*There are no players from the opponent's home state on the respective rosters. But MSU wingman Jamont Gordon and Florida small forward Corey Brewer were the top-two rated players in the state of Tennessee in 2003-04. Brewer was ranked 1st overall in Class AA at Portland, and Gordon 2nd overall as AAA Mr. Basketball at Nashville's Northcliff HS.
*The only common opponent so far came in exhibition season, as both beat West Florida. The Gators took a 84-41 home win while State won 76-73 at Starkville.
*Coach Rick Stansbury has posted a 26-25 record against teams from the Eastern Division in his first seven seasons. Mississippi State is 49-53 against Eastern teams since the Divisional format began in 1991-92.
ABOUT THE GATORS: Talking about this game, Stansbury called Florida the "biggest surprise" team in the country. But really how much of a surprise should it be? It isn't as if Billy Donovan has not overcome graduations and early defections of star players before, and put another sharp squad on the court with new or matured talent filling the voids. If there's any surprise it is how quickly the Gators have made up for the losses of guards Matt Walsh and Anthony Roberson and forward David Lee, who combined for 45 points per game on a 24-8 team that ended the year ranked 16th (AP) and went 12-4 in league play. A look at UF's stats show how this team is getting it done: with remarkable balance. All five starters are scoring in a 13.4 to 11.9 point range, leaving defenses with no one body to focus on. And once he put a new lineup together Donovan has stuck with it, starting the same group all 14 games with four more men in reserve-rotation. Those four get double-digit minutes off the bench, too, so nobody is leg-heavy in the late going. Even a balanced ball club must have a leader and soph Corey Brewer has accepted the role. An inch taller and pounds lighter than his Arkansas namesake, this Brewer might be having an even better year on a better team with 13.4 points, six boards, 70 assists and 32 steals. Not bad for a guy who barely throws a shadow from the wing position. Fellow soph Taurean Green has blossomed at the point with his own 70 assists while popping the three-ball and getting to the foul line where he's nearly automatic. With those two spreading the court out soph Lee Humphrey finds plenty of openings to take, and make, long shots. He's put in 49 treys already, hitting 55% from the arc. Of course nobody is surprised that a Donovan team thrives on perimeter shooting and ball-movement. It's the contributions of matured post players that balances the playbook and makes the Gators a serious championship contender. Center Al Horford has more than doubled his freshman year scoring, from 5.6 to 12.4 points this year, and improved his rebounding to 8th in the latest SEC standings. But it is forward Joakim Noah, the fourth soph starter, who really causes matchup issues. The 6-11 Noah spends more time in the high post where he can shoot or blow by defending postmen with a lizard-quick first step. He's also got 27 blocks, for the record. For that matter Florida's defense is under-appreciated. This might be the best-shooting and highest-scoring squad in the league, but they allow barely 61 points a game and rank near the top of the SEC in both steals and turnover margin. Weaknesses? Well, if you can find any, that might be a surprise.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
FLORIDA: G Taurean Green, SO, 6-0 177, 13.1ppg, 2.6rpg, 31 3pts; G Lee Humhprey, JR, 6-2, 192, 11.9pg, 1.6rpg, 49 3pts; C Al Horford, SO, 6-9 242, 12.4ppg, 7.1rpg; F Corey Brewer, SO, 6-8 185, 13.4ppg, 6.1rpg, 5.0apg; G Joakim Noah, SO, 6-11 227, 12.6ppg, 5.5rpg.
