*As of today, the Bulldogs would be the #5 seed from the SEC West at the league tournament, having a tiebreak edge on Auburn by virtue of a win over Arkansas. Auburn was swept by the Razorbacks. That would put MSU up against East #4 in the first round, which as of now would be…Georgia. UG has a tiebreak for #4 having swept South Carolina. Still with three games left there is still time left for considerable shuffling on each side.
*And with the post-season picture for much of the SEC so unsettled, since a number of other clubs are hovering just above .500 going down the stretch, the Bulldogs also have almost no margin left if they hope to receive any tournament bid in March. State has played in post-season tourneys the last five years, in the NIT in 2001 and the NCAAs 2002-05.
*Though it doesn't count on any ‘record' this is State's last chance to avoid going 0-6 against the SEC East for trhe first time since Divisional play began in 1992.Georgia comes in 2-3 against the West, with home wins against Ole Miss and Alabama.
ABOUT THE (other) BULLDOGS: Their turnaround is overshadowed by what is happening in Knoxville. Yet what Georgia is doing in Dennis Felton's third season is also worth recognizing. Certainly it has affirmed UG's selection of Felton to rebuild the wreckage Jim Harrick left behind. There was inevitable second-guessing when, after going a laudable 16-14 with Harrick's remnants the first year-out, Georgia fell to 8-20 and 2-14 SEC. But realists knew Felton was starting essentially from scratch, and a year later this is a maturing ball team able to do more than just hang with anyone. These Dogs can now finish a game the right way, as they showed Thursday night by holding back South Carolina to snap a three-game losing streak. It's just the ‘how' that is still a bit hard to figure. Georgia has few numbers of note in SEC-play, ranking 9th in scoring, 11th in shooting (overall and three-point alike), and 11th again in both shooting and scoring defense. And how is a team that ranks dead-last in league rebounding staying in games? Well, Georgia takes care of the ball, and if they don't get a ton of assists they don't throw it away often either. And since UG is second in SEC steals they check in at second in turnover margin. Which means the Bulldogs wait for the other guys to make mistakes, then take advantage of it for easy points. They also keep legs fresh with a constant rotation; nobody is getting as many as 30 SEC minutes but ten guys are on the court double-digit time. The starting lineup in league season has also been variable, though three Dogs are constants. Junior Levi Stukes is the ‘old' Dog on this team and the first offensive option. He has the fourth-most treys in the league at 65 and is 7th in outside-accuracy. At the same time most of this lineup has the green light on the perimeter and four more guards have hit for 20-or-more treys. Speaking of four guards, that is usually how Georgia lines it up for tipoff. Sophs Sundiata Gaines and Channing Toney got their cleats wet last winter and are comfortable with pressure play now. And Felton recruited another trio of guards who have earned their place in the rotation. One, Mike Mercer, has even made the starting lineup more often than not and is second on team scoring, while Billy Humphrey in instant-offense whenever he hits the court with 33 treys. The postman that all these perimeter Dogs pivot around is 6-10 soph Dave Bliss, who knows his job: defend and rebound, and let others get the points. Gaines, at 6-1, does crash the boards and help the big guy out with a team-best 5.1 rebounds. He and Mercer rank 3rd and 4th in SEC steals, too. If more size is needed, soph Younes Idrissi and junior Steve Neman, a 2005 starter, will rotate in for a more physical frontcourt. Again, looking only at the numbers this is a tough group to gameplan for as no Georgian ranks in the SEC top-20 in scoring, or in the top-10 in assists. But that is actually the key to these Bulldogs. Everybody gets into this act, and as the season winds down every Dog is having more fun. And success.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
GEORGIA: G Levi Stukes, JR, 6-2 200, 12.6ppg, 3.4rpg, 65 3ptrs; G Mike Mercer, FR, 6-4 185, 11.0ppg, 3.0rpg, 26 3ptrs; G Channing Toney, SO, 6-4 205, 8.8ppg, 2.4rpg, 22 3ptrs; G Sundiata Gaines, SO, 6-1 200, 10.5ppg, 5.1rpg, 26 3ptrs; C Dave Bliss, SO, 6-10 255, 4.6ppg, 3.4rpg.
