*The teams have played two common non-conference opponents. The Rebels defeated Arkansas State 85-78 and Southeastern Louisiana 68-62, both at home. The Bulldogs, also at home, beat ASU 68-63 but lost to SELa 57-46.
*As best can be determined by records, this is the first Mississippi State team with more players from another state than the home state. There are five Bulldogs from Tennessee and just four home-grown. But the listed 12-man Rebel roster does not include a single Mississippian.
*Mississippi is averaging 2,580 fans through ten home games, though most of these home dates have fallen during the break with students gone and the spring semester still a week away. Official capacity at Smith Coliseum is 8,700. Last year's meeting in Oxford, also during the semester break, drew 7,915.
ABOUT THE REBELS: Quick, what SEC West team has the longest ongoing win streak? That's right. The revived Rebel program has strung together six-straight victories, including a pair of SEC triumphs to begin their conference schedule, and sits atop the early Division standings. It's a heady spot this team finds itself in, after several struggling seasons when Coach Rod Barnes' job status was looking shaky and with just one 2005 starter returned. Now UM looks smarter for not making any moves. So what if the non-conference schedule strength rating verges on ludicrously low, and too few fans have been watching until now? The team has had to rely entirely on itself, and thus by winning games they've earned honest confidence. Barnes has upgraded the talent level a couple of notches, but just as important is a more mature and cohesive roster better-equipped to compete in this league. It's also deeper; nobody is averaging over 30 minutes but nine Rebels put in 11-to-29 minutes each game. And while there are three regular starters, five more Rebs have started at least five times already. In short, there is a steady parade of subs at the scorer's table from tip-to-horn. The (literally) biggest difference from last year's 14-17, 4-12 SEC team is in the middle of the lineup. After sitting out a transfer season former Auburn center Dwayne Curtis has solved most of UM's issues in the paint. The 300-or-so pounder is scoring about four times the points he averaged as a Tiger reserve and ranks 9th in the latest SEC stats at 14.4 points, as well as 6th in rebounding with a knack for getting to the offensive boards and drawing fouls. Lots of fouls. He gets great help on the front line from 245-pound Jeremy Parnell on the physical Reb front line. There are athletes to go with this bulk, too. Londrick Nolen, the lone returning starter, is the kind of inside/out guy that keeps defenses moving and creates opportunities for a backcourt tandem that might be the most-improved in the conference. Juniors Bam Doyne and Todd Abernathy are equally effective in the gameplan, sharing the ball and taking their open shots. Doyne has turned into a clutch hand in the late minutes, while Abernathy spots up for the trey. There's no one substitute with stats to open eyes, but that is misleading; any game one of these can step in and get a job done, such as Xavier Hansbro and Clarence Sanders adding outside scoring punch. And everybody works the ball around the floor, though it isn't always pretty as UM has their share of turnovers. But all Rebels defend aggressively, especially in the backcourt as they have faced the fewest three-point attempts in the SEC so far. And don't read too much into a 9th-SEC ranking in scoring, as this team is 5th in shooting. They just pick their spots, and shots, and do what it takes. And since this team is likely to match last year's entire win total before January is out, who can argue with that gameplan?
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
MISSISSIPPI: G Bam Doyne, JR, 6-4 170, 10.9ppg, 4.8rpg, 2.7apg; G Todd Abernathy, JR, 6-1 190, 9.1ppg, 2.7apg, 26 3ptrs; C Dwayne Curtis, SO, 6-8 300, 14.4ppg, 7.5rpg; F Jeremy Parnell, SO, 6-8 245, 5.1ppg, 3.5rpg; F Londrick Nolen, SR, 6-6 192, 8.5ppg, 4.6rpg, 12 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: G Clarence Sanders, JR, 6-2 180, 7.8ppg, 14 3ptrs; F Trey Hampton, FR, 6-7 215, 5.0ppg, 1.9rpg; F Xavier Hansbro, FR, 6-9 225, 3.0ppg, 12 3ptrs; G Brandon Patterson, SO, 6-6 180, 3.1ppg, 1.1rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 8.6ppg, 2.1rpg, 26 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 10.5ppg, 3.7rpg; C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2 240, 5.9ppg, 7.5rpg, 22 blks; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 10.2ppg, 6.3rpg; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.6ppg, 5.9rpg, 13 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: PG Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 3.3ppg, 1.5apg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 6.1ppg, 4.5rpg; F/C Walter Sharp, SO, 6-9 230, 9.4ppg, 5.4rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 71.0ppg, UM 70.5ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU +4.7, UM +5.7
Field Goal %: MSU 45.7%, UM 46.4%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 38.0%, UM 42.3%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 31.3% (82/262), UM34.6% (93/269)
Rebounding Average: MSU 40.8rpg, UM 35.4rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +5.6, UM+1.4
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 65.8%, UM 67.5%
Average Turnovers: MSU 18.3, UM15.7
THE SERIES: In the most-played rivalry of the two programs, Mississippi State holds a 130-101 lead after 91 years. The Maroons set the tone early by winning the first nine games from 1914-17, and have never trailed. For much of the history this series has featured streaks by each teams; in fact only once since 1990 has one side been unable to win at least two-straight (whether in the same year or over two seasons), in 1996-97. The Rebels had a four-game string going midway of 1999, but since then State has taken over by winning 12 of the last 14 games. That includes the current eight-game Bulldog string, which matches UM's longest success streak when the Rebels swept all eight games in 1980-83. The Rebels have a 74-40 lead in home games, but State has been able to cut into that lead by winning the last three Oxford games. State also leads 5-4 in games played on neutral sites, though until the 2003 SEC Tournament in New Orleans the teams hadn't met off-campus since 1940, in Vicksburg. Both coaches are in their eighth season in charge, and Rick Stansbury leads that series 12-3.
