*Three losses in their last five games have cost State the national ranking this team has held since preseason. The Dogs were 24th last week before Saturday's defeat at LSU.
About the Gators
They're back. Literally, that is, speaking of the Florida lineup. All five starters return from a 20-win team that finished second in the SEC East and scored Billy Donovan's sixth-straight NCAA Tournament berth. A year older, and reinforced by the typical group of incoming all-stars, the Gators have higher goals in mind this March. They have also survived a tough schedule stretch without hotshot swingman Matt Walsh relatively unscathed, though a flukish home loss to Tennessee means Florida will need some help to catch and pass Kentucky. Still by any measure the Gators are right there in the thick of the conference crown chase again after what they felt was an underachieving season in '04. There's no secret to UF's strengths—they shoot and they score, particularly from the perimeter, and lead the league in offense at 82-points-per. Oh, and in scoring margin (almost 18 points) and field goal shooting (51%). The leading lights are the veteran trio of juniors Anthony Roberson and Walsh and senior David Lee. Their listed positions don't mean a lot, especially for Walsh and Lee as they can go inside and out at will and score from all over the court. Any shot really is a good shot for this bunch, which fits right into Donovan's offensive philosophy of keeping the pressure on the defense from tip-to-horn. Yet there is more to this lineup than the known names of recent seasons. A couple of newcomers have cracked the league lineup with 6-8 ‘guard' Corey Brewer and 235-pound Al Horford moving into the middle. 6-11 Joakim Noah is getting more and more minutes as SEC season proceeds, too. Their size has helped Florida achieve maybe the least-appreciated fact of current SEC statistics: in league games only, the Gators are by far the best offensive rebounding club in the conference and actually have a double-digit overall margin on the boards. And for all the often-breakneck pace of play, Florida does keep the assist/turnover ratio on the positive side. Usually. But who cares if the ball gets tossed away at times, or the other team works 30 seconds to manufacture a layup? It only takes a couple of ticks off the clock before a Gator is firing up a three-ball, and if the long shots are falling Florida is winning.
Probable Starting Lineups
Florida: G Anthony Roberson, 6-1 JR, 18.2ppg, 53 3ptrs; G/F Corey Brewer, 6-8 FR, 7.8ppg, 3.1rpg; F Al Horford, 6-8 FR, 6.9ppg, 6.4rpg, 23 blks; F David Lee, 6-9 SR, 12.4ppg, 7.9rpg; F Matt Walsh, 6-6 JR, 14.1ppg, 3.0rpg, 26 3ptrs.
Gator Alternates: G Taureen Green, 6-0 FR, 5.1ppg, 3.1rpg; G Lee Humphrey, 6-2 SO, 6.2ppg, 22 3ptrs; F/C Joakim Noah, 6-11 FR, 5.1ppg, 3.1rpg.
Mississippi State: G Gary Ervin, 5-11 SO, 8.4ppg, 5.3apg; G Shane Power, 6-5 SR, 9.8ppg, 4.0rpg, 32 3pts; C Marcus Campbell, 7-0 SR, 7.2ppg, 5.7rpg; F Lawrence Roberts, 6-9 SR, 18.6ppg, 11.3rpg; F Ontario Harper, 6-5 SR, 7.3ppg, 5.0rpg.
Scoring: MSU 74.0ppg, FLA 82.1ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 63.8ppg, FLA 64.1ppg
Rebounding: MSU 41.9rpg, FLA 37.8rpg
Rebounding Margin: MSU +9.3, FLA +7.6
Shooting: MSU 45.5%, FLA 51.2%
Shooting Defense: MSU 39.3%, FLA 41.5%
Three-Point Shooting: MSU 32.6% (119/365), FLA 38.7% (130/336)
Three-Point Defense: MSU 29.3% (135/461), FLA 33.7% (103/306)
This is the ‘youngest' of Mississippi State's rivalries from the traditional Southeastern Conference, dating back only to 1936…four years after the league was founded. Eight decades later the score stands 53-44 in favor of Florida. Bulldog teams dominated the early years and as late as the 1980's State still held a lead, but a 12-game winning streak from 1984-89 put the Gator in front they have stretched the margin out since. State has only won two of the last six games; at the 2002 SEC Tournament, and last season in Gainesville. MSU still holds a 30-18 lead in Starkville games, yet Florida won in their last two trips to Humphrey Coliseum in 2001 and '03. Rick Stansbury is 3-4 against Florida.
Did You Know?
*There is only one senior on the Gator roster, forward David Lee; and three juniors.
*The teams have faced one common out-of-conference opponent; both own homecourt victories over Florida A&M, State by a 104-80 score and Florida by a 88-51 count.
*The Gators are contenders for their conference title, but were swept in the annual unofficial State of Florida series with losses to Miami and Florida State.
Bulldog Game Notes
*Senior guard Winsome Frazier began his full rehabilitation process this week, after having the cast taken off his injured left foot last Tuesday. He is wearing a boot to protect the foot after January 10 surgery to fix a broken bone. The most optimistic outlook has Frazier back on the active roster by the third weekend of February. Since Frazier's injury the Bulldogs have gone 2-3, losing all three SEC road games.
*Though they have struggled on the road lately, the Bulldogs bring a ten-game homecourt winning streak into February. Eight of those wins have come this season.
*Florida is the best in SEC-only average rebounding. But for the entire season, Mississippi State is still on top of overall rebounding average at 41.9 boards per game. MSU teams have won the last four league rebounding ‘titles' and are going for an unprecedented fifth this year.
*Senior forward Lawrence Roberts scored another double-double over the weekend with 15 points and 12 rebounds at LSU. That was his seventh double-double in the last nine games, and now Roberts—who leads active NCAA players—is going for the 50th such effort of his career.
*Roberts has made the mid-season cut for the 2005 John R. Wooden Award. A member of the 2004 Wooden All-America team, Roberts is one of 30 players on the mid-season list. The winners of the men's and women's Wooden Awards and their five-player All-America teams will be announced April 9.
*Mississippi State has not lost consecutive games of any sort since March, 2003, when the Bulldogs lost in the finals of the SEC Tournament and the first round of the NCAA tourney. State hasn't lost back-to-back SEC games since March 1/5 of that year, though those setbacks were both on the road.