*While extending the four-year streak of 20-win seasons looks unlikely, these Bulldogs can still record a sixth-straight winning season. That has not happened at MSU since 1928.
*Starting this week, State is the #5 seed from the Western Division in next week's SEC Tournament. MSU, Auburn, and Ole Miss are all 4-10, but Auburn has a 3-1 record in this three-way mix and gets the #4 seed. State edges out the Rebels by having split with Auburn. However, all league teams have two games left and the bottom half of the West standings could flip entirely by Saturday evening.
*State is 3-5 in the West and needs to sweep the last week (Arkansas, Alabama) to break even in the loop. By beating Georgia last Saturday the MSU Bulldogs avoided a winless record against the East, which has never happened to State since Divisional play began in 1992.
ABOUT THE RAZORBACKS: Unquestionably the hottest (Hog-est?) squad in the conference, the Razorbacks are on a run. By knocking off Florida and Alabama at home, and then taking Tennessee on the road, Arkansas has not only muscled back into the ranks of SEC contenders. They have all but secured the program's first NCAA berth since 2001. That was also the last time the ‘Backs won 20 games, a mark this team shoots for Wednesday night at MSU's expense. There isn't much mystery to why the 2006 team is getting it done; the question in Fayetteville is why these talented guys haven't won more, sooner. But better late than never, and for a trio of backcourt veterans success is coming just in time. Certainly great things have been expected since 2002-03 rookies Jonathan Modica and Eric Ferguson were joined by Ronnie Brewer a year later. These three have always been able to shoot and score, now they have developed the right kind of support both at the point and on the baseline to put a complete package on the floor. Take Dontell Jefferson, who had a decent transfer-year off the bench last winter. Now a senior he's become the point guard Arkansas needs, distributing the ball among those shooters for almost five assists per outing. Or look closer to the goal where either—or both—Darian Townes and Charles Thomas have blossomed in their sophomore seasons at power forward. Townes is the bigger body and has a couple more starts, thus slightly more numbers to show for his season. He's also the shot-blocker of the pair, but for all intents the two are interchangeable…and almost equally productive at each end of the court. Thomas is also quite agile for 245 pounds and able to create his own shots as needed. And while nobody can call 7-0 Steven Hill agile, he does provide an intimidating shot-blocking presence with 78 swats in 27 games. But of course this team is built to make the most of the talents that backcourt bunch provides. Brewer is having an All-SEC season, battling for the league scoring title, and boosting his draft stock nightly. At 6-7 he is a nightmare matchup, able to shoot unchallenged over most off-guards and too quick for forwards to check. The best defense is to keep him and the ball separated. It's a good theory, except it means the 6-5 Modica is usually left to a lesser defender's attention. The senior isn't far behind Brewer in scoring average and actually has more treys, 46 to 43. And it's almost unfair to have a senior of Ferguson's experience and ability coming off the bench. Between them these three have made 121 three-balls, and there's a lot of season left. For a team relying essentially on seven players, the Hogs still have the legs to play good, tight defense for the entire game. If there is a weak point to this lineup it's modest overall rebounding, but Arkansas makes up for it by taking care of the ball and keeping the pressure on the other side. Perhaps lack of a sure-thing inside threat might haunt the Hogs once tournament time begins. But that's beside the point, which is that Arkansas is going dancing again. And anyone that lets the ‘Backs call the tune will get left behind.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
ARKANSAS: G Ronnie Brewer, JR, 6-7 217, 18.2ppg, 4.7rpg, 43 3ptrs; G Jonathan Modica, SR, 6-5 205, 15.5ppg, 4.3rpg, 46 3ptrs; G Dontell Jefferson, SR, 6-5 181, 3.8ppg, 4.9apg, 6 3ptrs; C Steven Hill, SO, 7-0 250, 3.2ppg, 3.6rpg, 78 blks; F Darian Townes, SO, 6-10 255, 10.4ppg, 5.6rpg, 48 blks.