BULLDOG NOTES: Four current Bulldogs saw action in last January's 87-76 win at Oxford, all off the bench. G Jamall Edmondson was on court 25 minutes with nine points, G Dietric Slater 16 minutes for six points, F/C Walter Sharpe three minutes for three points, and F Michael Boler two scoreless minutes.
*In 15 games Mississippi State has started six different lineups, with the most recent change coming in the last game. At Florida the tipoff team had SF Jamont Gordon opening at point guard in place of the gimpy Richard Delk, and Dietric Slater at 2G. No starting unit has opened more than four-straight this season, that at the start of the year. Gordon and C Wesley Morgan are the only Dogs to start every game so far.
*Senior Edmondson has missed the last three games with hamstring and groin pulls, and has not played since December 21 in Puerto Rico. He is still State's scoring leader at 14.5 points per game. *Gordon has scored in double-digits his last four games and 12 times in his freshman season. His 13.6 average is tied for 14th on the SEC scoring chart, and Gordon ranks second to LSU's Tyrus Thomas (13.9) among league rookies. He is third in rookie-rebounding as well. Twice Gordon has been picked league Freshman of the Week.
*Halfway into this season Gordon's play is leading to 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.
*Freshman PF Charles Rhodes was enjoying a great year at the foul line, hitting 36 of his first 42 attempts. But against Arkansas Rhodes went 4-of-9 at the stripe, and at Florida he missed his only one-pointer. His average has dropped to just under 77%, yet Rhodes is still by far the best starter on the charity stripe and ranks 5th in the SEC this week.
*In his last three games Rhodes has finished one rebound shy of posting double-doubles.
*Senior center Wesley Morgan is tied for 6th with UM's Curtis on the SEC rebounding chart. He also has 22 blocked shots in 15 games. That might not impress many SEC foes, and doesn't even crack the current league top-ten, 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.
*State's ball-handling woes were on full-display at Florida, with 24 turnovers and just nine credited assists. It was the worst ratio of the season for the Bulldogs, but being in negative numbers is nothing new for this team. State ranks last in the league in both turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio. Only once, in the win over Santa Clara, have the Dogs recorded more assists than giveaways. And they are only 11th in the league in team steals.
*It's getting harder to judge the Bulldogs on defense. Yes, they still rank first in the SEC in field goal shooting D at 38.0%. But State is also only 10th in scoring defense, so the opposition is making up for lack of efficiency by putting up a lot of shots and making enough to stay in games. It's a similar story from the three-point arc. State is third-best in long-range defense, but the 116 treys scored on MSU is most in the SEC by ten.
*Florida snapped State's two-game run of allowing less than 70 points, with George Mason and Arkansas only getting 61 and 67 off the Bulldogs.
*State's chances of running their SEC record of five-straight seasons as league rebounding champions are fading fast. These Bulldogs still rank second in SEC rebound margin at +5.6, but that's a long, long way behind LSU. The Tigers are beating foes on the boards by a whopping +14.9 margin.
*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 246. Not surprisingly State players, following the decade-long trend, are better on the boards. Morgan (184), Slater (121), Rhodes (118), and Stelmach (104) are all into triple digits now.