*This series is the most-often-played of any in the Southeastern Conference by a sizable margin. The Bulldogs and Rebels have met 232 times in 92 years. Only Kentucky-Tennessee comes close as the Wildcats and Vols have played exactly 200 times so far, once this season already. Georgia-Florida will reach 190 games by the end of this season, one ahead of the MSU-LSU rivalry played out 189 times.
*Wednesday's loss at Louisiana State sealed Mississippi State's first losing SEC season since 2001.
ABOUT THE REBELS: That unexpected hot start is far in the rearview now, and the season has settled into more like what was projected for Mississippi this season. A seven-game SEC losing streak has left the Rebels precious little margin over the remaining schedule if they intend to finish over .500 for the first time since 2002, though knocking off Arkansas at home Wednesday has kept this goal—and potentially attracting NIT attention—viable for another week. Still that pressure is clearly on a team that has a lone road win (at Alabama) in seven season-tries. At the same time, the whole league knows better than to take Rod Barnes' eighth team, or for that matter any of his squads, lightly regardless of venue. These Rebels are typically scrappy and, when the outside shots are falling, capable of knocking off bigger boys. Of course there aren't many boys bigger in this league than center Dwayne Curtis, the 300-or-so-pound bruiser who has made the, well, biggest difference in UM's fortunes after transferring from Auburn in 2004. He's muscled his way for almost 14 points and eight rebounds per game, and he's just as good—a bit better even on the boards—in SEC play. He's the league's 4th-best shooter and 5th-best rebounder, and a beast on the offensive boards in particular. It's critical to look not at the team's season-stats but the league-stats, as guard Clarence Sanders joins Curtis in scoring double-digits in SEC play; he's good for 10.3 in conference competition. And Sanders isn't even a regular starter, not that it means much the way Barnes shuttles guys in-and-out at almost every deadball. Curtis is the only Rebel putting in 30 minutes a game, in fact, but eight more average from 29 to 13 minutes. So not only are legs usually fresh, but opponents usually have no clue what lineup they'll be dealing with trip-by-trip. Of course UM is rather foul-prone, too, so the rotation is even more useful. Still in crunch time it will be juniors Bam Doyne and Todd Abernathy in the backcourt, handling the ball and taking the tough shots. Abernathy has matured into a quality SEC play- and shot-maker this third season, while Doyne seems to enjoy pressure situations. Thus Sanders and Brandon Patterson can come off the bench early, often, and contribute their three-pointers. Meanwhile Jeremy Parnell provides more muscle as the big forward, with Londrick Nolen the counterpart slasher on the baseline. This isn't a team to judge by sheer numbers, as they rank (SEC only) 10th in scoring, 6th in shooting, and 10th in scoring defense. But the Rebels don't give up a lot of longballs and SEC opponents are only converting 28% from the arc, with just 46 made-treys in 11 games. And while UM isn't a bombs-away offense either they do shoot a bit better from long range in league play than the season as a whole. Where they have had problems is with SEC refs, as the Rebels usually end up on the wrong side of the free throw equation.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
MISSISSIPPI: G Todd Abernathy, JR, 6-1 190, 9.4ppg, 2.8apg, 43 3tprs; G Bam Doyne, JR, 6-4 170, 9.4ppg, 4.3rpg, 2.4apg; C Dwayne Curtis, SO, 6-8 290, 13.6ppg, 7.5rpg, 18 blks; F Londrick Nolen, SR, 6-6 192, 8.0ppg, 4.2rpg; F Jeremy Parnell, SO, 6-8 245, 4.4ppg, 3.2rpg.
Top Reserves: G Clarence Sanders, JR, 6-2 180, 9.6ppg, 1.4rpg, 29 3ptrs; F Trey Hampton, FR, 6-7 215, 5.0ppg, 2.0rpg; G Brandon Patterson, SO, 6-6 180, 3.0ppg, 14 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: PG Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 12.9ppg, 1.9apg, 45 3ptrs; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 7.8ppg, 2.1rpg, 38 3ptrs; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 13.1ppg, 7.3rpg, 27 blks; G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 9.5ppg, 4.2rpg; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.5ppg, 6.5rpg, 4.0apg.
