*State is 5-2 in Stansbury Senior Days, but lost last year's home finale…to Alabama.
*With one game left in SEC season seedings for next week's league tournament are still unsettled in the bottom-half of both brackets. In the Western Division, there is a three-way tie between State, Auburn, and Ole Miss. If the trio remain deadlocked after Saturday, Auburn comes out best in the tiebreak on the strength of a 3-1 record in games among the three teams and will be the #4 West seed; State would be #5 at 2-2 and Ole Miss #6 at 1-3. If State and Auburn both win and Ole Miss loses, the Bulldogs will be #4 seed with a better Division record. If Auburn loses and State and Ole Miss wins at LSU, the Rebels earn the #4 seed by having beaten the highest seed (LSU), MSU will be #5 and Auburn #6.
*Barring a most unexpected run in the SEC Tournament, State's only post-season possibility is the NIT. Bulldog teams have played in post-season affairs five consecutive seasons, a school-record, and the run started with the 2001 NIT followed by four NCAA trips. Even with new criteria for the NIT, which is under NCAA management now, it will take at least a .500 record for State to merit a bid, which makes this regular-season finale almost a must.
*State's streak of winning seasons is also endangered. The Bulldogs have posted winning campaigns for the last five years, something not done since 1928. And the all-time record string of four 20-win seasons is likely to end soon.
ABOUT THE CRIMSON TIDE: They won't defend their co-Division title, but this SEC season has been almost as great a triumph for Alabama. It's almost overlooked now that yes, the Crimson Tide did indeed lose their best player on SEC-opening day. Yet UA has overcome Chuck Davis' absence, stayed right in the thick of the West fight down to the end, and with quality over LSU, Tennessee, and Florida all but locked up the NCAA bid that had been in question. They are also assured of a first-round bye next week in Nashville, owning the tiebreak over Arkansas, and a day-off will obviously be welcomed. Some SEC clubs favor a seven-man rotation; Alabama has no choice after injury and departure slashed the available roster. But it's a lucky seven, too, as well as a darned impressive collection of frontcourt talent with just enough guard bodies to bounce the ball. In fact Ron Steele has been enough of a backcourt on his own. The soph point guard might be setting some sort of iron-man mark as he not only ranks first in SEC minutes-played, but his 605 in 15 contests is an entire regulation game more than number-two on the list. If Steele is strained it isn't showing as he still contributes 14 points, four assists, has made himself a reliable perimeter popper with 45 treys, and still makes 91% of his free throws in SEC action. Frosh Brandon Hollinger has been forced into more action than planned and offers Steele what ball-handling help he needs. Of course a front line like this makes guard-life much easier anyway, even without Davis. His absence only opened up more opportunity for junior Jermareo Davidson to take the leading role and he's delivered, impressively. Davidson can post for his points but is even better facing the basket and attacking. And he has that option because frosh Richard Hendrix has lived up to his prep reputation. He's got the bulk but also the moves, and between them these two Tiders have blocked 99 balls already. As to rebounding, Hendrix is second in SEC games and Davidson fourth on the league's #2 boarding bunch. Senior Evan Brock doesn't get the stats but certainly fills the need inside, as part of a front wall on an outstanding defensive squad. They rank 4th in scoring and 2nd in shooting for SEC-only stats. Alabama's offense is only middling by SEC standards, but it's become a more productive team than realized. Such as outside shooting, where not only has Steele exceeded expectations but senior Jean Felix has been instant scoring off the bench. He runs hot-and-cold, but when heated up Felix can drain it from all around the arc. Still this is and remains a baseline bunch, as only LSU has taken fewer trey-tries. And by contrast no team sees more longballs lofted over them than the Tide, with 333 fired up in 15 league games (State has been shot at 318 times). Alabama also has a few issues taking care of the ball with a turnover margin ranking 11th in the league…a figure only the Bulldogs can envy. But the bottom line is this short-handed team keeps coming up big. And while tourney time might be a different sort of test for a Tide team with no depth, after all this squad has overcome it would be foolish to count on Alabama wearing down easily. Or at all.
