*This is the first time since 2001 that Mississippi State has played on the first day of a SEC Tournament, having finished either first or second in the West from 2002-04.
*The MSU Bulldogs defeated Florida 71-57 in Starkville in the regular-season meeting. Florida is the only currently-ranked team State can claim a victory over.
About the Bulldogs
It's been a grueling second year for Dennis Felton's program; moreso than even his first, when Georgia responded to sanctions both self- and NCAA-imposed sanctions with a 16-14 record, 7-9 league finish and NIT appearances. Now, though, the aftermath of the Jim Harrick regime has become fully-evident, and a shorthanded (and really just plain short) Bulldog squad has been worn down over a brutal campaign. Having lost nine of the final ten schedule games, Georgia can't claim any momentum going into their only tournament play for 2005. That doesn't mean this team is not capable of pulling off at least one upset in Atlanta, though. In fact this guard-oriented lineup is exactly the sort of squad favored teams hate to face on a neutral court, as Georgia will put up plenty of long shots. True, the Dogs shot just under 30% from the arc for 16 SEC games, but there is always the opportunity to get unexpectedly hot. Especially with Levi Stukes back to health after missing four mid-season games with a bad ankle. The soph is not just UG's top scorer and outside shooter, but a creative passer able to produce baskets for teammates. Freshman Sundiata Gaines benefited from a few weeks at point guard in the interim, and he's also an impressive rebounder at 6-1. Another rookie, Channing Toney, rounds out the trio of backcourt Bulldogs who don't just stand around the perimeter but attack the lane, and at need another shooter, Kevin Brophy, can come off the bench. The obvious weak link this year is around the goal. Frosh center Dave Bliss has matured through adversity, battling veteran postmen. He and soph Steve Newman have the size, and now experience earned the hard way. A year in the books and at least one all-star signee bode better for the future but UG would love to end the present campaign by making a final statement. In Monday's league teleconference Felton said his team did not play with ‘pride' in the first meeting with State. The coach is expecting a much better effort this time around, which can't be good news for MSU folk worried about exactly how motivated their team is going to be for a first-day matchup.
Tentative Starting Lineups
Georgia: G Levi Stukes, 6-1 SO, 15.4ppg, 3.6apg, 47 3ptrs; G Sundiata Gaines, 6-1 FR, 11.9ppg, 5.0rpg, 23 3ptrs; G Channing Toney, 6-4 FR, 9.8ppg, 3.0rpg, 33 3ptrs; C Dave Bliss, 6-10 FR, 7.0ppg, 5.3rpg; F Steve Newman, 6-9 SO, 7.4ppg, 4.1rpg.
UG Bulldog Alternates: G Kevin Brophy, 6-1 FR, 3.9ppg, 28 3ptrs; F Younes Indriss, 6-7 FR, 3.5ppg, 2.5rpg; F Corey Gibbs, 6-6 FR, 4.2ppg, 3.1rpg.
Mississippi State: G Gary Ervin, 5-11 SO, 8.1ppg, 4.9apg; G Shane Power, 6-5 SR, 11.4ppg, 4.0rpg, 55 3pts; G Winsome Frazier, 6-4 SR, 12.4ppg, 3.5rpg, 49 3ptrs; F Lawrence Roberts, 6-9 SR, 17.3ppg, 11.1rpg; F Ontario Harper, 6-5 SR, 8.2ppg, 5.0rpg.
Bulldog Backups: G Jamall Edmondson, 5-9 JR, 4.7ppg, 1.2apg, 27 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, 6-3 SO, 3.1ppg, 2.2rpg; F/C Walter Sharpe, 6-9 FR, 2.5ppg, 2.0rpg; F Charles Rhodes, 6-8 FR, 2.6ppg, 2.0rpg; *C Marcus Campbell, 7-0 SR, 6.4ppg, 5.5rpg
*--injured, questionable for the weekend.
