*State has lost five home games so far this season. That is the most homecourt defeats since the 1997-98 Dogs lost six at Humphrey Coliseum. In Rick Stansbury's seven-plus seasons, State has lost just 22 times at The Hump; 17 of those losses in SEC play.
*Auburn is only SEC team without a road victory this season. The Tigers are 0-5 away from the home court.
*These teams played two common non-SEC foes. Both State (104-80) and Auburn (87-83) took wins over Jacksonville State. But while the Bulldogs lost at home to Southeastern Louisiana 57-46, the Tigers beat SELa 66-51.
*Going into the week Auburn's strength-of-schedule was rated 15th, while State was 63rd.
ABOUT THE TIGERS: There are rebuilding job, and re-rebuilding jobs. Jeff Lebo walked into the latter case. Because after battling to a respectable 14-17 record his first season at Auburn, the coach had to say good-bye to all four of his top scorers. Combine that with an eight-man rookie class, and it's fair to say year-two is the true start of Lebo's tenure with the Tigers. Practically every SEC coach can claim a ‘young' team this winter and most are, yet Auburn's got a good case for being the greenest bunch in the league. Five of the freshmen have started at least a couple of games at some point and the current lineup typically lists three first-year players. It definitely is perceived as the SEC's smallest squad, though that's a bit deceptive. Yes, the Tigers play short in the post…or at least when they do have a center-type on the court. But the backcourt runs 6-3 to 6-5 and that's good size by any standard, even if the guys are a bit skinny. They're also an athletic bunch and Auburn can run end-to-end with anyone. It's what happens when both teams get to those ends that has been the problem for a team-under-assembly. Auburn ranks last in SEC-game scoring and is the lone club getting less than 60 points per league-night. They're also shooting barely 40% in conference games, 43.8 overall, and only Mississippi State can honestly envy 32% accuracy at the arc. The Tigers have hit just 44 treys in seven SEC games…though a few veteran Bulldogs recall too well how Auburn unexpectedly went-off from the perimeter last February at Auburn. The roster's lone senior, Ronny LeMelle, is the first option for outside offense. But by the same token just about every Tiger has the green light as Lebo likes for his guys to pump it up before a defense can get set up to guard and rebound. A couple of freshmen fit into this gameplan as Rasheem Barrett and Quantez Robertson have combined for almost 40 treys so far. Daniel Hayles, the only returning starter from 2005, and fellow soph Frank Tolbert bring a bit more experience to the mix. In fact, while Auburn essentially rides a seven-man rotation, five of the guys are so similar that it makes little difference who is on the court together or at what time; the plan and results are the same, which must make play-calling easier. So even if only Barrett and Tolbert are scoring double-digits in SEC season, it also means the load is being spread around quite evenly. These Tigers also are playing hard on defense, allowing under 42% SEC shooting and 67 points. It's somewhat surprising that they are breaking-even on the backboards, too, with frosh Korvotney Barber and Josh Dollard mixing it up in the middle with bigger, stouter postmen. Where Auburn is really struggling is with the guys wearing stripes. They average 21 fouls in SEC games and are being badly outscored at the charity stripe. And it's all the more painful that Auburn is the worst free throw-shooting squad in the league. Turnovers have also been an issue, reflecting both the pace of AU play and the newness of the squad. Which keeps things in an uncomfortable perspective for squads that see the Tigers as easy prey; they're only going to get better, and youth has a way of putting together big games when least expected.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
AUBURN: G Ronny LeMelle, SR, 6-5 200, 11.1ppg, 3.0rpg, 34 3ptrs; G Quantez Robertson, FR, 6-3 190, 7.6ppg, 4.3rpg, 15 3ptrs; G Rasheem Barrett, FR, 6-5 200, 11.3ppg, 3.3rpg, 24 3ptrs; F Korvotney Barber, FR, 6-7 220, 6.5ppg, 4.5rpg; G Frank Tolbert, SO, 6-4 210, 9.5ppg, 3.5rpg, 18 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: G/F Daniel Hayles, SO, 6-5 215, 5.8ppg, 2.9rpg, 20 3ptrs; F Josh Dollard, FR, 6-7, 225, 9.0ppg, 4.8rpg; F Joey Cameron, FR, 6-8 240, 2.2ppg, 3.2rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: PG Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 13.3ppg, 1.9apg, 38 3ptrs; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 7.7ppg, 32 3ptrs; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 12.4ppg, 6.7rpg, 23 blks; 2G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 9.2ppg, 4.0rpg; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.6ppg, 6.6rpg, 3.8apg.
