*At 9-6 SEC State will be seeded #3 out of the West in next week's Southeastern Conference Tournament in Atlanta, and is assured of a matchup with East #6 Georgia in the first round. The Bulldogs shared the West title in 2003 and won it outright, along with the overall SEC crown, in 2004. With a victory Alabama would earn #1 seed in the West regardless of how the LSU-Vanderbilt game in Baton Rouge turns out, by virtue of a better Division record. If both lose Saturday the Tide still edges out the Tigers. Either way, both teams have a first-day bye at Atlanta, while State will be playing on Thursday for the first time since 2001.
*Regardless of Saturday's outcome, Mississippi State has achieved a program milestone already by scoring a fourth consecutive 20-win season for the first time since Bulldogs picked up a basketball. In the past four seasons MSU has won 27, 21, 26, and so far 21 games, easily the most successful such span ever in Starkville.
About the Crimson Tide
Sure, Mississippi State was the preseason pick by league media to win the 2005 West race. But quietly most anticipated Alabama, with a maturing lineup and incoming playmaker, would battle the Bulldogs right down to the last game against each other. We'll never know how the regular season would have played out if MSU had stayed healthy, but the Crimson Tide has certainly done their part. And if not for a still-strange loss at Florida, or a last-tick putback at Baton Rouge, Alabama would have run neck-and-neck with Kentucky for the league crown this year and a possible #2 NCAA seeding. That latter is still a possibility depending on how the Tide wraps up the regular schedule and plays in Atlanta, which makes winning tomorrow a must. This was going to be a strong squad with only the veterans of last March's NCAA run back for another try. Now with the addition of super-frosh point guard Ron Steele all the starting pieces are in the right places. The rookie playmaker hands out five official assists a game, best among league guards in SEC-only stats, and sets up lots more scoring situations. He'll pull the trigger himself with 33 treys. But of course there two other top-gunners on this team. Junior Kennedy Winston might be the best all-around talent in the conference. He's second in scoring, both overall and SEC-only, and leads the league in three-point accuracy at 48.3%. Winston will also go to the boards and plays far harder than his placid expression would imply. Don't bother focusing on him, either, not with senior sharpshooter Earnest Shelton lighting it up from all over. He's 6th in SEC scoring at the end of the regular season and third in made-treys per game. Want more? Alabama has it in bruising Chuck Davis, a forward with muscle and footwork who ranks 11th in SEC scoring but first, by far, in shooting at 59%. Maturing soph Jamareo Davidson cleans the boards, ranking 6th in SEC rebounding. So there's not a weak point in the starting five, which is good as Alabama makes limited us of the bench. The same squad has started all 28 games and four of them average 33 or more minutes. While it's easy to focus on the firepower, and UA does rank third in SEC scoring, don't underestimate the defensive prowess. This team ranks first in scoring defense, scoring margin, and field goal defense. The only un-glowing stat is an 11th in steals, but since Mississippi State is dead-last in assist/turnover ratio the Tide likely isn't worried. Their focus is on getting in as strong a post-season position as possible, and making the most of their chance. With Shelton graduating and Winston talking about turning pro, they'd also better take advantage of this shot.
Tentative Starting Lineups
Alabama: G Ron Steele, 6-2 FR, 7.6ppg, 5.0apg, 33 3ptrs; G Earnest Shelton, 6-3 SR, 16.6ppg, 3.4rpg, 80 3ptrs; C Jermareo Davison, 6-10 SO, 8.0ppg, 7.7rpg, 41 blks; F Chuck Davis, 6-7 JR, 14.6ppg, 6.9rpg, 53 blks; F Kennedy Winston, 6-6 JR, 18.0ppg, 5.3rpg, 57 3ptrs.
Tide Alternates: F Jean Felix, 6-7 JR, 4.9ppg, 2.2rpg; F Evan Brock, 6-6 JR, 2.5ppg, 2.4rpg.
Mississippi State: G Gary Ervin, 5-11 SO, 8.1ppg, 4.9apg; G Shane Power, 6-5 SR, 11.3ppg, 4.0rpg, 53 3pts; C Marcus Campbell, 7-0 SR, 6.4ppg, 5.5rpg; F Lawrence Roberts, 6-9 SR, 17.4ppg, 11.1rpg; F Ontario Harper, 6-5 SR, 8.0ppg, 5.0rpg.
Bulldog Backups: *G Winsome Frazier, 6-4 SR, 12.5ppg, 3.6rpg, 47 3ptrs; G Jamall Edmondson, 5-9 JR, 4.7ppg, 26 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, 6-3 SO, 3.1ppg, 2.1rpg; F/C Walter Sharpe, 6-9 FR, 2.5ppg, 2.0rpg; F Charles Rhodes, 6-8 FR, 2.7ppg, 2.0rpg.
*--Private reports say Frazier should start on Senior Day.
