*Mississippi State is stuck in a five-game losing streak for the first time since February 2000, with all the defeats coming by double-digits. State has not started league play 1-6 since 1987.
*The teams have played three common foes, all SEC West rivals. And the results have been almost identical; both own home wins over Arkansas, State by two points and the Tide by three in overtime. Both have lost to Mississippi, though the Dogs fell by ten at Oxford and Alabama by ten at home. State lost at home to LSU 71-57, the Tide at Baton Rouge 68-57.
*Alabama is 8-4 in home games.
*As of this week Alabama's strength-of-schedule is third-highest in the SEC. But the Tide's non-conference slate was second-to-none, with fall semester dates against Memphis, Notre Dame, Temple, North Carolina State, and Oklahoma.
ABOUT THE CRIMSON TIDE: Evaluations of Alabama's season must be kept in two crucial contexts. First, that ambitious pre-SEC schedule. It may have meant five losses on the record, but it also served to ‘season' a team under reconstruction after losing both established perimeter scorers. And secondly, the season-ending injury to Chuck Davis in the first half of the league debut, which cost the Tide their best player and the best veteran frontcourt guy in the league, period. Thus no matter what happens the rest of the way there will be all sorts of what-ifs to Mark Gottfried's eighth season. Yet in a strange way, both the pre-league experience and the loss of Davis have combined to produce a Tide team that is not only different in lineup but more balanced and maybe even more productive over the long haul. Put another way, other players are stepping up their own games and not just waiting for the big guy to do everything for them. Such as junior Jamereo Davidson, who has taken advantage of opportunity to say the least. Ignore that season average of 14.1 points, it's his 18.8 points in SEC play that matters. In league-only games Davidson is third in scoring and second in rebounding (9.2), and is blocking three balls a night. Can you say ‘first-team All-SEC'? And while nobody in their right-Tide-mind is glad Davis is gone, it's also opened a slot for one of the nation's most-toured frontcourt recruits to show his stuff right now. 265-pound Richard Hendrix is delivering as promised at both ends of the court complementing Davidson. Fans can only hope to see Alabama meet LSU in the SEC Tournament, on a neutral court, and watch these front lines square off. The Tide is even deeper up-front, too. Senior Evan Brock gets plenty of minutes in an active rotation, along with 6-5 Alonzo Gee, and each takes care of scoring and boarding duties. Then there's Jean Felix, who was somewhat lost in the fall shuffle but now is back in the thick of action and offering an outside/inside threat. He can attack the goal in a flash, or stay outside and shoot line-drive treys. That's something Alabama was missing in November-December games, and it wasn't really a surprise after the departures of gunners Kennedy Winston and Earnest Shelton. But all of a sudden the Tide is showing unexpected proficiency at the arc, as their five-game SEC outside shooting is up to 35%. Balance, as noted. Ron Steele earned raves for his freshman work at the point; a year older and better he's easily the best triggerman on the West side, not only issuing 3.6 assists but popping the three and creating his own scoring opportunities when defenses sag towards the goal. A rookie, 5-9 Brandon Bollinger, is now getting more minutes out of necessity due to the abrupt departure of soph Justin Jonus. That points to Alabama's potential downfall over the coming weeks: there is not much depth at all and seven players take care of the entire game now. But as long as no one gets hurt, and enough outside shots keep dropping, this is still a lineup able to finish in the top half of the Division and earn a return to NCAA play. And if they get there, this tested, tougher team isn't likely to suffer any sort of chemistry meltdowns as happened last March.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
ALABAMA: G Ron Steele, SO, 6-2 185, 11.6ppg, 3.6apg, 26 3ptrs; G Brandon Hollinger, FR, 5-9 160, 2.6ppg, 9 3ptrs; F/C Jamereo Davidson, JR, 6-10 213, 14.1ppg, 9.5 rpg, 43 blks; F Richard Hendrix, FR, 6-7 265, 8.8ppg, 6.6rpg, 30 blks; F Alonzo Gee, FR, 6-5 210, 7.1ppg, 3.3rpg.
Top Reserves: F Jean Felix, SR, 6-7 205, 6.5ppg, 2.6rpg, 21 3ptrs; F Evan Brock, SR, 6-9 205, 3.4ppg, 1.8rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: PG Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 13.2ppg, 2.0apg, 30 3ptrs; 2G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 9.5ppg, 3.7rpg; C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2 240, 5.1ppg, 6.5rpg, 30 blks; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 11.9ppg, 6.4rpg, 17 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.3ppg, 6.4rpg, 17 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 7.8ppg, 2.0rpg, 30 3ptrs; PG Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.6ppg, 1.6apg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 5.1ppg, 3.9rpg, C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 2.4ppg, 2.2rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 68.6ppg, ALA 70.2ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –0.3, ALA +4.0
Field Goal %: MSU 44.1%, ALA 45.5%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 40.6%, ALA 41.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 29.8% (99/332), ALA 34.3% (92/268)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.7rpg, ALA 36.0rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +4.8, ALA +2.9
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 65.5%, ALA 69.8%
Average Turnovers: MSU 18.3, ALA 12.9
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.2, ALA –0.5
THE SERIES: This is Mississippi State's second-oldest ongoing series, a year older even than with Mississippi. Well, Tuscaloosa is a bit closer than Oxford. State had the better of thing initially but it didn't take long for Alabama to catch up and build a healthy lead, especially after it became an annual series in 1932, and they now hold a 108-65 advantage overall and 68-13 margin at home. The Crimson Tide has put together several winning streaks, the longest of 11 games from 1973-78. The Bulldogs took seven-straight from 1916-21, but since 1985 have been unable to ever take more than consecutive wins. It's still been a competitive, to say the least, rivalry over the past decade and 2005 saw the first sweep of the in-season series, with Alabama winning at Tuscaloosa and then again in Starkville. State hasn't doubled-up the Tide since 1999. Both head coaches are in their eighth season at the schools, and Rick Stansbury clings to a 8-7 lead over Mark Gottfried.