Top Reserves: G Billy Humphrey, FR, 6-2 175, 8.5ppg, 3.8rpg, 33 3 ptrs; F Younes Idrissi, SO, 6-8 225, 6.3ppg, 3.5rpg; F Steve Newman, JR, 6-9 230, 4.6ppg, 3.4rpg, 15 3 ptrsl; Terrence Woodbury, FR, 6-6 205, 5.6ppg, 2.9rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 2.5ppg, 1.6apg; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 8.5ppg, 2.0rpg, 47 3ptrs; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 13.3ppg, 7.4rpg, 27 blks; G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 10.0ppg, 4.9rpg; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.7ppg, 6.6rpg, 4.2apg.
Top Reserves: G Jamall Edmondson, SR, 5-9 190, 12.0ppg, 2.0apg, 45 3ptrs; C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 2.0ppg, 2.2rpg; PF Bernard Rimmer, FR, 6-8 195, 0.5ppg, 1.1rpg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 3.5ppg, 3.0rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 68.3ppg, UG 72.2ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –0.7, UG +1.5
Field Goal %: MSU 44.0%, UG 43.9%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 40.9%, UG 45.4%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 30.0% (140/467), UG 35.5% (176/496)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.1rpg, UG 35.2rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +4.0, UG –0.6
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.7%, UG 66.3%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.4pg, UG 18.5pg
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.7, UG 15.7
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.0, UG +2.2
THE SERIES: After 94 meetings the series literally could not be closer, as State and Georgia are tied at 47 wins apiece. The SEC's two Bulldog teams did not begin playing until 1932, and that was in the old Southern Conference tournament in Atlanta. It only became an annual series in 1949, and for three decades State held the lead. Then Georgia got serious about roundball and dominated play for a dozen years by winning 19 of 24 games. Once the league went to Divisional format State regained control to some extent, and since 1994 MSU has gone 9-6 with three-straight wins now. State is 28-14 in Starkville, though Georgia is 7-2 in SEC Tournament meetings. Rick Stansbury is 4-4 against Georgia, while Dennis Felton is 0-3 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: It looks as if there will be another lineup change for the Bulldogs. In Wednesday's game at Auburn senior guard Jamall Edmondson started and played 25 minutes but went scoreless. He also aggravated that season-long groin strain and as of Friday was doubtful for the game. The tentative lineup for Georgia would have freshman Richard Delk replacing Edmondson at the point. Delk has not started since the January 7 home game with Arkansas, State's SEC-opener.
*If that lineup-change takes place, it would put a ninth different grouping taking court for tipoff this season. Richard Delk has started four games this season, but not teamed with twin brother G Reginald Delk, G/F Jamont Gordon, G/F Dietric Slater, and F/C Charles Rhodes. All of Richard Delk's starts came with C Wesley Morgan in the post and Rhodes at power forward. In fact, that team (with Reginald Delk and Gordon) is the lone starting group that hasn't lost a game; they were 4-0 together, with one SEC win.
*An 0-fer night at Auburn by Edmondson let Reginald Delk regain the team three-point race. Delk hit four treys Wednesday, giving him 47 for the season, while Edmondson is at 45. Delk has hit 26 of his treys in SEC season, Edmondson 21, though the senior's health issues have cost him chances this semester.
*Reginald Delk has also set a MSU record already, for the most treys by a true Bulldog freshman. The mark had been held by Tony Watts with 30 treys as a 1988-89 rookie.
*Ten Bulldogs have started at least one game this winter, in those nine combinations. Freshman Gordon is the only Bulldog to have started all 26 games; he and Rhodes are the lone Dogs to have started all 13 SEC games, while Slater and Reginald Delk have opened a dozen each, all the same games.