Top Reserves: PG Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.4ppg, 1.5apg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 4.5ppg, 3.4rpg, C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 2.1ppg, 2.1rpg; C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2 240, 4.8ppg, 6.3rpg, 30 blks.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 68.0ppg, AUB 65.7ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –1.2, AUB +0.1
Field Goal %: MSU 43.8%, AUB 43.8%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 41.0%, AUB 41.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 29.8% (112/376), AUB 36.0% (120/333)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.2rpg, AUB 34.6rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +4.0, AUB +0.7
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 64.7%, AUB 61.6%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.4, AUB 20.7
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.8, AUB 16.7
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.1, AUB –0.6
THE SERIES: This is now Mississippi State's ‘tightest' traditional SEC rivalry, with Auburn holding a nine-game lead after nine decades (Florida now leads State by ten games). The Tigers are 66-57 against State since the schools began playing in 1915. The Bulldogs were actually in the lead until the late 1970s; then the Tigers caught up and roared ahead in the 1980s. The margin was much greater after Auburn won nine-straight from 1997-2001, but then State went on a eight-game streak of their own that only ended in February 2005. MSU still holds a 34-24 advantage in home games, and the Dogs have won two of the three meetings in SEC Tournaments…the last in 1996. Rick Stansbury is 8-6 against Auburn, and Jeff Lebo is 1-1 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: After a series of lineup shuffles, due either to injury or availability, Mississippi State seems to have settled on a ‘small' lineup of four perimeter-type players and a big forward in the post. This group has started the last three games and while it has not won yet the smaller group has both shot better and turned the ball over less. With senior Jamall Edmondson resuming his position at point, G/F Jamont Gordon has been freed to work both backcourt and baseline and not have to handle the ball quite as much. Reginald Delk has returned to the starting team at off-guard and junior Dietric Slater is essentially another small forward opposite Gordon when State zones on defense.
*Gordon is now the only Bulldog who has started all 21 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 32.9 minutes per SEC game, most on the squad. PF Charles Rhodes is next at 32.0 minutes in SEC action. They are the only Dogs to have started all eight 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, 18, and 15 in the last three games, which gives him 17 games of scoring 10 or more points. Edmondson has had 13 double-digit efforts this year despite missing four games.
*At 13.6 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 had gone a dozen games shooting less than 50% from the field when he hit 7-of-13 at Alabama. He came back for a 6-of-10 night against Kentucky, and only tried a couple of treys, making one. In his previous seven SEC games Gordon was 4-of-23 from the arc.
*Gordon is pulling down 6.6 rebounds for this season, and 8.0 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.
*After moving to ‘center' position in the small lineup Rhodes struggled for a couple of games, hitting just 10-of-22 from the field. He came back with a 6-of-10 night against Kentucky for 21 points, and added 11 rebounds to record his second career double-double. While Gordon is the season scoring leader, Rhodes is averaging 16.9 points in SEC play to Gordon's 13.5.
*And Rhodes is easily the squad's pacesetter at the foul line, making 77.8% of his chances this season (68.8% SEC). He began his second college season by making 36-of-42 at the stripe. Seven games this season Rhodes has made six or more free throws; in fact of his 248 points he has scored 69 from the line.
*There have only been seven foul-outs for State this season, with Rhodes and Gordon both being disqualified twice.
*Edmondson hit five treys against Kentucky, four in the second half, to extend his team-lead at the arc with 38 for the season. Reginald Delk missed both his long shots in that game and remains at 32 for his freshman year. In the last four games the two starting shooters are a combined 15-of-47 on trey-tries, under 32%. That's still much better than entire team's 27% three-point shooting in eight SEC games.
*Center Wesley Morgan started the first 18 games of the season. After seeing limited action off the bench the next two games he did not get on the court Wednesday night. He still leads the team with 30 blocks, but Rhodes is coming up fast now with 23. He had three stuffs against UK.
*After Alabama made just two treys in 16 tries against State, Kentucky lit the Dogs up with 13-of-25 accuracy at the arc. In their seven SEC losses the Bulldogs have watched the opposition make 39% of their long shots. Take out Alabama and it jumps to almost 43%. And SEC teams make 6.8 treys per-game on State.
*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. And Kentucky just missed breaking even at 49.2%; though take away their remarkable outside accuracy and the Kats were just 47%.
*Second-year senior Edmondson is the lone Dog with over 300 career points (now 378), but Rhodes (295) is almost there and Gordon (285) is only a point behind Slater's 286. And Rhodes is already up to 163 rebounds after a year-and-a-half. Morgan has 197 in four varsity seasons.
*The Bulldogs rank last in the league in both turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio, which is why they celebrated breaking-even in their last game with 11 assists and 11 turnovers. Only once this season has State been credited with more assists than turnovers, that in the overtime win against Santa Clara. They are averaging 17.8 rebounds so far this year, 17.4 in SEC play. 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 373 turnovers through 21 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.