Top Reserves: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.2ppg, 1.4apg; C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 1.8ppg, 2.2rpg; PF Bernard Rimmer, FR, 6-8 195, 0.6ppg, 1.1rpg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 3.9ppg, 3.2rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 67.5ppg, UM 68.0ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –1.8, UM +1.0
Field Goal %: MSU 43.3%, UM 46.2%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 41.1%, UM 44.3%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 29.4% (126/429), UM 35.5% (153/431)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.0rpg, UM 34.1rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +3.4, UM +1.0
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.7%, UM 64.5%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.5, UM 19.5
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.4, UM 16.1
Turnover Margin: MSU –2.9, UM –0.6
THE SERIES: As noted this is the SEC's most-played rivalry, and Mississippi State holds a 130-102 since the series began in 1914. The first two games were played in Starkville with MSU winning, and since then the Bulldogs have built a 85-23 lead on their campus. That includes a 25-6 advantage in games played in Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs did have a eight-game winning streak going until this past January's loss in Oxford. State leads 5-4 at neutral sites, and in 2003 won the only game the rivals have played in a SEC Tournament. Both coaches took over their programs the same year, with Rick Stansbury now holding a 12-4 lead on Rod Barnes.
BULLDOG NOTES: After getting a season-high five consecutive starts out of the seventh lineup combination, State had to make a quick change this week and put lineup #8 on the court. Senior PG Jamall Edmondson aggravated that nagging groin injury and missed tipoff at LSU. Instead of replacing him with another guard, State moved G/F Jamont Gordon back to the point—where he opened five games at one point when Edmondson was previously sidelined—and inserted freshman Bernard Rimmer at small forward. It was Rimmer's first college start, though he only got in eight minutes and picked up three fouls in the first three minutes.
*With Rimmer taking a tipoff, ten Bulldogs have now started at least one game. Freshman Gordon is the only Bulldog to have started all 24 games. He and PF Charles Rhodes are the lone Dogs to have started all eleven SEC games, while G Dietric Slater and 2G Reginald Delk have opened ten.
*The Bulldogs may be starting a smallish lineup, but Rhodes has definitely been coming up big. In six games as starting pivotman he has scored 99 points, or 16.5 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 17.1 points, best on the team. He has scored in double-digits in all eleven SEC games and 12-straight overall. Gordon is the whole-year scoring leader at 13.5 points, and that's also exactly what he has averaged in SEC play.
*Rhodes is 6th in the SEC in scoring overall, and tied for second in rebounding in SEC-only stats.
*The reason Rhodes scores a bit less as a center is that he's shot 39-of-77, or 50.6%, at this position; where in his five SEC games at big forward he shot just over 60%. And while he's had some problems in the last few games he is still perhaps the league's best big man at the foul line, hitting 72.4% so far and 63.5% in conference games.
*Rhodes is also coming on fast in shot-blocking, with 15 swats in his last eight games. He has 27 for the season, trailing only Wesley Morgan's 30, and with the latter rarely getting on the court Rhodes is certain to surpass him soon.
*Rhodes now has 199 career rebounds, in 39 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 32.5 minutes per SEC game, but was on-court just 26 minutes at Baton Rouge. That cost him the team-lead for league play, with Gordon now up to 32.7 minutes.
*Gordon has been named SEC Freshman of the Week three times already this season.
*Gordon has another double-digit scoring streak going, with six-straight games at ten or more points. He had done so in six-straight games before that string was snapped at Vanderbilt (five points). The rookie has 20 double-digit games on the season, while Rhodes is next at 18. 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 10-of-34 in the last three games. Where the rookie really struggles is at the arc, as he is just 6-of-34 on trey-tries for SEC season.
*Gordon is pulling down 6.5 rebounds for this season, and 7.6 in SEC play. For all-season, he ranks 12th in the SEC in scoring, 11th in rebounding, and 9th in assists.
*There have only been eight foul-outs for State this season, with Rhodes and Gordon both being disqualified twice.
*Fans always see officiating through tinted lenses, but on average the Bulldogs have not had a huge problem with the whistles. State has been assessed for 193 fouls in 11 SEC games, the opposition 182. MSU has taken 214 free-throw attempts in league play, the other teams 213.
*Edmondson has tossed in 18 treys in his last six games, giving him 45 for the season. Strangely, though, he is only 7-of-14 at the foul line in his league games.
*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 17.4 for the season, compared to 14.8 for the often-cursed 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 and LSU was only 3-of-11 Wednesday night. The key is that opponents are putting up roughly 20 trey-tries per game on State, regardless of whether the Bulldogs play zone- or man-defenses. The actual accuracy-allowed of 35.0% isn't too bad by current SEC standards.
*The bigger problem is that the Bulldogs are even poorer perimeter marksmen, shooting just 26.8% from long range with only 51 treys in eleven SEC games. Edmondson has 21 of those made-threes, almost as many as Reginald Delk (17) and Gordon (5) have combined.
*Edmondson just crossed the 400-point mark for his career, with 411 now in his second varsity season. Rhodes is second on the current roster at 348, while Gordon is coming on fast in his first year at 324 after 24 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.