Comparisons: Averages (SEC-Play Ranking)
Scoring: MSU 72.6 (5), UG 59.9 (12)
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.6 (9), UG 67.5 (6)
Rebounding: MSU 41.4 (1), UG 31.9 (11)
Rebounding Margin: MSU +9.6 (1), UG –3.7 (12)
Shooting: MSU 44.5% (8), UG 39.7% (12)
Shooting Defense: MSU 41.1% (6), UG 46.2% (10)
Three-Point Shooting: MSU 33.1% (10), UG 29.9% (12)
Three-Point Defense: MSU 31.1% (5), UG 32.8% (1)
The Last Time: Mississippi State 76, Georgia 62
Mississippi State bounced back from consecutive SEC losses to overpower host Georgia in Athens on February 23. The victory was State's first SEC road win since January 8, after five other setbacks. It was also Rick Stansbury's first successful trip to Athens in four tries. But it did not come easily, and the visiting Bulldogs were worried about Lawrence Roberts' bruised thigh. The senior forward was able to start and ended up with a tough 19 points and 12 rebounds, playing 36 painful minutes against a scrappy home squad. Georgia was coming off a home win over Auburn and opened well, hitting a few outside shots and scrambling to a 22-16 lead midway of the half. State recovered from the slow start with a 19-8 surge and built a seven-point lead at intermission. Georgia made a couple of runs at MSU in the last half, pulling with four and six points, before State's defense asserted itself and allowed only two UG baskets in the last nine minutes. The visiting Dogs also came through at the foul line down the stretch and kept sufficient cushion. Shane Power scored 15 points while both Gary Ervin and Winsome Frazier added a dozen points each. State controlled the glass by a whopping 45-25 margin and shot 47% with six three-point goals. Four Georgians were in double-digits, with Channing Toney scoring 14 and Levi Stukes 13.
Though only a state-apart from each other, Mississippi State and Georgia did not meet on hardwood until the Southeastern Conference was formed in 1932. In fact, the first game was in the very first SEC Tournament that same year, played in Atlanta ironically enough, with Georgia winning 48-26. The UG edition of Bulldogs still lead the series 47-46, though as late as the early 1980s MSU had a lead. Georgia's current margin is only due to three-straight wins in 2001-03, and now that the State Dogs have won two-straight they are in position to knot the all-time score again. State leads 28-14 in Starkville, Georgia leads 25-17 in Athens, and UG has a 8-1 advantage on neutral courts.
Did You Know?
*Georgia has been a familiar foe for State in SEC Tournaments. In fact, the first ‘modern' league tourney in 1979 began with a battle of Bulldog teams, won by UG. Including one win in the original tourney, in 1946, Georgia has a 7-1 record against Mississippi State in these events. UG also won the last meeting, in 1998. State's lone win came in 1996 in the semifinals, and that MSU squad went on to capture the championship.
*Coach Rick Stansbury has a 7-5 record in six previous SEC Tournaments, with a 2002 championship, a finals appearance in 2003 and a semifinal round game in 2000. By contrast, from 1979-98 State was 7-19 in 20 league tourneys.
Bulldog Game Notes
*Despite averaging a ‘double-double' for a second year, Lawrence Roberts was unable to repeat as SEC Player of the Year. He did earn first-team All-SEC for a second year, though, and was one of two unanimous picks to the Associated Press' first units. The other was this year's POTY, Brandon Bass of LSU. Roberts ranked 4th in regular-season SEC scoring at 17.3 points, two-tenths behind Bass. Florida's Anthony Roberson is leading the league in scoring going into tourney-time at 18.6 points. Roberts is the only MSU Bulldog in the SEC top-twenty scorers. He was a Coaches First-Team pick, also.
*Roberts is in good shape to claim the SEC rebounding crown at 11.1, over two boards in front of #2 Bass at 8.8. He has the most offensive rebounds of any league player, 99. Roberts also has taken the most foul shots in the league this year, and his 168 is far ahead of Bass' 131 attempts at the stripe.
*Roberts needs just 10 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 1,884 points and 1,133 rebounds for his college career. His MSU totals are 990 points and 615 boards. He just passed Joe Dan Gold for 15th in MSU-only career rebounding.
*Senior Shane Power was voted to the Coaches Second-Team all-conference team, his first league honor. In his second MSU season Power averaged 11.4 points with 55 three-point goals in the regular schedule. Both of State's all-league players began their careers in another league, the Big XII.
*Despite erratic minutes in the last few weeks sophomore guard Gary Ervin still ranks second in the SEC in assists, with a 4.93 average. He trails only Tennessee's C.J. Watson at 5.07.
*No Bulldog ranks in the SEC's top-ten in free throw shooting, with a 77.1% cutoff. Still Fans convinced SEC referees have an agenda against Mississippi State might want to re-consider this year. The Bulldogs have taken 708 free-throw attempts this year, while Alabama is a distant second at 682. But State is only 7th in accuracy at the stripe.
*Seniors Winsome Frazier and Marcus 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. Senior Ontario Harper, who missed the 2003-04 season with a knee injury, can count 86 wins on his four varsity teams.
*Since his return from a eight-game absence, Frazier has averaged 10.2 points in six games and scored in double figures five times. He got his first start since the January 8 injury in his homecourt finale on March 5.
*Frazier now has 142 career steals in the 102 games he has played in, and just passed Darryl Wilson (1994-96) for sixth place on the MSU list. He is also sixth on the made-trey list at 150. Power has 93 in 60 career games.
*Campbell now has 83 career blocked shots in 118 games, ranking seventh and just six swats back of Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).