BULLDOG NOTES: Mississippi State changed lineups for the seventh time in 19 games and for the third-straight game in the most recent contest. Wednesday night the Dogs went ‘small' with four guard-type players and PF Charles Rhodes at center. He was joined by PG Jamall Edmondson, back in the starting lineup the last two games; 2G Reginald Delk, Dietric Slater at SF and Jamont Gordon at PF. Stepping out of the lineup was C Wesley Morgan, who had started 18-straight games until then. Now Gordon is the only Dog who has taken every tipoff of 2005-06. *Gordon also has now began games listed at four different positions in his freshman year, which might be a first at State for a player in any class.
*Gordon had his six-game stretch of scoring in double-digits snapped at Nashville with just five points against Vanderbilt. He came back with 15 points against Tennessee, giving him 15 games with 10 or more points. Gordon is on a pace to be the first MSU freshman perimeter player (guard or small forward) to average double-figures since Jeff Malone did it in 1980 at 11.9. The school record for a backcourt rookie was set by Ray White with 18.3 in 1976. And the record for all freshman was the 19.3 by center Rickey Brown in 1976-77.
*Gordon is more than a scorer, though. He is pulling down 6.4 rebounds for this season, and 8.3 in SEC play. While working primarily as a point guard that night, Gordon still got his hands on 13 rebounds in the LSU game. In league-only statistics, Gordon ranks third among all SEC rebounders. He is second among SEC freshmen in rebounding, and third in scoring.
*Sophomore PF Charles Rhodes has muscled into the SEC's paint-picture with three impressive weeks. In all his six league games Rhodes has scored in double-figures and averaged 17.0 points, and he's shot a 59% in the process. On the boards Rhodes has been just as stout, grabbing 45 rebounds in league play (7.5 per game). In one stretch Rhodes just missed notching double-doubles four times with nine rebounds in those contests.
*Rhodes has come back strong from a two-game slump at the foul line when he was 5-of-10. In the four games since he is 20-of-24 at the charity stripe, including a 7-of-7 night against Tennessee. He began the season hitting 36-of-42 tries. At 78.9%, Rhodes ranks 6th in SEC free-throw shooting, but all five players in front of him are guards.
*Edmondson is still slightly slowed by hamstring and groin problems in mid-season, but is still putting in good night's work. Since returning to the lineup the senior has averaged 26.3 minutes. Gordon still tops the roster in game minutes at 32.5 overall and in SEC action.
*Gordon also fouled out for only the second time when he drew a fifth personal Wednesday night. Previously, his only disqualification came in his college debut.
*The team lead in three-pointers is now shared. Edmondson canned a trio of treys Wednesday, giving him 30 for the season and catching Reginald Delk. But, these Dogs old and new are having troubles with accuracy. They are a combined 5-of-17 at the arc in the last two losses.
*Delk has made at least one trey in eight of his last nine games, having gone 0-of-3 against LSU. Before that game, the freshman had hit 15-of-31 attempts.
*Morgan had his streak of six games with at least one blocked shot snapped when he only played five minutes in the Tennessee game. Morgan has 30 swats in 19 games and is still on-pace to match the 40 by Branden Vincent in 2004-05 as the most blocks by a Bulldog in the past five seasons.
*For 17 games the Bulldogs did not allow an opponent to shoot better than break-even, though LSU was just one make shy of the mark. Now State's defense has been beaten decisively in consecutive games. Vanderbilt hit 57.7% at Nashville, and Tennessee followed that up with 52.4% accuracy. Thus State, which led the league in field goal defense going into SEC season, has now fallen to third on the league ladder and is dropping fast. The last four opponents have shot a composite 50.9% against State.
*And from long-range, the Bulldogs have been riddled by 33-of-82 shooting, or 40% accuracy.
*Second-year senior Edmondson is the lone Dog with over 300 career points (now 350), while third-year junior Slater has 272. But rookie Gordon (252) and sophomore Rhodes (215) are on faster paces. And while fourth-year player Morgan has 196 rebounds, Rhodes won't take too much longer to catch up at 145 now.
*It's well-known that the Bulldogs 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 four losses the Dogs have misplayed the ball over 19 times per game while averaging just nine assists. Last year's team lost the ball 14.8 times overall, 15.2 SEC.
*But even if the current clip is giving the coach fits, it's nowhere close to the school ‘record' set by a 1975-76 team that threw the ball away 19.9 times nightly. And with 347 turnovers through 19 games, these Dogs will have to get busy if they're to catch the season record of 583 set in 1995-96 and tied in 2001-02.