*MSU has posted winning records against the SEC East in three of the last four seasons. The Dogs are 0-1 in inter-Division play as of now.
*The teams have played three common opponents. Both beat Jacksonville State, the Bulldogs 104-80 in Jackson and the Commodores 67-46 at home. Both also have home wins over New Orleans, State 67-59 and Vandy 78-72. In SEC competition each has faced Arkansas. The Bulldogs won at home 69-67 while the ‘Dores had to go to Fayetteville and lost 78-66.
*Vanderbilt is 8-2 on their home court this season, with losses to Cincinnati in December and this past Wednesday to South Carolina in overtime. The Bulldogs are 1-2 on the road, the lone win coming in November at Charlotte.
ABOUT THE COMMODORES: How does one figure out Vanderbilt? Just when it appeared the Commodores had forced their way into the SEC fast lane after scoring a first-ever program win at Rupp Arena, they lose a tight one at Arkansas and drop an overtime home match with struggling South Carolina. Those setbacks squandered a strong early Eastern position, but there's a lot of season left to make up for a couple of stumbles and strengthen Vandy's post-season position. After consecutive 20-win seasons Kevin Stallings again has a maturing lineup and a good mix of personnel for the conference campaign. And most of the names are actually pronounceable without practice! Certainly everyone is getting used to hearing Shan Foster's name called. The big guard had a good rookie year averaging nine points; he's almost doubled that this soph season and ranks fifth in SEC scoring. More than that, Foster has been his team's scoring leader in 12 of 15 games, including the last eight contests. He's definitely among the best marksmen around, with 51 treys on 44% accuracy at the arc. With the 6-6 Foster on the court this is a lanky lineup, and some other taller ‘Dores have skills to go with the size. Take 6-7 Derrick Byars, for example. A transfer from Virginia, the physical junior hits the boards but also shoots the longball effectively and, most surprisingly, is 10th in the SEC in assists. With those two raising their games, senior Mario Moore (yep, still here) has accepted more of a supporting role and seen his scoring cut in half. But as his 77 junior-year treys remind, the guy remembers how to throw the ball in the hoop. Moore has alternated starting with senior Alex Gordon, another potential contributor from long range. Stallings has used four starters in every game so far, with 250-pound Julian Terrell at the other forward slot getting it done both on offense and defense, as the SEC's fourth-ranking rebounder. 6-11 Ted Skuchas has opened all 15 games in the pivot, but as his 20-minute average shows he gets spelled early and often. Soph DeMarre Carroll comes off the bench for almost ten points and five rebounds. Mix in career backup guard Dan Cage and it's a reliable eight-man rotation to mix-and-match as necessary. This is Vanderbilt so keep an eye on the perimeter, with the ‘Dores tossing in eight treys per game and ranking third in league arc-accuracy. And yes, they're almost automatic at the foul stripe, as usual. But the unexpected twist is how much the Commodores count on their defense. See, Vanderbilt is only 10th in SEC shooting and eighth in scoring, but fourth in scoring defense with a strong turnover ratio. Maybe it's a tough team to figure statistically, but as their record shows this is a club entirely comfortable playing close games start-to-finish. And there's always that funky home court that is especially befuddling to young visitors.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
VANDERBILT: G Mario Moore, SR, 5-11 181, 6.8ppg, 2.1rpg; G/F Shan Foster, SO, 6-6 200, 16.5ppg, 2.9rpg, 51 3ptrs; C Ted Skuchas, JR, 6-11 250, 4.4ppg, 3.2rpg; F Derrick Byars, JR, 6-7 223, 11.4ppg, 4.2rpg, 25 3ptrs; F Julian Terrell, SR, 6-9 248, 10.9ppg, 7.8rpg.
Top Reserves: F DeMarre Carroll, SO, 6-7 214, 9.7ppg, 5.4rpg; G Alex Gordon, SR, 5-11 185, 5.3ppg, 1.5rpg, 15 3ptrs; G Dan Cage, JR, 6-6 214, 5.5ppg, 1.1rpg, 15 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 7.9ppg, 2.0rpg, 28 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 10.1ppg, 3.6rpg; C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2 240, 5.4ppg, 7.2rpg, 28 blks; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 11.3ppg, 6.4rpg, 14 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.6ppg, 6.5rpg, 17 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: G Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 13.8ppg, 2.2apg, 27 2ptrs; G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.6ppg, 1.1apg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 5.4ppg, 4.1rpg, BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 69.8ppg, VAN 70.4ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU +2.7, VAN +7.5
Field Goal %: MSU 45.3%, VAN 44.8%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 39.1%, VAN 42.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 31.6% (92/291), VAN 39.9% (121/303)
Rebounding Average: MSU 40.3rpg, VAN 33.0rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +5.4, VAN +1.0
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 66.0%, VAN 69.7%
Average Turnovers: MSU 18.2, VAN 11.9
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.2, VAN +2.3
THE SERIES: This is Mississippi State's oldest regular-season series with a SEC East club, going back to 1922 (MSU did play Kentucky in the 1921 SIAA conference tourney). Vanderbilt took the first three games and have led every since with the margin now 69-41 in the Commodores' favor. VU also has the longest streak in the rivalry with nine-straight wins from 1972-1976, back in the days of the old SEC double-round-robin format. State's longest streak is much shorter, four games, but also much more recent as the Bulldogs won from 2001-2004. MSU has also won seven of the last ten meetings including, for the first time ever, consecutive victories in the last two trips to Nashville. Vanderbilt still has a 41-6 lead on their home court. This is also MSU's most frequent matchup in SEC Tournament play, with the ‘Dores taking seven of 11 meetings including an overtime upset of the league champ Dogs in 2004 in Atlanta. Rick Stansbury is 7-3 against Vanderbilt, while Kevin Stallings is 3-5 against State.
