As has been the case throughout the team's current eight-game winning streak, defense paved the way for the Bulldogs' tournament success this past weekend. During the three tourney games in Atlanta, Mississippi State limited the opposition to an average of only 53.7 points per game on collective 35.8 percent field-goal shooting. MSU held high-scoring SEC foes Florida (52 points) and Alabama (58) to their second-lowest and third-worst scoring efforts of the season, respectively. Defensively as a team, the Bulldogs enter NCAA Tournament competition leading the SEC in rebounding margin (+7.1), while ranking second among league leaders in rebounding offense (39.3 rpg), rebounding defense (32.2) and three-point field goal percentage defense (29.9%).
Individually, Mississippi State continues to be paced by the all-SEC tandem of sophomore center Mario Austin and junior point guard Derrick Zimmerman. A second-team all-league selection this season, Austin captured SEC Tournament MVP honors after averaging 14.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per tourney outing. Chosen third-team all-SEC by The Associated Press, Zimmerman joined Austin on the all-tournament team after averaging 11.0 points, 5.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds per contest last weekend. Also averaging in double figures for the Bulldogs in Atlanta were junior forward Michal Ignerski and sophomore "sixth-man" Timmy Bowers at 11.3 points per game apiece.
Guided by former New Orleans and Memphis head coach Tic Price, the 21-8 Cowboys of McNeese State ride into Dallas sporting a 14-game winning streak - 6 of the 14 were on the road - after claiming both the regular season and tournament titles of the Southland Conference. With a trio of players scoring in double figures on the year, McNeese is paced by junior guard Jason Coleman at 14.8 points per contest. Forwards Damond Williams and Fred Gentry average 11.2 and 10.8 points, respectively.
During their last 18 games, they held their opponents under 40.0% shooting from the field 12 times.
As evidenced by the shooting percentage of their opponents during the past 18 games, McNeese State, like MSU, depends heavily on their defense and rebounding to win games for them. They led the Southland Conference in field goal defense, 40.5%, and were third in their conference in three-point defense, 32.7%. Offensively, they average 38.0 rebounds per game (4th in their league) while giving up 33.7 rebounds per game (3rd in their league). Like MSU, they were tops in their league in rebounding margin.
Two of McNeese State's players, Ben Perkins and Raynell Brewer, were recruited by Mississpppi State.
The winner of Friday's Mississippi State-McNeese State first-round regional contest will advance to take on the winner of the Texas-Boston College game Sunday afternoon in Dallas. Tip-off time for the second-round regional game is slated for 1:15 p.m. at the American Airlines Center.
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.