Top Reserves: F Charles Thomas, SO, 6-8 245, 9.3ppg, 4.6rpg; G Eric Ferguson, SR, 6-1 200, 7.9ppg, 2.3rpg, 32 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 3.1ppg, 1.8apg; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 8.3ppg, 2.0rpg, 48 3ptrs; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 13.8ppg, 7.4rpg, 28 blks; G Dietric Slater, JR, 6-3 200, 10.5ppg, 5.1rpg; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.6ppg, 6.8rpg, 4.1apg.
Top Reserves: C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 2.0ppg, 2.1rpg; PF Bernard Rimmer, FR, 6-8 195, 0.6ppg, 1.2rpg; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 3.4ppg, 2.9rpg; G Michael Boler, SR, 6-5 190, 1.1ppg, 1.4rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 68.8ppg, ARK 74.0ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –0.1, ARK +9.3
Field Goal %: MSU 44.5%, ARK 46.2%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 40.7%, ARK 41.5%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 29.9% (143/479), ARK 33.9% (150/443)
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.4rpg, ARK 34.9rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +39.4rpg, ARK +0.3
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.7%, ARK 68.8%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.6, ARK 23.0
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.8, ARK 13.9
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.3, ARK +3.0
THE SERIES: The Bulldogs own the recent winning streak, but Arkansas still has the overall edge in a series dating back to 1952 at 22-17. The schools nine times before UA joined the SEC, but it's been since 1992 that the series has meant something. After years of swapping wins home-and-home, the Razorbacks ran off seven-straight in 1998-2000 and built their lead. Since mid-2002 the Bulldogs have chopped away much of the margin, winning the last five games and seven of the last eight. That includes wins at Fayetteville in 2004 and '05, where MSU's only other success was back in 1971. Arkansas still has a hefty 13-3 advantage at home, as well as a win in the only time the teams met in a SEC Tournament, in 1999 at Atlanta. Rick Stansbury has a 8-8 record against Arkansas, while Stan Heath is 1-6 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: Mississippi State's ninth starting lineup of the season is off to a good, well, start, having beaten Georgia in its Saturday debut. For that game freshman Richard Delk replaced senior Jamall Edmondson at one guard position, as Edmondson was both injured after aggravating a season-long groin problem, and ill. Edmondson had also gone scoreless in 25 minutes at Auburn. His status the rest of the season is questionable. It was Delk's first start since January 7, at home against Arkansas, and he scored 13 points with eight rebounds and five assists—all season-highs.
*This latest lineup has the Delk twins, Richard and Reginald, essentially as matching off-guards with G/F Jamont Gordon back running the point on offense while playing closer to the baseline on the defensive end. Junior Dietric Slater is Gordon's counterpart as another ‘big' guard playing almost as much at forward. It is still a ‘small' lineup, with PF Charles Rhodes playing in the pivot; but it's a bit taller with the 6-4 Delk replacing the 5-9 Edmondson.
*Ten Bulldogs have started at least one game this winter, in those nine combinations. Freshman Gordon is the only Bulldog to have started all 27 games; he and Rhodes are the lone Dogs to have started all 14 SEC games, while Slater and Reginald Delk have opened 13 each, all the same games.
*With Edmondson sidelined Reginald Delk should extend his current team-lead in three-point baskets. Delk hit one trey against Georgia, giving him 48 for the season where Edmondson has 45. Delk has made 27 of his treys in SEC games, and is shooting 37.5% at the arc in league games.
*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 threes as a 1988-89 rookie.
*While playing center instead of his natural big-forward position, Rhodes has still put together a fine sophomore season and earned All-SEC nomination. In his nine games at center Rhodes has scored 158 points, a 17.6 average. Before moving into the middle Rhodes had averaged 17.1 in five SEC starts. At either spot he has been the team scoring leader in league season and put up double-digits all 14 games.
*By scoring a career-best 27 points against Georgia, Rhodes has also just taken over the team scoring lead from Gordon. The soph is now netting 13.8 points for his 26 games, Gordon 13.6 for 27 games. Gordon had been first in team scoring since late November, though Rhodes had been the top scorer all SEC season.