DID YOU KNOW? Vanderbilt has been to the NCAA Tournament only once in the last decade, in 2004. And the program's most recent SEC championship came in 1993.
BULLDOG NOTES: Through 17 games Mississippi State has used six starting lineups. The most recent tipoff team has opened three-straight now, with SF Jamont Gordon taking the point and Dietric Slater at 2G. Gordon has been running the point as previous quarterbacks Jamall Edmodson and Richard Delk have been slowed by leg and foot injuries. The most consecutive starts for any grouping is four, to open the season. Gordon and C Wesley Morgan are the only Dogs to start every game so far.
*Gordon has scored double-digits his last six games and 14 times this season. He is second among SEC freshmen in scoring average, trailing only LSU's Tyrus Thomas. Halfway into this debut season Gordon's play is prompting records research. At 13.6 points he is on a pace to be the first freshman perimeter player (guard or small forward) to average double-digits since Jeff Malone scored 11.9 points in 1979-80. The MSU record for freshman guard scoring was set by Ray White in 1975-76 at 18.3 points. And the record for all freshman was the 19.3 by center Rickey Brown in 1976-77.
*His 13 rebounds in the LSU game raised Gordon's rate to almost 6.5 boards, not bad for a 6-4 guy. Gordon has also been putting in 34 minutes per SEC game these past two weeks. Which makes it a welcome development that…
*Senior guard Edmondson, sidelined three weeks and three games by a hamstring problem, is back on the court and making up for lost time. He played 22 minutes at Mississippi, scoring five points; then put in 29 minutes against LSU with 15 points. Edmondson's return offers the chance to either change the starting lineup or at least let Gordon go back to his former primary position at small forward.
*Edmondson hit three treys in the latter outing, giving him 27 for the season. That's one longball behind Reginald Delk's 28.
*Reginald Delk had made a trey in his seven games before going 0-of-3 at the arc against LSU. In that preceding stretch Delk was 15-of-31 on three-point attempts. By contrast, Delk has not shot a free throw in his last four games and is only 9-of-21 at the stripe so far this season.
*Sophomore PF Charles Rhodes has just missed recording double-doubles in four of his last five games, when he had nine rebounds in those contests. He has scored 10 or more points in these past five games, averaging 15.6 points and raising his season average to 11.3. In his last four games Rhodes is 29-of-48 from the floor, 60.4%.
*Rhodes has also bounced back from a mini-slump at the foul line. After going 5-of-10 over two games he was 6-of-8 at Oxford, and did not get a chance in the LSU game. Rhodes began his soph season hitting 36 of his first 42 attempts, almost 86%. He's now at 77%, still best among all Bulldog regulars.
*Senior center Wesley Morgan has blocked a dozen shots in the last four outings, giving him 28 swats through 17 games. In five of the last six years State's leading blocker had notched between 20 and 32; 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 is not likely to extend their five-year streak of leading the SEC in rebounding, the longest in league history. But the Bulldogs did score something of a victory Wednesday when they beat the SEC and national rebound-margin leader, LSU, 40-33 on the boards. The Tigers are still over ten rebounds ahead of State in margin.
*The Dogs are having trouble getting back into the Win column but they are still playing hard defense. They held LSU to 45.8% shooting, and have yet to allow an opponent to make as many as half their shots.
*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 (331), while junior Slater has the next-most points on the roster at 261. This roster is better on the boards. Morgan (194), Rhodes (132), Slater (127), and Piotr Stelmach (108) are all into triple digits now.
*The Bulldogs do indeed rank last in the SEC in both turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio. Only once this season has State been credited with more assists than turnovers, that in the overtime win against Santa Clara. In their last thee losses the Dogs have lost the ball 24, 17, and 18 times against nine, 13, and five assists. Last year's MSU team averaged 14.8 turnovers for the whole season, 15.2 in the SEC season. The current Dogs are averaging 18 giveaways.