*It wasn't all that long ago Bulldog teams were known as ‘road warriors.' Not so this season. State is 1-5 on opponent's home courts with the lone win at UNC-Charlotte in November. These Dogs are 0-5 in SEC road trips and only one of the losses was by single-digits, 65-59 at Alabama. LSU is 11-3 on their home court, and 4-0 in the PMAC against SEC visitors.
ABOUT THE TIGERS: They've lost that perfect SEC record, along with two of the last three contests. And their Division lead is suddenly a lot less comfortable, especially as the remaining schedule features three matchups with foes from the tougher East sides of the league. But the fact remains that the West crown is still right there for the Tigers to take. An outright one, too, as LSU hopes to avoid slipping into the sort of (lost) Division tiebreak they did last March. John Brady's ninth Tiger team certainly remains the West favorite even after a couple of unsuccessful road trips dragged them back closer to the pack. As long as that superb frontcourt avoids foul troubles and the backcourt chips in just enough perimeter points to keep opponents honest, this is one tough team to handle. For that matter nobody has an individual answer for Glen Davis. The 310-pound soph with a 210-pounder's agility has to be the leader for league POTY, averaging almost a double-double for the season and leading the SEC in rebounding. In fact, for SEC-only stats, he is 6th in scoring and still 1st on the boards; and he's unmatched on the offensive glass. If Davis is a top contender for top-player, frontcourt partner Tyrus Thomas is the prohibitive pick for 2006's top freshmen…no small feat in a league this young this year. The redshirt rookie doesn't get huge points, in fact he doesn't rank in the top-20 for SEC-only action at 10.9ppg. It's because he's only taken 78 shots in 10 conference contests, maybe the most curious stat of the season. But when Thomas shoots, he scores at a 60% clip. He's by far the league-leader in defensive rebounding, and has swatted 71 shots so far. The under-appreciated over-achiever here is the ‘other' forward and ‘other' Mitchell. Tasmin, that is; the frosh complements his better-known teammates with 12.8 points in SEC action (17th-best) and chips in five rebounds while popping an occasional trey. But of course the primary, and often only, perimeter-point provider is Darrell Mitchell. The lineup's lone senior is the real key to this team's attack, lighting up defenses that sag on the big bodies. He's shooting almost 49% from the field in SEC play, and an amazing 47.5% from the arc to rank second in league scoring. Of the 287 treys this whole team has tried, Mitchell has fired 133 of them. Oh, and he provides almost five assists a night, so Mitchell is more than a gunner. Basically as he goes against good defenses, the Tigers do too. LSU knows something about playing on D as well, ranking first (SEC games only) in scoring defense and second in shooting defense at 41.8% allowed. They're first in blocked shots by a wide margin and second in stealing the ball away, which is quite impressive considering that the rotation rarely goes beyond seven-deep. And talk about shot selection, LSU is only 10th in SEC treys-per-game but second in accuracy.
THE LAST TIME: January 18, Starkville. Four Tigers scored in double-digits as visiting LSU took a 71-57 victory at Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs put up a respectable fight for the first seven minutes with the score tied 15-15, and even after LSU surged in front by 11 points State was able to pull back within 30-26. But the Tigers outscored the hosts 11-4 over the last five minutes of the opening half for a 41-30 intermission lead. State never got closer than eight points in the last half as LSU coasted out to their 100th victory in the series. Davis and Thomas combined for 31 points and 16 rebounds while Mitchell tossed in 15 points, with three treys. Jamont Gordon led the Dogs with 17 points, hitting three treys himself, and despite playing a great deal at the point he also hit the boards for a remarkable 13 rebounds. In fact State out-boarded the bigger Tigers 40-31. Jamall Edmondson came off the bench for 15 points, and three threes, while Charles Rhodes added 14 points with nine rebounds.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
LOUISIANA STATE: G Garrett Temple, FR, 6-5 176, 5.2ppg, 2.8apg, 16 3ptrs; G Darrell Mitchell, SR, 5-11 178, 18.3ppg, 4.7apg, 60 3ptrs; C Glen Davis, SO, 6-9 310, 17.7ppg, 9.5rpg, 26 blks; F Tyrus Thomas, rFR, 6-7 210, 12.6ppg, 9.1rpg, 71 blks; F Tasmin Mitchell, FR, 6-7 236, 11.9ppg, 5.4rpg 18 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: F Darnell Lazare, JR, 6-8 240, 7.1ppg, 3.5rpg; G Ben Voogd, FR, 6-1 170, 1.3ppg, 0.9rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: PG Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 13.0ppg, 1.9apg, 43 3ptrs; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 7.8ppg, 2.2rpg, 36 3ptrs; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 13.0ppg, 7.3rpg, 25 blks; G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 9.4ppg, 4.2rpg; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.7ppg, 6.7rpg, 4.2apg.
Top Reserves: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.1ppg, 1.4apg; C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 1.8ppg, 2.0rpg; PF Bernard Rimmer, FR, 6-8 195, 0.6ppg, 1.2rpg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 4.1ppg, 3.2rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 67.9ppg, LSU 76.4ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –1.3, LSU +11.8
Field Goal %: MSU 43.8%, LSU 48.4%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 41.3%, LSU 40.0%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 29.3% (121/413), LSU 34.8% (100/287)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.2rpg, LSU 41.6rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +4.2, LSU +10.1
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 64.5%, LSU 68.3%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.4, LSU 20.0
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.6, LSU 16.0
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.1, LSU –0.7
THE SERIES: This is Mississippi State's oldest ongoing series, dating back to 1909 when the schools met in Baton Rouge…twice. LSU won those initial games and is still in front, having just pushed their score to 100-88. That is State's second-highest win total against any program, though, after only the 130 against Mississippi. The longest MSU win streak is 11, from 1994-1999, while LSU has thrice strung seven-straight wins together, most recently in 1968-71. But the Tigers do have a three-game streak going, having swept both 2005 meetings and taken the first match of this season. LSU owns a 62-31 margin in Baton Rouge games. Rick Stansbury is 9-8 against LSU, while John Brady is 9-10 against the school he worked at from 1983-90.
