*State has lost four home games so far this season. That is the most homecourt defeats since the 2000-01 Dogs lost four the whole season. In Rick Stansbury's seven-plus seasons, State has lost just 21 times at Humphrey Coliseum; 16 of those losses in SEC play.
*The Bulldogs are 0-3 against SEC East teams with losses at Florida and Vanderbilt and to Florida. State has never been shut out against the East since Divisional play began in 1992.
*Kentucky is 3-1 in true road games, the only loss coming at Kansas in late December. The Wildcats are 3-2 in neutral-site games.
ABOUT THE WILDCATS: They're digging out of a early-SEC season hole, they're not scoring in the accustomed manner, and they're prone to slow starts and mid-game lapses. Oh, and they're also back in the thick of the league fight and post-season picture. In fact Kentucky is just one good week away from taking charge of the SEC East, though claiming another overall conference crown will require lots of help. That's OK, considering how UK has put just a struggling stretch behind and is playing to win again. The machine hasn't been as efficient as expected of a team ranked as high as 7th in November, and which got its best post player back for January. Certainly 68 points-per so far is a letdown, as is a near-neutral turnover ratio from a talented backcourt. Still there are signs the guys are getting their acts together. Soph Rajon Rondo has been more aggressive of late, looking to score his own points by attacking the basket as well as to distribute the ball, and it's paid off in both aspects. He's gone from a 8.1-point scorer as a freshman to over 13 points this year without ‘passing up' good assist opportunities. Now with the point guard drawing more attention, senior Patrick Sparks is finding more openings to fire those long jumpers that were his trademark last winter. His scoring is off a couple points from '05 but that's at least partly due to Joe Crawford claiming a much larger role. After scoring 3.2 as a backup the now-starting soph is up to 10.1 currently and further balancing the backcourt offense. And as if they needed it, senior Ravi Moss and soph Ramel Bradley are two more shooters who can fit right into just about any lineup, starting or subbing. Don't underestimate these guards' ability to go chase down a missed shot at both ends, either. The Wildcats chunk up a lot of trey-tries, as always, and while the season accuracy is only one-third in league play it's a bit better and improving weekly. The ‘big' reason of course is the activation of center Randolph Morris. After watching teammates fail to produce in the post during a 14-game suspension, Morris has solved the team's critical issue. That 12.6 points might not impress immediately, but his 60% shooting shows just how much attention Morris merits…thus sucking in defensive support and leaving shooters calling for the kick-out pass. Speaking of which, while the turnover rate is only middling Kentucky does an excellent job passing the ball around and about. Ditto for a collective rebounding rate standing third in SEC-only stats. There are still some weak points; the Wildcats don't block many shots, and for all that guard depth and athleticism UK ranks at the bottom of the SEC steals chart. For that matter no single Kat has knock-out numbers at this point. But much like the distribution of three-pointers this only indicates the way the Wildcats spread responsibilities around. And the sum of these parts is looking better every week, which has their East competition and for that matter the rest of the league worried. Again.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
KENTUCKY: G Patrick Sparks, SR, 6-0 180, 7.5ppg, 2.8apg, 30 3ptrs; PG Rajon Rondo, SO, 6-1 171, 13.3ppg, 4.6apg, 11 3ptrs; G Joe Crawford, SO, 6-4 210, 10.1ppg, 4.6rpg, 18 3ptrs; C Randolph Morris, SO, 6-10 266, 12.6ppg, 4.2rpg; F Sheray Thomas, JR, 6-7 230, 4.2ppg, 3.8rpg.
Top Reserves: G Ramel Bradley, SO, 6-1 180, 8.9ppg, 19 3ptrs; F Bobby Perry, JR, 6-6 230, 6.0ppg, 3.3rpg, 11 3ptrs; G Ravi Moss, SR, 6-2 190, 6.2ppg, 26 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: PG Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 13.2ppg, 1.9apg, 33 3ptrs; 2G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 9.2ppg, 3.9rpg; C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2 240, 4.8ppg, 6.3rpg, 30 blks; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 11.9ppg, 6.4rpg, 20 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.5ppg, 6.5rpg, 3.8apg.
