpg, 25 3ptrs; F Chuck Davis, 6-7 JR, 15.1ppg, 7.2rpg; C Jermareo Davidson, 6-10 SO, 9.6ppg, 8.1rpg; G Earnest Shelton, 6-3 SR, 16.5ppg, 42 3ptrs; G Ron Steele, 6-2 FR, 9.1ppg, 70 asts.
Tide Alternates: F Evan Brock, 6-8 JR, 2.8ppg, 2.4rpg; F Justin Jonus, 6-5 FR, 3.2ppg, 12 3ptrs; G Albert Weber, 6-2 FR, 3.1ppg.
Mississippi State: G Gary Ervin, 5-11 SO, 8.3 ppg, 5.9 apg; G Jamaal Edmondson, 5-9 JR, 4.5 ppg, 18 3ptrs; C Marcus Campbell, 7-0 SR, 6.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg; F Lawrence Roberts, 6-9 SR, 18.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg; F Shane Power, 6-5 SR, 10.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 28 3pts.
Scoring: MSU 76.1ppg, ALA 81.3ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 61.5ppg, ALA 70.1ppg
Rebounding: MSU 43.3rpg, ALA 39.3rpg
Rebounding Margin: MSU +10.6, ALA +5.9
Shooting: MSU 45.9%, ALA 48.2%
Shooting Defense: MSU 37.6%, ALA 41.4%
Three-Point Shooting: MSU 33.9% (111/327), ALA 38.0% (112/295)
Three-Point Defense: MSU 27.8% (112/403), ALA 38.5% (112/290)
Alabama has built up a healthy 106-65 lead in a series dating back to 1913, and as late as 1994 the Crimson Tide completely dominated the interstate feud with seven wins in eight-game stretch. But in the decade since this has developed into a much more competitive rivalry, arguably the best in the Western Division with only one ‘sweep' of the in-season series (by State in 1999). The last five games have been settled by a composite 18 points. Starting in 1995, Mississippi State has won 12 games and Alabama nine. Not only did the '04 Dogs lock up their league crown by beating Alabama, the 2002 team captured the SEC Tournament title with a victory in the finals over the Tide. Alabama is 67-13 against State in Tuscaloosa. This is Mississippi State's third-most played series behind Mississippi (230 games) and LSU (185), but MSU is Alabama's ‘oldest' SEC opponent.
Did You Know?
*Rick Stansbury teams are 8-5 against Alabama. But the Tide was the last team to beat the Bulldogs in Humphrey Coliseum with a 77-73 upset last February.
*Alabama has lost its lone game played against a ranked team thus far, to Washington by three points back on November 27 in the Great Alaska Shootout. But the Tide's schedule ranking is the highest in the SEC right now.
*These teams have played two common opponents so far. Out-of-conference, both have wins over New Orleans as the Bulldogs won 74-59 at UNO while the Tide won 68-57 at home. In league play, Alabama beat Arkansas 64-61 at Fayetteville and State won 80-55 at home.
*Two Alabamians play for Mississippi State, guard Jamaal Edmondson (Montgomery) and backup center Walter Sharpe (Birmingham). There are no Misississippians on the Tide roster, which does feature seven in-state athletes.
Bulldog Game Notes
*Mississippi State saw a 16-game road winning streak (with ten SEC wins) snapped last Wednesday at Tennessee. But the Bulldogs do have a nine-game homecourt streak going. And they have won their seven home games this year by a 25-point average.
*In their two home SEC wins the Dogs have held Auburn and Arkansas to 26.5% and 30.4% shooting, increasing their league-leading pace in field goal defense.
*Senior forward Lawrence Roberts now has 1,005 career rebounds, counting his two seasons at Baylor. He is the NCAA leader in rebounds.
*Roberts has notched nine ‘double-doubles' this season, best in the SEC, and his 47 career ‘dds' leads all active NCAA players. Roberts has scored 20.3 points in his four league games, and pulled down 45 rebounds.
*Center Marcus Campbell has scored in double-figures three of the four SEC games played, and each time the Bulldogs have won. The senior has shot 86% in his last five games making 19 of 22 shots.
*Rick Stansbury has coached 100 regular-season SEC games now with State, with a 56-44 record.
Alabama is at Mississippi on Saturday, while the Bulldogs host South Carolina at 5:00.