*Still the Dogs did snap their longest losing skid since the 1986-87 team dropped nine-straight, all league games. This was the first time since the conference went to Divisional play that State has only managed one victory in the first-half of the SEC schedule.
*State is also trying to score the first win of the year over an Eastern team, as the Dogs are 0-4 in inter-Division play so far. MSU has never been shut out against the East, though three times—the last in 2000—the Dogs have finished 1-5. South Carolina is 0-2 so far against West teams.
*Going into the week South Carolina's strength-of-schedule was rated 19th, while Mississippi State's was 49th.
*South Carolina is recognizing this home game as part of the NABC's Coaches Vs. Cancer Day.
ABOUT THE GAMECOCKS: With four starters and five more veterans back from a team that surprised everyone—including themselves—by winning the NIT title, there obviously were much higher hopes for Dave Odom's fifth South Carolina club. Yet halfway through the SEC season the Gamecocks again are more enigma than contenda. Really, how to figure a team that has just three league wins in nine tries, but has already swept Florida for two of those triumphs? A team that battled Marquette, Pitt, and Temple well enough yet was pounded by lowly Clemson? Of course this may say as much about the SEC as it does USC, but that's another issue. Adding another twist to evaluating this team is that six of their first nine league games have been on the road, and they've won in two of the toughest ‘Villes (Nash and Gaines) anywhere. Then again maybe it's only natural that the Gamecocks are difficult to read, as Odom teams specialize in mixing, matching, shifting, and adjusting. Whether it's switching defensive plans play-by-play, or throwing unexpected lineup combinations together this is a tough bunch to scout, much less play. The one sure thing is that it's wise to keep a man on Tarence Kinsey. The senior is having a superb final season, having almost doubled his scoring output from 8.3 last winter to over 15 points to rank 8th in league scoring. More impressive for a guard he is the ninth-best shooter from the field and making 45% of his trey-tries. And sending this 86% marksman to the foul line really is charity. Tre Kelly was the second-leading scorer in 2005; he's still #2 but pitching in an even-better 11.5 points. The junior not only averages four assists and has the second-best rate of assists-to-turnovers in SEC-only play, but he has hit 45 treys so far. The two starters are both on-court for over 35 minutes per SEC game. As usual, South Carolina likes to get almost everyone involved in the perimeter-act, and lanky soph Dwayne Day has chipped in 25 threes of his own. With so many vets there isn't much room for a newcomer this season, but Fullerton transfer Bryce Sheldon is offering more help from long-range with 22 treys. With '05 starter Rocky Trice alternating with younger guards the Gamecocks have more than enough backcourt depth to play small if they like. The real rotation is on the front line, though, with a trio of longer bodies that are essentially interchangeable. Take junior Renaldo Balkman as example-A. He's not always listed as a starter per-se yet plays the minutes and gets it done on each end of the floor, scoring nearly ten points with his six rebounds. Junior Brandon Wallace is back in the lane and providing steady points, boards, and blocks (he's tenth in the league in swats). His rebounding is even with Wallace, in fact, so they are tied for 15th in the SEC. 6-8 senior Antoine Tisby has been the usual starter in the low post, opening seven of nine games, but Balkman doesn't have to wait long to be summoned from the bench. With so many interchangeable parts, and one of the most-mature rosters in a young SEC, it's no wonder Odom can throw a variety of looks at opponents. Yet study of the stats only confuses further; USC is third in SEC shooting, fourh-best at the arc, yet just ninth in scoring. They are third in scoring defense and dead-last in allowing points from the perimeter as well as overall shooting-SEC defense. And a veteran backcourt is only middling in either handling the ball safely or stealing it away. Gamecocks, or Enigmas? We'll know better in a month, as USC tries to take advantage of a home-friendly finishing schedule and get back in NCAA contention. Of course last year they lost five of the last six scheduled games to end up in the NIT at 15-13…then went 5-0 in the tourney. Baffling.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
SOUTH CAROLINA: G Tre Kelly, JR, 6-1 185, 11.5ppg, 4.0apg, 45 3ptrs; G Tarance Kinsey, SR, 6-6 190, 15.2ppg, 4.6rpg, 33 3ptrs; C Antoine Tisby, SR, 6-8 235, 6.0ppg, 3.1rpg; F Brandon Wallace, JR, 6-10 200, 7.0ppg, 6.0rpg, 32 blks; F Dwayne Day, SO, 6-6 190, 25 3ptrs; 6.1ppg, 2.6rpg.
Top Reserves: F Renaldo Balkman, JR, 6-8 215, 9.8ppg, 6.0rpg, 30 blks; F Rocky Trice, SR, 6-3 170, 6.9ppg, 2.6rpg; F Bryce Sheldon, JR, 6-5 200, 4.1ppg, 22 3 ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: PG Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 13.3ppg, 1.9apg, 41 3ptrs; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 7.7ppg, 2.1rpg, 34 3ptrs; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 12.8ppg, 7.2rpg, 24 blks; 2G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 9.2ppg, 4.2rpg; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.7ppg, 6.6rpg, 4.0apg.