Top Reserves: 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 7.9ppg, 32 3ptrs; PG Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.6ppg, 1.5apg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 4.8ppg, 3.6rpg, C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 2.2ppg, 2.1rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 68.2ppg, UK 68.4ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –0.5, UK +5.7
Field Goal %: MSU 44.0%, UK 43.8%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 40.5%, UK 41.2%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 29.6% (105/355), UK 33.2% 131/395)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.5rpg, UK 36.8rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +4.3, UK +3.4
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 64.6%, UK 65.2%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.3, UK 16.7
Average Turnovers: MSU 18.1, UK 13.4
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.2, UK +0.7
THE SERIES: The Dogs and Kats began playing before there was a SEC, in 1921. In fact they met first at the old SIAA Tournament in Atlanta that year. Kentucky won, which set the tone from then on. The Wildcats now own a 82-17 record in the series, and save for a brief span in 1957-63 when State took four-of-seven meetings it has been a case of complete domination every decade along the way. That includes the last ten years, too. Since Mississippi State pulled off an upset in the 1996 SEC Tournament championship game, Kentucky has won nine of ten games. State's last win came at home in 2002, rallying from almost twenty points down in the opening minutes to take an overtime victory. Kentucky has won the four meetings since, including in the 2003 SEC Tourney title game. The Wildcats are 24-11 in Starkville, and 15-8 in Humphrey Coliseum. Rick Stansbury is 1-7 against Kentucky, while Tubby Smith is 8-1 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: The weekly lineup guessing game resumes as Mississippi State prepares for the next matchup. State has changed tipoff-teams seven times this season; most recently in the Tennessee game when the Bulldogs went ‘small.' The same four-guard, one-forward lineup was started at Alabama, and while it didn't win either game the group was much more competitive the second time-out than State had been in consecutive blowout losses. The current set is possible with senior PG Jamall Edmondson healthy again, allowing freshman G/F Jamont Gordon to spend at least some minutes in his more effective forward role. Gordon will still play significant minutes at the point when Edmondson either rests or rotates to more of an off-guard position.
*Gordon is now the only Bulldog who has started all 20 games. And he has worked at four positions during these games, which might be a first for a State player of any class. He is averaging 32.7 minutes per SEC game, most on the squad. PF Charles Rhodes is next at 31.3 minutes in SEC action. They are the only Dogs to have started all seven SEC games.
*Gordon had a six-game stretch of scoring in double-figures end when he managed just five points at Vanderbilt. He's come back with 15 and 18 in the last two games, which gives him 16 games of scoring 10 or more points. Edmondson has a dozen double-digit efforts this year despite missing four games.
*At 13.5 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's 7-of-13 day at Alabama marked his first game to make more than half his shots from the field since December 3 when he went 6-of-13 against Santa Clara. In seven SEC games Gordon has shot 40.7% overall, and 4-of-23 on three-point attempts.
*Gordon is pulling down 6.5 rebounds for this season, and 8.2 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.
*Until the last two games Rhodes was playing his best offensive ball yet, averaging 17.5 points on 61% shooting in five league contests. Moved to center in the small lineup, Rhodes has continued scoring in double-figures but found it harder to get good shots. In the past two games he has shot 10-of-22 for 27 points. He is still the team scoring (16.3) and rebounding (7.4) leader in SEC play.
*And Rhodes is easily the squad's pacesetter at the foul line, making 78% of his chances this season (69% SEC). He began his second college season by making 36-of-42 at the stripe. Six games this season Rhodes has made six or more free throws; in fact of his 227 points he has scored 60 from the line.
*When Rhodes fouled out Saturday, it was only the seventh time all season a Bulldog has been disqualified; and only the second time in SEC play. Gordon fouled out in the preceding game with Tennessee.
*Edmondson has nudged back in front in the team trey lead. He hit three longballs at Alabama, giving him 33 for the season, while freshman Reginald Delk only got two to drop and now trails by one. The duo does have to put up a lot of threeballs though, and in the last three games they are a combined 10-of-33 from the arc. Delk has made at least one trey in nine of his last ten games, having gone 0-of-3 against LSU. Before that game, the freshman had hit 15-of-31 attempts.
*Center Wesley Morgan started the first 18 games of the season; the last two he has played five and nine off the bench. This has cut into his chances to add to his team-lead in blocked shots, which remains at 30 now.
*For that matter, the whole team is throwing up lots of treys; probably too many. In their six SEC losses the Dogs are 26-of-101 from the arc. And in the last two games, they have taken 27 and 23 attempts, making six each time. In SEC play State is shooting 25.8% on longballs; it is 29.6% for the season.
*Until Alabama went just 2-of-16 on treys Saturday, the Bulldogs had been lit-up from long-range at a 40% rate through five games.
*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. Then State's defense was beaten decisively in consecutive games. Vanderbilt hit 57.7% at Nashville, and Tennessee followed that up with 52.4% accuracy. At Alabama the Dogs were back in more familiar form, holding the Tide to 38% even.
*Second-year senior Edmondson is the lone Dog with over 300 career points (now 363), while third-year junior Slater has 277. But rookie Gordon (270) and sophomore Rhodes (227) are on faster paces. And while fourth-year player Morgan has 197 rebounds, Rhodes won't take too much longer to catch up at 152 now.
*The Bulldogs rank last in the league in both turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio. It's so bad that the 17 and 15 turnovers in their two games were actually progress, better than the season average of 18-plus. Only once this season has State been credited with more assists than turnovers, that in the overtime win against Santa Clara. By comparison last year's team, berated by fans for reckless play, 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.