Top Reserves: F Chris Richard, JR, 6-9 225, 7.6ppg, 3.8rpg; G Walther Hodge, FR, 5-10 170, 4.0ppg, 1.0rpg; F Adrian Moss, SR, 6-9 247, 4.2ppg, 2.4rpg; G David Huertas, FR, 6-5 185, 3.0ppg, 1.5rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: PG Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 3.7ppg, 1.7apg; 2G Reggie Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 8.8ppg, 2.0rpg, 24 3ptrs; C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2 240, 5.9ppg, 7.8rpg, 21 blks; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 10.1ppg, 6.1rpg; SF Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.4ppg, 5.8rpg, 13 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 10.5ppg, 3.9rpg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 6.4ppg, 4.7rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 71.8ppg, 83.9ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU +6.1, UF +22.6
Field Goal %: MSU 45.7%, UF 53.3%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 37.6%, UF 39.3%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 31.5% (80/254), UF 42.2% (114/270)
Rebounding Average: MSU 41.0rpg, UF 36.1rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +5.6, UF +5.0
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 66.6%, UF 69.8%
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.9, UF 14.6
THE SERIES: The Bulldogs and Gators are both 1932 charter SEC members but did not meet on the hardwood until 1936. The series became annual, or for many decades twice-annual, until 1947. For most of this time State had a lead but in the 1980s Florida took control, and the score now stands in UF's favor 54-45. The Gators lead 34-12 in Gainesville but State snapped a three-trip streak by upsetting Florida in 2004 in the O'Connell Center. Billy Donovan is 7-4 against State, with a split in two SEC Tournament meetings. Rick Stansbury is 4-5 against Florida.
BULLDOG NOTES: Junior PF Piotr Stelmach is the only current Bulldog who has played at the O'Connell Center. He played one minute in a 79-68 State win in January 2004.
*With senior PG Jamall Edmondson again doubtful, State will likely start the same unit as the past two games with freshman Richard Delk at the point. It is the fifth starting lineup used this season, and only one group has opened as many as four-straight games. They were also the first four games of the season. SF Jamont Gordon and C Wesley Morgan are the only Dogs who have started all 13 games.
*Gordon has scored in double-digits his last three games and 11 times in his freshman season. His 13.4 average ranks second to LSU's Tyrus Thomas (13.8) among league rookies and twice he has been picked league Freshman of the Week. Among SEC freshman Gordon ranks fourth in rebounding, second in assists, and seventh in steals. Backcourt partner Reginald Delk is 8th in freshman scoring and 6th in three-point shooting.
*Halfway into this season Gordon's play is forcing some research of MSU records. The last Bulldog perimeter player to average double-digit points his first season was Jeff Malone in 1979-80 at 11.9 points. The record for freshman guard scoring was set by Ray White in 1975-76 at 18.3 points. And the record for all freshman scoring was the 19.3 by center Rickey Brown in 1976-77.
*Likely jinxed by this writer's notes, Rhodes had his first sub-.500 game at the free-throw line his last time out making 4 of 9 attempts and dropping his season average to 77.8%. Before that game Rhodes was 36-of-42, almost 86%. Before Arkansas, he had only one game with as many as two foul-shot misses, against Liberty.
*While Rhodes still leads in accuracy at the stripe, Gordon draws more fouls and thus is averaging the most attempts (5.6) and makes (3.9) per game.
*Senior center Wesley Morgan has 21 blocked shots in 14 games. That might not impress many SEC foes, but it's a great early pace by recent MSU standards. In five of the last six years State's leading swatter had notched between 20 and 32 blocks; Branden Vincent was the exception with 40 in 2004-05. Whole MSU teams lately have failed to match the record 109 blocks by Erick Dampier in 1996.
*With such a young team and new lineup, career stats are modest at most for this squad. Edmondson is the lone veteran with more than 300 points (311), while junior Slater has the next-most points on the roster at 235. Not surprisingly State players, following the decade-long trend, are better on the boards. Morgan (181), Slater (119), Rhodes (109), and Stelmach (102) are all into triple digits now.
*The Bulldogs might not be great at the arc but they are consistent. They went into the GMU game averaging 33.3% in the previous three games; against George Mason they hit 6-of-18, then against Arkansas it was 5-of-15. That is still better than their overall season rate of 31.5%. State did set a school record by sticking 14 treys in the Santa Clara game.
*After relying extensively, and at times exclusively, on zone defenses in the first ten games due to depth issues, State has been able to play more man-to-man in recent outings. Either way the Bulldogs have put up (or from the opponents' viewpoint, put down) good defensive numbers. They still rank first in SEC shooting defense and have held the last two opponents to 61 and 67 points.
*State also stands second in SEC rebounding, both boards-per-game and margin. Good, but not what the program is used to after leading the league in rebounding for an unprecedented five-straight seasons. The Dogs will have to really hit the boards to six-peat, though, as LSU is beating folks on the boards by double-digit margins.