Top Reserves: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.3ppg, 1.5apg; C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 1.9ppg, 2.1rpg; PF Bernard Rimmer, FR, 6-8 195, 0.7ppg, 1.3rpg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 4.3ppg, 3.4rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 68.2ppg, SC 68.9ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –0.4, SC +4.6
Field Goal %: MSU 43.8%, SC 46.9%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 40.6%, SC 42.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 29.6% (117/395), SC 37.9% (162/427)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.6rpg, SC 32.6rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +4.6, SC +0.7
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 64.9%, SC 66.7%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.6, SC 16.1
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.8, SC 12.5
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.1, SC +0.9
THE SERIES: This is Mississippi State's "youngest" rivalry, beginning only when the Gamecocks joined the SEC for 1992. It has also been a series favoring the Bulldogs, who won the first four games and own a 10-5 lead after 14 years. State has also won the last four games, and even holds a 4-3 lead in games played in Columbia. USC won the only neutral-court meeting so far, at Nashville in the 2001 SEC Tournament. Rick Stanbury is 6-2 against South Carolina, while Dave Odom is 0-4 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: It took four tries but the seventh different lineup of the season came through with a victory, as State beat Auburn 71-53. Stansbury settled on the ‘small' starting group of four perimeter-type players surrounding PF Charles Rhodes in the pivot. A healthy Jamall Edmondson is back on the point with Reginald Delk at off-guard, and both Jamont Gordon and Dietric Slaters as wing guards who play the baseline in a 2-3 zone defense. In games started by these particular five, State has still not shot great (33%, 41%, 42%, and 43%) from the field, but that is better than the previous two games of under 40% in losses to LSU and Vanderbilt.
*After moving to ‘center' position in the small lineup Rhodes struggled his first two 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. Three days later he again put up 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Auburn, while recording a best-so-far 19 rebounds. It was the first consecutive double-doubles of his college career.
*Rhodes has scored in double-digits ten-straight games now, including all his SEC contests. So while Gordon is still the team overall scoring leader at 13.7 points, Rhodes' 17.3 points in SEC play is tops on the squad. Gordon is scoring 13.8 in league action.
*Rhodes is back up to 57.3% shooting for SEC season, 55% for the whole season. And he is easily the squad's pacesetter at the foul line, making 76.3% of his chances this season (69.1% 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 269 points he has scored 74 from the line.
*Rhodes is the only SEC player currently ranked in the top-five (SEC games only) in scoring, rebounding,and shooting. And while his 24 blocks still trail Wesley Morgan's 30 this season, Rhodes has swatted 12 balls in the last six games and is on-pace to catch up soon.
*Gordon is the only Bulldog who has started all 22 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 32.8 minutes per SEC game, most on the squad. PF Charles Rhodes is next at 32.3 minutes in SEC action. They are the only Dogs to have started all nine SEC games.
*Gordon had his six-game stretch of scoring 10 or more points ended at Vanderbilt. Since then he's begun another string, now at four games. Gordon has averaged 16.0 points in these four games. He now has 18 double-digit games on the season, while Rhodes has done it in 16 games and Edmondson 14.
*But Gordon's accuracy has been erratic this SEC season. Until the Alabama game the freshman had shot under 50% in a dozen-straight outings. He hit 7-of-13 at Alabama and followed that with 6-of-10 shooting against Kentucky. Then he fell to 3-of-12 in the Auburn game, scoring ten points at the foul line. Gordon is 5-of-27 at the arc in nine SEC games.
*At 13.7 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 pulling down 6.6 rebounds for this season, and 8.1 in SEC play.
*Gordon just earned his third SEC Freshman of the Week award, the first during the conference season.
*There have only been seven foul-outs for State this season, with Rhodes and Gordon both being disqualified twice.
*It's fair to say Edmondson is back on his expected outside-shooting form. In his last four games the senior has tossed in 14 treys and hit 39% from the arc. He had five threeballs in the Kentucky game. He now has 41longballs for the season, and is extending his team-lead on freshman Reginald Delk (33).
*But while Edmondson is converting from long range, his eye at the stripe has been shaky of late. He has shot just 58% from the free throw line this SEC season.
*The Bulldogs still bring up the SEC rear in turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio for the whole season. Yet there has been some slight progress there of late. In the Kentucky game the Dogs ‘broke even' with 11 assists and 11 giveaways, and while they had 18 turnovers in the Auburn game there were 13 assists, a better ratio than usual for this team. Still there has been only one game, Santa Clara, where State had more assists than turnovers. The average turnovers is still 17.8, compared to 14.8 for the much-maligned 2004-05 team.
*But even if the current clip is frustrating, 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 391 turnovers through 22 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.
*For the first 17 games of the schedule State did not allow opponents to shoot 50%, then Vanderbilt and Tennessee hit over break-even consecutively and Kentucky barely missed at 49%. The Bulldogs were back in more typical form in beating Auburn, holding the Tigers to 34% accuracy.
*What has MSU's defense frustrated is how often the other team strikes from long-range. Kentucky had 13 treys and Vanderbilt and Tennessee nine each against MSU. Yet it's not as if everyone has great outside-shooting days at State's expense; it is more a matter of quantity than quality. SEC foes have put up 186 trey-tries in nine games, and the accuracy of just 33.8% is respectable by league standards. Alabama was 2-of-16 from the arc against State, and Auburn 4-of-26.
*The problem though is that the Bulldogs themselves are even poorer marksmen as a whole, shooting under 27% from the arc in SEC games. Take away Edmondson and it's just 25-of-105, or 24%.
*Second-year senior Edmondson will be the first current Dog to reach 400 career points; he has 393 now, while in his own second season Rhodes is up to 316. But freshman Gordon is on the really fast track, with 300 even after 22 games. And while fourth-year center Wesley Morgan has just hit 200 career rebounds, Rhodes is closing in fast with 182.