Scoring: MSU 72.9, ALA 76.9
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.5, ALA 64.9
Rebounding: MSU 41.4, ALA 36.9
Rebounding Margin: MSU +9.9, ALA +5.5
Shooting: MSU 45.1%, ALA 48.8%
Shooting Defense: MSU 40.9%, ALA 40.7%
Three-Point Shooting: MSU 34.0% (168/494), ALA 39.5% (219/554)
Three-Point Defense: MSU 30.9%, (194/628), ALA 36.6% (203/555)
The SEC's nearest neighbors are the Western Division's fiercest hardwood rivals over the past decade, with only one sweep of the regular-season series since 1994. In fact only three times has one team (State) even scored consecutive victories in that competitive span, with a 12-10 tally favoring the Bulldogs in these past ten-plus seasons. Before then, though, the scoreboard belonged to Alabama, which still holds a 107-65 overall advantage since the first meeting in 1913. The Bulldogs have had the better of things in Starkville by a 50-33 score, though last February Alabama snapped a five-year losing string in Humphrey Coliseum. Rick Stansbury is 8-6 against the Tide, including a win in the title game of the 2002 SEC Tournament. Mark Gottfried is 6-8 against State.
The Last Time: Alabama 98, MSU 49
No further review needed as the score says it all. Or as Coach Rick Stansbury put it, "they did everything right and we did everything wrong."
Did You Know?
*Three times already this decade the Bulldogs and Tide have played into overtime, in 2000, 2003, and 2004, and all there games were in Tuscaloosa. State won only one of these, but it was the best one as the 2004 Dogs rallied from a 18-point deficit in the second half to take a 82-81 OT decision that clinced the SEC regular-season championship.
*Both these head coaches, former aides at the respective programs before promotions in the same year, have won one SEC Championship (Alabama in 2002). Stansbury has the only SEC tourney-title of the two so far.
Bulldog Game Notes
*Six Bulldogs will be recognized on 2005 Senior Day in The Hump: walk-on guard Seth Cannon joins veterans center Marcus Campbell, guard Winsome Frazier, forward Ontario Harper, guard Shane Power, and forward Lawrence Roberts in playing for the home crowd for their last time.
*Mississippi State's three-game win streak is the first such string since the Dogs beat Virginia Tech, Auburn, and Mississippi between December 30 and January 8.
*Seniors Frazier and Campbell officially became the ‘winningest' Bulldogs ever with 93 career victories (regardless of actual participation in the games) when State won at Georgia. They surpassed the 92 wins belonging to 2004 senior Timmy Bowers. While the pair extend their record with every extra win this year, they are also shooting to become the first Dogs to play on four-consecutive NCAA Tournament teams.
*Harper, who missed the 2003-04 season with a knee injury, can count 86 wins on his four varsity teams.
*Coach Rick Stansbury now has fielded four-straight 20-win teams with Mississippi State. Last year he became the first Bulldog coach of three consecutive 20-win clubs. His 1998-99 debut MSU team also won 20 games, meaning that of the 11 State squads to win 20 or more contests Stansbury has been in charge of five.
*Stansbury has a MSU-career record of 146-72, ranking third in program victories after just seven years. He is also third in SEC victories with 61, against 49 losses.
*Mississippi State has won the ‘battle on the boards' 25 of 29 games this season, and go into March almost assured of becoming the first SEC school to lead the league in average rebounding for five-straight years. These Dogs currently have a four-board lead on the nearest competitor, Florida. The team's rebound margin of +9.9 also tops the league.
*At the opposite end of the statistical spectrum, State ranks last in the SEC in turnover margin, and just tenth in assist/turnover ratio.
*Roberts is the ‘central' reason State pounds the boards better than anyone in the SEC, and his 11.1 average for the season means Roberts is running away in the rebounding race. He is two boards ahead of LSU's Glenn Davis in second. Roberts led the SEC in rebounding as a junior with a 10.1 average.
*Roberts' scoring pace slipped starting in mid-February and his average of 17.4 is ‘only' fourth in the latest league standings behind Florida's Anthony Roberson, Alabama's Kennedy Winston, and LSU's Brandon Bass. The senior still should end this year with a second-straight season ‘double-double' and this year he has notched double-digits for points and rebounds 17 times. That gives him 55 for his college career, most among active NCAA players.
*Roberts needs just 25 more points to reach 1,000 for his two-year Bulldog career, which would make him the 27th name on the all-time MSU list. Counting his two years at Baylor, Roberts has totaled 1,869 points and 1,122 rebounds for his college career. His MSU totals are 975 points and 604 boards. He just passed Joe Dan Gold for 15th in MSU-only career rebounding.
*After seven outstanding games, Power might have been wearing down from the strain—and illness—at Arkansas as tallied just four points and was 0-of-4 from the arc. Prior to that the senior had been on a tear with 119 points and a 17.0 average through seven games. His season average of 12.5 will still make a case for All-SEC recognition, and Power has hit 53 treys for the season.
*Between them Power and Frazier had scored 100 threeballs this season.
*Since his return from a eight-game absence, Frazier has come off the bench five games for 51 points. For the season he has 47 threes, giving him 148 for his career to rank sixth on the MSU list. Frazier now has 139 career steals in the 101 games he has played in, and is tied with Terry Lewis (1980-83) on the MSU list, one behind Darryl Wilson (1994-96).
*Harper has played in 100 career games in his Bulldog career.
*Campbell now has 83 career blocked shots, ranking seventh and just six swats back of Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).
*State's win over the Rebels was watched by a crowd of 10,242 at Humphrey Coliseum, the first five-figure gate of the season. It was the tenth-largest crowd in Hump history, and the 20th 10K attendance at the 30-year-old facility. Of those, nine have been for MSU-UM contests.