*Should State hold on to third place in the West and Georgia remain stuck in the East cellar, the teams will meet again in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
About the Bulldogs
Presumably Dennis Felton knew what he was getting into when he agreed to take over a Georgia program shattered by the transgressions of Jim Harrick's regime. Five seasons and 100 wins at Western Kentucky made Felton a hot commodity on the coaching market, and Georgia was fortunate to hire him. How lucky Felton feels at the moment is another matter. After posting a respectable 16-14 record and a really surprising 7-9 SEC mark last year, the second time around has been far, far tougher. The UG Dogs are still paying a heavy price for Harrick's transgressions, as they came into this season restricted to only seven scholarship ballplayers. The roster reflects a total rebuilding process with not a single senior in uniform, and only one junior. Maybe that says better things are to come when this bunch matures, but the growing pains are not pleasant and youthful energy can only take a team so far into a season, especially with Felton limiting his rotation to seven or eight at the most. The recently-snapped seven-game losing streak, including a non-conference defeat by Clemson, can also be excused by the three-week absence of guard Levi Stukes with a sprained ankle. The impact of the team's best scorer and top outside shooter was obvious as when Stukes returned to the lineup, UG immediately knocked off Auburn. Rookie Sundiata Gaines, who played point while the starter was out, is back at off-guard where he can attack and rebound more freely. Stukes' absence somewhat skews a few stats, because while UG ranks poorly in some defensive and rebounding categories these Dogs don't back down. Their man-defense is tough—some opponents lately protest it much too rough, in fact—and the Bulldog backcourt is on the attack from tip to horn. Forcing turnovers is one category this team ranks well in, led by Gaines. And don't foul guard Channing Toney, a 91% man at the SEC-stripe. 6-10 rookie Dave Bliss and 6-9 soph Steve Newman put some honest size in the frontcourt that has to be taken into account. The real challenge in preparing for Georgia is overlooking the record and numbers, and getting off to a strong start. Because letting this team hang around on their home court is a recipe for an upset, especially with MSU bringing a team that is hurting both physically and emotionally. Just because Georgia isn't going anywhere after the SEC Tournament doesn't mean they cannot have a say in who does play postseason.
Tentative Starting Lineups
Georgia: G Sundiata Gaines, 6-1 FR, 12.0ppg, 5.0rpg, 3.0apg; G Levi Stukes, 6-1 SO, 15.3ppg, 3.4rpg, 41 3ptrs; G Channing Toney, 6-4 FR, 10.1ppg, 3.1rpg, 30 3ptrs; C Dave Bliss, 6-10 FR, 7.0ppg, 5.6rpg; F Steve Newman, 6-9 SO, 7.8ppg, 3.9rpg.
Bulldog Alternates: G Kevin Brophy, 6-1 FR, 4.0ppg, 25 3ptrs; F Younes Idrissi, 6-7 FR, 3.4ppg, 2.4rpg; G Jay McAuley, 6-1 JR, 1.3ppg, 1.1rpg.
Mississippi State: G Gary Ervin, 5-11 SO, 8.1ppg, 5.0apg; G Shane Power, 6-5 SR, 11.2ppg, 4.0rpg, 49 3pts; C Marcus Campbell, 7-0 SR, 7.1ppg, 5.8rpg; F Ontario Harper, 6-5 SR, 8.0ppg, 5.0rpg; G Winsome Frazier, 6-4 SR, 13.0ppg, 3.4rpg, 41 3ptrs.