BULLDOG NOTES: LSU is running away with this season's SEC rebounding race, which for an unprecedented five-straight years MSU had won. These Tigers have a 10.1 margin on the boards for the entire season. However, their margin in SEC-only games is ‘just' 3.5; still first in the league gut only two-tenths in front of Alabama and half-a-board in front of State's 3.0 margin.
*Mississippi State's current ‘small' lineup of four perimeter-type players and PF Charles Rhodes in the post has tipped-off the last five games and now has the distinction of being the most-started group of the season. It is also the seventh different lineup tried. Three other units have started four games. The ‘winningest' starting fivesome was the one opening the first four games of the schedule with a 4-0 record; the current tipoff team has three players in common with Rhodes, G/F Jamont Gordon, and 2G Reginald Delk.
*Freshman Gordon is the only Bulldog to have started all 23 games. He and Rhodes are the lone Dogs to have started all ten SEC games, while G Dietric Slater and Reginald Delk have opened nine conference contests.
*The Bulldogs may be starting a smallish lineup, but Rhodes has definitely been coming up big. In five games as starting pivotman he has scored 85 points, or 17.0 per game. That's actually a bit less than he had been averaging before the change in starting position, though, as for the whole SEC season Rhodes is getting 17.4 points, best on the team. He has scored in double-digits in all ten SEC games and 11-straight overall. Gordon is the whole-year scoring leader at 13.7 points, and that's also what he has averaged in SEC play.
*The reason Rhodes scores a bit less as a center is that he's shot 32-of-64, or 50% even, at this position; where in his five SEC games at big forward he shot just over 60%. Still he is the only SEC player currently ranked in the league's top five (SEC games only) in scoring, rebounding, and shooting. He is also perhaps the league's best big man at the foul line, hitting 75.2% so far and 67.8% in conference games. Of his 174 points in SEC play, 40 have come at the stripe.
*Rhodes is also coming on fast in shot-blocking, with 13 swats in his last seven games. He has 25 for the season, trailing only Wesley Morgan's 30.
*Rhodes now has 190 career rebounds, in 38 games. Fourth-year player Morgan tops the current roster with 200 boards, in 62 games.
*Gordon is listed as a small forward in the current lineup, but he has essentially played four positions this season which might be a MSU-first; certainly so for a true freshman. He is averaging 33.3 minutes per SEC game, most on the squad, while Rhodes is working 32.5 minutes. Gordon has been named SEC Freshman of the Week three times already this season.
*Gordon has another double-digit scoring streak going, with five-straight games at ten ore more points. He had done so in six-straight games before that string was snapped at Vanderbilt (five points). The rookie has 19 double-digit games on the season, while Rhodes is next at 17. Gordon is on a pace to be the first MSU freshman perimeter player to average double-figures since Jeff Malone did it in 1980 at 11.9.
*Gordon is having to put the ball up early and often to get his points lately. After a couple of games shooting over 50%, against Alabama and Kentucky, he's gone 3-of-12 against Auburn and 4-of-10 at South Carolina. And in his last four games Gordon is 1-of-12 from the arc; he is just 5-of-31 on trey-tries for SEC season. *Gordon is pulling down 6.7 rebounds for this season, and 8.1 in SEC play.
*There have only been seven foul-outs for State this season, with Rhodes and Gordon both being disqualified twice. In fact through ten SEC games the Bulldogs have been whistled for 169 fouls, and the opposition 174. State has taken 192 free throws in league play, compared to 181 for the other ten teams combined.
*Senior G Jamall Edmondson has tossed in 16 treys in his last five games at the point, giving him 43 for the season. 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 lead (or more accurately trail) the whole SEC in both turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio. Yet there has been some progress lately, and when State had 16 assists with 13 turnovers at South Carolina it was only the second time all season the Dogs had a positive ratio there. Santa Clara on December 3 was the other. In the Kentucky game State broke even at 11 each. The average turnovers is still 17.6 for the season, 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.
*What has MSU's defense frustrated is how often the other team strikes from long-range. Kentucky and South Carolina have hit for 13 and 11 treys against the Dogs, while Vanderbilt and Tennessee had nine each. Yet not everyone thrives at the arc, as Alabama and Auburn were a combined 6-of-38. The key is that opponents are putting up almost 21 trey-tries per game on State, regardless of whether the Bulldogs play zone- or man-defenses. The actual accuracy of 35.4% isn't too bad by current SEC standards.
*The bigger problem is that the Bulldogs are even poorer perimeter marksmen, shooting just 26.4% from long range with only 46 treys in ten SEC games. Edmondson has 19 of those made-threes.
*Edmondson just crossed the 400-point mark for his career, with 401 now in his second varsity season. Rhodes is second on the current roster at 334, while Gordon is coming on fast in his first year at 313 after 23 games.
*Coach Rick Stansbury now has 161 wins in his eight MSU seasons. He ranks third in coaching victories at State and is now just eight behind the 169 won by Babe McCarthy from 1956-65.