*In Rick Stansbury's eight seasons, State is 49-9 in December games and 23-1 for the month in Humphrey Coliseum. State is 83-16 in all pre-SEC season games in this stretch.
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS: Jim Larranaga's eighth season at George Mason wasn't the sort he and the Patriots were used to, with a 16-13 record and sixth-place finish in the Colonial Athletic Association. But it was a good year to develop a young team, and with everybody—and that's the literal truth with all five starters and seven more lettermen returned—back things are on a much more typical track in Fairfax, Va. The Patriots stumbled early with a couple of November losses, to Wake Forest in the Coaches Vs. Cancer tourney and then to Creighton by 20 points at home. But they've bounced back to win six of their last seven contests with the lone setback a one-point decision at Old Dominion. That was also a conference game, with GM now 1-1 in league play. It's not a particularly large Patriot lineup but there is offensive balance with a trio of double-digit scorers, led by senior guard Lamar Butler. Sorry, Bulldog fans already tired of watching teams throwing in three-pointers, get ready for more of the same as Butler just broke a decade-old career record by notching his 252nd trey in the win over Holy Cross. He had 87 threes as a junior and 78 as a soph. But Butler doesn't just pump the ball up a lot, he is efficient with 56% overall shooting and 46% accuracy at the arc. He also has help in the backcourt from fellow senior Tony Skinn, as the two have combined for 50 treys through ten games. Listed as a forward, 6-4 Folarin Campbell really fills out a three-guard set and chips in over nine points. The frontcourt gets more done than their 6-7 sizes would indicate with bulky senior Jai Lewis as the more-or-less center. He uses those 275 pounds well to get almost 14 points and nine boards per game, and makes 60% of his shots. Larranga has basically relied on a seven-man rotation through ten games with a couple of forwards getting most of the minutes off the bench. Then again, why not stick with the starting five as long as possible given how well they work together? GMU is just a tick under 50% shooting as a team, while limiting opponents to 37.1% and giving up barely 54 points. Four Patriots have double-digit steals already, everybody blocks a few shots, and on offense each one can pass the ball; this team is on pace for a school assists record. If there are weaknesses, it's a tendency to give up more offensive rebounds than the coach can be comfortable with. And GMU is off to a surprisingly weak start at the charity stripe, shooting just 58%. Yet nobody can doubt that these maturing Patriots are a team that should get back into NCAA play this season and will contend for the CAA title. A road win over a SEC host would be the best way to go into all-league action, too.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
GEORGE MASON: G Lamar Butler, SR, 6-2 170, 15.7ppg, 30 3ptrs, 2.6rpg; G Tony Skinn, SR, 6-1 175, 14.2ppg, 20 3ptrs, 4.1rpg; F/C Jai Lewis, SR, 6-7 275, 13.8ppg, 8.6rpg; F Folarin Campbell, SO, 6-4, 200, 9.4ppg, 3.5rpg; F Will Thomas, SO, 6-7, 230, 9.0ppg, 6.3rpg.
Top Reserves: G Gabe Norwood, RJ, 6-5, 185, 4.0ppg, 2.2rpg; F Sammy Hernandez, FR, 6-5 230, 2.9ppg, 3.8rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 4.4ppg, 1.6apg; G Reggie Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 8.1ppg, 2.0rpg, 18 3ptrs; C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2 240, 5.8ppg, 8.1rpg, 16 blks; F Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 9.4ppg, 5.5rpg; F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.4ppg, 5.8rpg, 11 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 10.2ppg, 3.3rpg; F/C Walter Sharpe, SO, 6-9 235, 12.0ppg, 6.3rpg; F Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 6.4ppg, 4.8rpg; G Jamall Edmondson, SR 5-9 190, 14.5ppg, 27 asts, 24 3ptrs.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 72.8ppg, GM 72.1ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU +6.8, GM +13.1
Field Goal %: MSU 45.9%, GM 49.6%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 37.5%, GM 37.1%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 31.2% (69/221), GM 39.0% (73/187)
Rebounding Average: MSU 41.3rpg, GM 36.3rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +8.0, GM +1.9
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 66.2%, GM 58.0%
Average Turnovers: MSU 18.2, GM 13.0
THE SERIES: This is the first-ever meeting of the schools in basketball. State is 8-4 against teams that make up the current CAA roster.
BULLDOG NOTES: Mississippi State has won ten or more games prior to opening SEC play for four-straight seasons, and five of the previous seven years.
*Senior guard Jamall Edmondson's status for tonight is tentative due to lingering hamstring and groin pulls. Edmondson did play all three games in Puerto Rico, averaging 12.6 points and hitting the clutch trey to beat Holy Cross and secure third place for State. Edmondson did start that game, and the preceeding Akron game after missing two starts.
*With Edmondson gimpy, true freshman Richard Delk started at point guard in the Jacksonville State and Liberty games. He missed the first seven games of the year with a bad foot. Through ten games State has used four starting lineups and eight Dogs getting at least one tipoff, with only G/F Jamont Gordon and C Wesley Morgan opening every contest.
*Gordon has made an instant impression on both his team and the SEC, as the rookie has twice been named Freshman of the Week already. Gordon averaged a team-best 14.3 points in three games at the San Juan Shootout, raising his early-season average to 13.4 points. He currently has the highest scoring average of any SEC freshman, but his contributions run the gamut for State as he is the second-best SEC rookie in assists and fourth-best on the boards. On December 10 Gordon needed just one more assist to record only the second ‘triple-double' in MSU history.
*Gordon is tied with Edmondson for games as team scoring leader, with nine each.
*Sophomore forward Charles Rhodes has started six-straight games now, but in the Akron and Holy Cross games at P.R. he managed just five points and five rebounds. He is still contributing 9.4 points and 5.5 rebounds, and has 16 of the team's 42 dunks.
*Where Rhodes has been best, though, is at the charity stripe. He has made 30 of 35 free throw attempts, 85.7%, by far best on this squad. He was a perfect 10-for-10 against Jacksonville State.
*The Bulldogs have cooled back down after a brief hot stretch at the three-point arc, during which they set a program record with 14 treys made against Santa Clara. During their stay in Puerto Rico the team was 15-of-45 on three-pointers.
*Due to depth issues the Bulldogs haven't been able to play the same defensive scheme Stansbury favors in November-December, relying more on zone sets than standard man-to-man. Yet contrary to popular impression State has been able to defend well anyway, and in the latest SEC stats the Dogs top the league in shooting defense, are second in three-point defense (31.3%) and both rebounding and rebound margin. Of course being second on the boards isn't what State is used to, after leading the SEC in rebound average for the past five years.
*While State does rank second in SEC defense at the three-point line, it's equally true opponents are offsetting this by hurling up treys freely, almost 26 per game and making 8.1