*Now Gordon will have to pick up his pace if he hopes to be the first freshman to lead MSU in scoring since Rickey Brown in 1976-77. Brown also set the rookie scoring record at 19.3 points. Gordon is still safely on-pace to become the first freshman perimeter player at State to average double-digits since Jeff Malone in 1980, at 11.9 points. Gordon has scored double-figures in the last nine games, and in 24 of 27 games this season.
*And talk about consistency, Gordon is averaging 13.6 points for the season, and 13.6 for SEC season as well. His overall/SEC shooting is just about equal also, though his three-point accuracy in league play is just 20% and 25% for the season as a whole. More impressive is Gordon's work on the boards against SEC opposition. He's pulling down 7.9 rebounds per league game, compared to 6.8 for all-year. And while turnovers remain a weak link in his game, for a guy playing obviously out-of-position Gordon has improved his assist/turnover ratio lately. His balance for SEC season is 69/74. Gordon is still the SEC leader by a wide margin in total turnovers, with 123.
*With 882 minutes for the season, and at least three games (120 possible minutes) left Gordon has a shot at the school rookie-year record of 968 minutes set by Jeff Norwood in 1982.
*Gordon has been named SEC Freshman of the Week three times already this season. He and LSU forward Tyrus Thomas, and Alabama center Richard Hendrix are the most-mentioned candidates for Freshman of the Year.
*Rhodes had a couple of rough outings as far as his shooting, but for the last three games the soph has been nigh-unstoppable. He was 5-of-7 against Ole Miss, then 7-of-9 at Auburn. Now a 11-of-15 effort against Georgia has pushed his field-goal accuracy to 56.7% for the season, and 58.8% for SEC season.
*Even on off-nights Rhodes gets his points, and he has scored double-digits in 15-straight games. He has ‘only' four ‘double-doubles' for the year but that is hardly a reflection on his presence in the paint. Since the Kentucky game Rhodes has snared 71 rebounds in seven contests, increasing his SEC-average to 8.8 and his season average to 7.4.
*In an eight-game stretch Rhodes had 15 blocks, then he went two games without any. He came back with as solo swat against Georgia, giving him 28 for the year. That's two behind center Wesley Morgan, who got all his 30 blocks in the first 18 games.
*Rounding out Rhodes' case for All-SEC consideration is his ability at the foul line. Though his accuracy on free throws in SEC play, 66.3%, isn't as good as his all-year average of 73.0%, he still ranks in the league's top-ten at the stripe…excellent for a post player.
*There have only been ten 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 14 games State has attempted 281 free throws, and the opponents 271. The total fouls called is 250 on State, 242 on the opposition.
*Mississippi State is running away with the SEC ‘title' in the two least-desired categories, of turnover margin and assist/turnover ratio. The Dogs did show some progress in mid-February but have fallen back into old habits and have been credited/charged with 53 assists and 76 giveaways in the last four games. Only twice all year (USC and Santa Clara) has State had more scoring passes credited than turnovers charged.
*For a comparison, in SEC play Tennessee has a turnover margin of +4.8, while State is a –4.7.
*Those lost chances take a toll on MSU's offense, which is aggravated by opposing prowess at hitting long jumpers. The Bulldogs are allowing seven made-treys per SEC game, and this is aggravated by States's problems at the arc. Only LSU has made fewer treys in league games than State's 68. Meanwhile opponents are taking over 24 shots from long-range per-game, or put another way roughly 40% of all attempts against MSU come from outside the arc.
*Aggravating this is State's own lack of consistency at the arc, with State shooting just 28% on trey-tries for their SEC games. And after making 13-of-33 in consecutive outings, the Dogs fell back to 9-of-33 accuracy in the last two games.
*Edmondson is still the roster's leader in career points with 417, but Rhodes is coming on fast and now has 407 after 42 games. He also has 223 rebounds as a collegian, tops on this roster. Gordon has 377 points in just 27 games.
*Coach Rick Stansbury now has 163 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.