*Forced to play pivot instead of his natural big-forward position, Rhodes has still put together a fine sophomore season and earned All-SEC nomination. In his eight games at center Rhodes has scored 131 points, a 16.4 average. He had averaged 17.1 in SEC play as the starting PF. At either spot he has been the team scoring leader in league season and put up double-digits all 13 games.
*After a couple of rough outings Rhodes has also come on strong with his shooting. He made 5-of-7 in just 20 minutes in the win over Ole Miss, and at Auburn he hit 7-of-9 attempts. Rhodes raised his SEC-accuracy to 57.3% in the process. In the games he played center he was shooting over 60%.
*With 11 rebounds at Auburn, Rhodes posted his fourth double-double of the season. In the previous three games he had grabbed ‘only' 22 boards, but that was low only compared to outstanding efforts against Kentucky (11) and at home against Auburn (19). He is averaging 8.8 rebounds in SEC play, and now has 215 boards in 41 college games.
*After blocking 15 shots in an eight-game stretch, Rhodes hasn't had a shot to swat his last two games. He still has 27 for the year, behind only Morgan's 30. Morgan hasn't blocked a ball 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, 64.9%, isn't as good as his all-year average of 72.4%, he still ranks in the league's top-ten at the stripe…excellent for a post player.
*Rhodes is also closing in on the team's all-season scoring lead. At 13.3 he is not too far behind Gordon's 13.7.
*That pair is also battling for the team-lead in playing time in SEC season. Gordon has chalked up 424 minutes in 13 league games, Rhodes 415. Gordon has played 30 or more minutes in 21 games this season, most on the team.
*With 847 minutes for the season, Gordon still has a shot at the school rookie-year record of 968 minutes set by Jeff Norwood in 1982.
*Gordon has now scored double-digits in eight-straight games, his longest such stretch of the season, in 22 of 26 contests this season and in all but one SEC game. 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. He'll have to hold off Rhodes though to be the first MSU rookie to lead the team offensively since Rickey Brown in 1976-77.
*What might be most impressive about Gordon this rookie year is his boardwork. At 6-4, he is pulling down 6.6 rebounds for the year and 7.6 in SEC games. For good measure his assist average is up to 4.9 (SEC). Turnovers remain a problem, though, as he had 10 giveaways against Auburn against seven assists. His balance for SEC season is 64 assists, 69 turnovers.
*A weaker link in Gordon's game has been shooting, as he has been putting up too many perimeter jumpers with little to show for it. He was 1-of-7 at the arc at Auburn, making him 8-of-43 (19%) in SEC play. On all attempts from the floor Gordon is just over 40%.
*Gordon has been named SEC Freshman of the Week three times already this season. He and LSU forward Tyrus Thomas are conceded as battling it out for league rookie of the year, with Alabama center Richard Hendrix a dark-horse candidate.
*There have only been nine foul-outs for State this season. Rhodes, Gordon, and Slater have all been disqualified twice.
*The Bulldogs cannot complain about discrimination from SEC refs. Through 13 games State has attempted 256 free throws, and the opponents 256. The total fouls called is 234 on State, 220 on the opposition, and since MSU has usually trailed at the end of contests that is still essentially an even tally.
*State continues to bring up the rear 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 57 giveaways and 37 assists in the last three games. Only twice all year (USC and Santa Clara) has State had more scoring passes credited than turnovers charged.
*While the Dogs throw the ball away too often, the other team has been hitting too many long jumpers. State has been allowing seven made-treys per SEC game. 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 306 treys, or 23.5 a game, against the Bulldogs. That's roughly 40% of all the shots taken against State.
*Aggravating this is State's own lack of consistency at the arc, with State shooting under 29% on trey-tries for their SEC games. And after making 13-of-33 in consecutive outings, the Dogs fell back to 6-of-21 accuracy at Auburn.
*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 380 and Gordon 364.
*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. Wednesday night marked his 250th game as head coach at MSU.