*With nine league losses already the Bulldogs will post a losing SEC record for the first time in five years. However, State is 3-3 in West play and can break even or better with Division games remaining against the ‘A' teams of Auburn, Arkansas, and Alabama.
*Auburn is the only SEC team currently with a sub-.500 record. They also rank 11th in the league in average home attendance, at around 4,500 per game. Ole Miss ranks last at under 3,900.
*After wearing their retro-style home whites as part of the SEC's Throwback Week, the Bulldogs will get to wear road-Maroon in the same old-fashioned style Wednesday night. State, and all league teams, will wear Throwback uniforms at every SEC Tournament game.
ABOUT THE TIGERS: The rebuilding job continues in Coach Jeff Lebo's second season, which realistically had to be expected when graduation took most of the lineup and all four leading scorers off his first team. While this squad probably won't even match the 14-17 record of last winter, it is having more fun and showing some encouraging signs for the future. Most SEC clubs this year claim to be young; at Auburn it's a fact, with eight sophs and freshmen on the roster and a lone senior. It's not a strapping physical squad, either, though the Tigers are not quite as short as perceived; in fact the backcourt can stand head-to-toe with most foes, even if they wouldn't want to go muscle-on-muscle. Which Lebo doesn't. The team's up-tempo style is out of necessity, as Auburn tries to get a decent shot off before the defense (and opposing rebounders) can get set. That leads to a lot of long jumpshots, and AU hits 36% for the season (32% in SEC play), or slashes right to the goal by those lanky perimeter players. The team's lone upperclassman, Ronny LeMelle, does both as he has popped 46 treys but also driven for higher-percentage attempts. A couple of freshmen balance the three-guard backcourt, and Rasheem Barrett joins LeMelle in scoring double-digits while Quantez Robertson is chipping in almost eight more. For that matter another frosh, Korvotney Barber, spends lots of time downrange and has 31 treys. But he also goes inside and at 4.8 boards is the top Tiger rebounder. That of course says much about Auburn's post-presence, which is often lacking. Freshmen Josh Dollard or Joey Cameron try to fill the pivot alternately and bring most of what muscle the Tigers possess. The SEC-only stats aren't encouraging as Auburn ranks dead-last in scoring (61 ppg), ninth in scoring defense and tenth in shooting defense. And while they put up a lot of long jumpers Auburn also gives up more treys-per-game than anyone in the league. Also, the team's turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio is better than only one league member—MSU, of course. Still, while not having a big-time scorer or two isn't the ideal way to play this game, there can be certain advantages in the sort of variety Auburn brings to the court. As in there is always the threat of one Tiger, or more, having one of those nights. As the Bulldogs found out the last time they visited the plains, and left having been bombed from the perimeter.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
AUBURN: G Ronny LeMelle, SR, 6-5 200, 12.4ppg, 3.8rpg, 46 3ptrs; G Quantez Robertson, FR, 6-3 190, 7.8ppg, 4.7apg, 21 3ptrs; G Rasheem Barrett, FR, 6-5 220, 11.0ppg, 31 3ptrs; F Korvotney Barber, FR, 6-7 200, 6.8ppg, 4.8rpg, 34 blks; F Josh Dollard, FR, 6-7 225, 9.1ppg, 4.4rpg.
Top Reserves: G Frank Tolbert, SO, 6-4 210, 8.8ppg, 3.5rpg, 20 3ptrs; G/F Daniel Hayles, SO, 6-5 215, 5.3ppg, 3.0rpg, 21 3ptrs; F Joey Cameron, FR, 6-8 240, 1.9ppg, 2.8rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: PG Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 12.5ppg, 2.0apg, 45 3ptrs; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 8.2ppg, 2.1rpg, 43 3ptrs; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 13.2ppg, 7.3rpg, 27 blks; G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 9.8ppg, 4.6rpg; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.7ppg, 6.6rpg, 4.0apg.
Top Reserves: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.4ppg, 1.5apg; C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 1.8ppg, 2.2rpg; PF Bernard Rimmer, FR, 6-8 195, 0.5ppg, 1.2rpg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 3.7ppg, 3.2rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 68.2ppg, AUB 65.6ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –0.6, AUB –2.1
Field Goal %: MSU 43.8%, AUB 43.5%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 40.9%, AUB 43.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 30.0% (134/446), AUB 35.8% (154/450)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.2rpg, AUB 33.7rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +3.8, AUB –0.2
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.6%, AUB 62.5%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.9, AUB 19.5
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.6, AUB 16.7
Turnover Margin: MSU –2.8, AUB –0.5
THE SERIES: By winning the first round of '06, the Bulldogs trimmed their all-time deficit in the series to 66-58. State had won eight-straight against Auburn until the Tigers snapped the string in the second meeting of 2005, at Auburn. And prior to MSU's streak Auburn had won nine-straight games from 1997-2001. Auburn still has a 39-20 advantage on their home court, while State is 2-1 in games played in the modern SEC Tournament. Rick Stansbury is 9-6 against the Tigers, and Jeff Lebo is 1-2 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: Mississippi State was able to return to their preferred starting lineup for the last game, a 84-55 rout of Mississippi. It was the sixth game to start four perimeter-type players along with PF Charles Rhodes in the low post. State had used that set for five-straight games, with one win (over Auburn) until PG Jamall Edmondson aggravated a season-long groin problem and missed tipoff at LSU. Edmondson returned to the starting five for the Ole Miss game, allowing G/F Jamont Gordon to play as the ‘big' forward and leave the point he had started at LSU. 2G Reginald Delk and G Dietric Slater rounded out the lineup.