Questionable: F Lawrence Roberts, 6-9 SR, 17.4ppg, 11.0rpg
Scoring: MSU 73.5, UG 61.4
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.9, UG 67.5
Rebounding: MSU 41.2, UG 32.4
Rebounding Margin: MSU +8.9, UG –3.2
Shooting: MSU 45.4%, UG 40.4%
Shooting Defense: MSU 40.8%, UG 45.8%
Three-Point Shooting: MSU 33.5% (148/442), UG 30.9% (134/434)
Three-Point Defense: MSU 30.8% (176/571), UG 32.8% 120/366)
Maybe it's because they share nicknames, but the battles between the Bulldog teams have come out almost evenly over the years. Certainly this is State's closest SEC rivalry, as Georgia holds a 47-45 lead. There have only been 92 meetings because these charter members of the SEC did not play until the year the league was founded, 1932. State actually held a modest lead in the series until Georgia caught up in the 1990s and moved in front by winning three-straight games from 2001-03. The MSU Dogs snapped that string last season in Starkville, 71-58. Georgia has a 25-16 advantage on their home court. The real difference in the current score? UG is 6-1 against State in SEC Tournaments, with MSU's only win coming in 1996 in New Orleans. By no coincidence State won that tourney, too. Rick Stansbury is 2-4 against the other Dogs; Dennis Felton is 0-1 against State.
Did You Know?
*There are only two SEC venues Rick Stansbury has not won in: Kentucky's Rupp Arena and Georgia's Stegemen Coliseum. State has not won in Athens since 1995.
*This is the last MSU game of the season, regular- or post-, that will not be televised. State is 2-1 in SEC games not shown by any TV network, but 0-1 on the road.
*UG guard Channing Toney is the son of former Philadelphia 76er Andrew Toney, the marksman on the 1983 NBA championship squad.
Bulldog Game Notes
*Bulldog seniors Winsome Frazier and Marcus Campbell are one victory away from setting school records for career wins (regardless of participation). The duo currently boast 92 victories in their four seasons, tying them with 2004 senior Timmy Bowers.
*Mississippi State is looking for the first SEC road win since a January 8 victory at Mississippi. That is the lone league road success so far against five losses. This contrasts to the perfect 8-0 SEC away-game record for last year's ‘Road Warriors.'
*State is coming off consecutive defeats for the first time since the end of the 2002-03 season when the Bulldogs lost in the SEC Tournament finals and the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The last time MSU lost back-to-back regular season games was in early March of that year, at Arkansas and Tennessee.
*While they lost both games, the Bulldogs still came out with better total rebounding numbers against both LSU and Kentucky. Thus State has out-rebounded the opposition 22 times in 26 games this season, and maintain their SEC-leads in both total rebound average (41.2) and rebounding margin (+8.9). MSU teams have won the last four league rebounding ‘titles' and are going for an unprecedented fifth this year.
*Senior Lawrence Roberts endured the worst game of his Bulldog career at Kentucky. Not only did he injure his thigh and foul out, but Roberts was held to seven points and three rebounds against the Wildcats. The defending SEC Player of the Year still has a good grip on the league rebounding lead at 11 boards a game, but he has slipped two spots, to fourth, in the SEC scoring race at 17.4. Roberts still should duplicate his feat of last season by scoring another ‘double-double' for the campaign. And he continues to lead active NCAA players with 52 double-double games counting two years at Baylor.
*Senior forward Shane Power has become State's other offensive force in the last three weeks, averaging over 17 points in the past five games. In the process he has raised his season average to 11.2 points.
*Power has also scored ten three-point goals in the last three contests giving him 49 for the year and 87 for his two-year MSU career. His accuracy of 44.8% in this span is the best in Bulldog history. Marcus Bullard's 40.7% at the arc (one season, 1995-96) is second.
*Senior guard Winsome Frazier, who missed eight complete games after a January 8 broken foot, beat all forecasts for his return and got back on the court last week. He scored 11 points against both LSU and Kentucky, averaging 25 minutes off the bench. He has scored double-digit points in 14 of the 17 complete games he has participated in. He now has 142 career treys, sixth-most in MSU history.
*Frazier's foot is still affecting his game, though, as he has not gotten a steal in either game. Frazier has 135 career thefts to rank eighth, four behind Terry Lewis (1980-83).
*Senior Marcus Campbell has 81 career blocked shots, rnaking seventh and eight back of Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).
Mississippi State is at home, hosting Mississippi in a 6:00 game at The Hump. Georgia is at Vanderbilt.