Owners of a league-best, five-game winning streak, coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs enter this week's SEC Tournament as the No. 2 seed from the league's Western Division after claiming a 64-57 road win over South Carolina this past Saturday in Columbia. With the second-most overall wins and the second-best overall winning percentage (.767) in the conference behind only SEC Champion Alabama, MSU began the week with a season-best No. 11 national ranking according to CollegeRPI.com to rate as the third-highest ranked SEC team in the nation behind only Alabama and Kentucky. State also owns a No. 23 national strength of schedule rating. The Bulldogs received 65 votes in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll and also 35 votes in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches' Top 25 poll to land at the No. 27 position in both sets of rankings.
With their highest SEC Tournament seeding and best conference record (10-6) since claiming the 1996 SEC Tournament title as the Western Division's top seed and then advancing to participate in the NCAA Final Four, the Bulldogs enter this year's postseason tournament competition ranked fourth among the national statistical leaders in team field-goal percentage (.490) and ninth in rebounding margin (+7.5). During the team's current five-game winning streak, MSU is shooting a collective 50.0 percent from the field, while limiting the opposition to just 39.8 percent field-goal shooting. In addition, the Bulldogs own a composite 201-129 rebounding advantage (+14.4 per game) and a +14.8 scoring margin in recent wins over South Carolina, Arkansas, Mississippi, Vanderbilt and Auburn.
Having started the same lineup of Michal Ignerski, Michael Gholar, Mario Austin, Derrick Zimmerman and Marckell Patterson during all 16 regular-season SEC contests, Mississippi State is powered by the inside game of Austin, who has earned all-SEC second-team recognition by the league's coaches and AP as well as claiming current SEC Player of the Week honors for the second time this season. Rating as MSU's highest scoring sophomore player since Darryl Wilson (16.2 ppg in 1993-94), Austin presently ranks ninth among the Southeastern Conference's scoring leaders (16.2 ppg) and fifth in rebounding (7.7 rpg), along with topping the league in field-goal percentage (58.4%; 15th in the NCAA).
Patterson, a senior swingman with 1,127 career points during his four-year State stint, needs 18 more points to move up two more notches and into 17th place on the school's all-time scoring chart. Sophomore Timmy Bowers continues to effectively play the role of MSU's "sixth-man" by averaging 10.4 points per game and shooting 38 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Zimmerman, a third-team selection on this year's AP all-SEC squad, leads the conference in assists (6.2 apg; 19th in the NCAA) and ranks second in steals (2.2 spg), in addition to averaging 9.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.