*Freshman Bernard Rimmer started the LSU game at PF, his first college tipoff, but he picked up three fast fouls and only played eight minutes at Baton Rouge. Rimmer played ten minutes against the Rebels without scoring. Ironically, Edmondson was the only State starter not to score double-digits against Ole Miss.
*Ten Bulldogs have started at least one game this winter, in eight different combinations. Freshman Gordon is the only Bulldog to have started all 25 games. He and Rhodes are the lone Dogs to have started all 12 SEC games, while Slater and Reginald Delk have opened 11.
*As the biggest man in a small lineup, Rhodes has definitely stood out both on the court and on the stat sheet. In seven games as a starting ‘center' the 6-8 sophomore has scored 114 points, or 16.3. Prior to the switch Rhodes had averaged 17.1 points as a starting PF. At either spot he has been the team's scoring leader this SEC season, and he has scored in double-digits all 12 league games and now 13-straight. As a starting center Rhodes has shot 52.3%; as a power forward he had shot just over 60%.
*After grabbing 30 total rebounds in consecutive games against Kentucky (11) and Auburn (19), Rhodes' boardwork has gotten back to more normal numbers with 22 rebounds in the last three outings. His SEC-season average remains an impressive 8.7 rebounds, and Rhodes just broke 200 career boards in his 40th Bulldog game; he has 204 now.
*Playing pivot has helped Rhodes' shot-blocking, as he has swatted 15 balls in the last nine games and now has 27 for the season, behind only 7-2 Wesley Morgan's 30. Morgan has not gotten the sort of playing time lately (29 minutes in the last five games) and hasn't blocked a shot since January 21 at Vanderbilt.
*Rounding out Rhodes' case for All-SEC consideration is his ability at the foul line. Though his accuracy on free throws in SEC play, 64.2%, isn't as good as his all-year average of 72.3%, he still ranks in the league's top-ten at the stripe…excellent for a post player.
*While his low-post partner is State's SEC-game scoring leader, Gordon retains his all-season lead with a 13.7 average. His SEC scoring average? 13.75 points, which points to the freshman's consistency all this rookie year.
*After pulling an ‘iron man' act much of this SEC season, Gordon has actually gotten something of a break lately. He played just 26 minutes against LSU and 29 minutes against Ole Miss, the first consecutive games all season the freshman hadn't played at least 30 minutes. Yet with Rhodes getting just 20 minutes in the rout of the Rebels, Gordon has regained his team lead for SEC season at 388 minutes to Rhodes' 380.
*Somewhat-diminished time hasn't cost Gordon his streak of double-digit games, which now stands at seven after scoring a team-best 17 against Mississippi. He had a seven-game streak also in November-December games, and now has scored ten or more points in 21 of 25 games. 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.
*What is most impressive about Gordon this rookie year is his boardwork. At 6-4, he is pulling down 6.6 rebounds for the year and 7.7 in SEC games. That latter stat ranks him 10th in the league (SEC stats only), with the nine ahead of him all centers or power forwards. For good measure his assist average is up to 4.8 (SEC), and Gordon has almost evened his assist/turnover ratio after a dozen league games. The balance is now 57/59.
*The weaker link in Gordon's game has been shooting, as he has been putting up too many jumpers of late with little to show for it. After going 10-of-34 in three games Gordon did hit 5-of-9 against Ole Miss, only the third time in SEC season he's hit better than 50% from the floor. Gordon is 7-of-36 from the arc in 12 league games.
*Gordon has been named SEC Freshman of the Week three times already this season, and with four games left on the schedule he and LSU's Tyrus Thomas are conceded as battling it out for league rookie of the year.
*There have only been eight foul-outs for State this season, with Rhodes and Gordon both being disqualified twice.
*Edmondson retains his team-lead in perimeter scoring with 45 treys, but Reginald Delk chopped a lot of his deficit away by hitting five longballs against Ole Miss while the senior didn't hit from the arc. Delk now has 43 treys, and 22 for SEC season. Edmondson has 21, though his spring-semester injuries have been a factor there.
*Edmondson has had problems from the free-throw line, though, and was 7-of-14 there in 11 league games before hitting both his chances last Saturday.
*The Bulldogs cannot complain about discrimination from the refs. This SEC campaign State has attempted 246 free throws, the opponents 231. The total fouls called through 12 games is 214 on State, 206 on the opposition.
*State still ranks last in the league in both turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio. After showing some progress, such as a positive ratio at South Carolina, the Dogs have fallen back into old habits with 35 giveaways and 21 assists in the last two games. Only twice all year (USC and Santa Clara) has State had more scoring passes credited than turnovers charged.
*Still the current turnover rate of 17.6 is far behind the 19.9 by the 1975-76 team. Last year's team averaged 14.8 turnovers.
*While the Dogs throw the ball away too often, the other team has been hitting too many long jumpers. State has been allowing almost seven made-treys per SEC game, and 7.4 in the month of February alone. But this isn't a case of great shooting by the other teams as much as how often they throw it up from beyond the arc. SEC foes have attempted 281 treys, or 23.4 a game, against the Bulldogs. That's just under 40% of all the shots taken against State.
*Aggravating this is State's own lack of consistency at the arc, with State shooting just 28.5% on trey-tries for 12 SEC games. But in the last two games Dog shooters have hit 13-of-33 there, or 39.3%, so maybe things are taking a turn for the better in the late season. *With so few long-time starters on the roster there are not many impressive career stats from this team. Edmondson is the scoring leader with 417 points, while Rhodes has 363 and Gordon 351. Slater's career-best 16 points against the Rebels gives him 335 in 75 games.
*Coach Rick Stansbury now has 162 wins in his eight MSU seasons. He ranks third in coaching victories at State and is now just seven behind the 169 won by Babe McCarthy from 1956-65. This will be his 250th game as head coach at MSU.