PROBABLE STARTING LINEUPS
ALABAMA: G Ronald Steele, SO, SO, 6-2 185, 14.1ppg, 4.0apg, 45 3ptrs; G Brandon Hollinger, FR, 5-9 160, 2.5ppg, 1.2rpg; F Jermareo Davidson, JR, 6-10 215, 14.0ppg, 8.9rpg, 54 blks; F Richard Hendrix, FR, FR, 6-7 265, 9.5ppg, 8.0rpg, 45 blks; F Evan Brock, SR, 6-9 205, 4.0ppg, 2.8rpg.
Top Reserves: F Jean Felix, SR, 6-7 205, 8.4ppg, 3.2rpg, 45 3ptrs; F Alonzo Gee, FR, 6-5 210, 8.1ppg, 3.2rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 3.2ppg, 1.9apg; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 8.9ppg, 2.0rpg, 55 3ptrs; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 13.9ppg, 7.3rpg, 31 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.8ppg, 6.6rpg, 4.2apg; PF Bernard Rimmer, FR, 6-8 195, 0.6ppg, 1.5rpg.
Top Reserves: C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2 , 4.1ppg, 5.4rpg, 29 blks; PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 3.4ppg, 2.8rpg; G Michael Boler, SR, 6-5 190, 1.0ppg, 1.4rpg; C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 2.0ppg, 2.1rpg.
BY THE NUMBERS:
Average Points: MSU 68.9ppg, ALA 70.7ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –0.5, ALA +3.8
Field Goal %: MSU 44.5%, ALA 45.9%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 41.0%, ALA 41.8%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 155-501, ALA 149-437
Rebounding Average: MSU 39.3rpg, ALA 36.7rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +4.4, ALA +4.1
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.5%, ALA 71.1%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 21.0, ALA 22.3
Average Turnovers: MSU 17.6, ALA 13.4
Turnover Margin: MSU –3.3, ALA –1.5
THE SERIES: The SEC's nearest neighbors have met 174 times over 93 years, and Alabama owns a 109-65 lead after taking the first round of the in-season series. In fact State has more losses to Alabama than any other program. The Bulldogs own a 50-34 lead in Starkville, but only a 16-14 edge in games played in Humphrey Coliseum. Alabama is 6-2 in meetings at SEC Tournaments. Both coaches have been running their programs for eight years now, and Mark Gottfried now has a 9-8 lead on Rick Stansbury.
BULLDOG NOTES: After a season with constant lineup changes and adjustments, it's only fitting that State make one last starting-shuffle for the final game on the regular schedule. A forced change, too, as G/F Dietric Slater injured a knee early in the Arkansas game and out. Slater had started 13-straight games and 18 for the season. The late-season injury was all the more frustrating as the junior was playing the best ball of his career, having scored double-digits in six games including a career-best 22 against Georgia. He was not only averaging 14.3 points in this stretch but 8.0 rebounds.
*Without Slater now, and with PG Jamall Edmondson expected to miss a third-straight game with both illness and a groin strain, State will likely have to get away from the four-guard, one-big forward lineup used most of the last six weeks. In the LSU game, when Edmondson was also sidelined, State went with a more balanced set that had freshman Bernard Rimmer at big forward alongside starting F/C Charles Rhodes. State could just as likely open with veteran Piotr Stelmach at that PF spot in place of Rimmer; or give senior Wesley Morgan a start as a true center.
*A day before the game, the health status of freshman C Vernon Goodridge is also uncertain. Goodridge has missed two games with illness.
*But two starting jobs are set, barring illness or injury of course. Rhodes will open on the baseline and Jamont Gordon…everywhere. Gordon, the only Dog to start all 28 games, has again taken over as primary point guard in Edmondson's absence. Yet he crashes the boards as much as he passes the ball, and in the first meeting with Alabama the MSU offense improved once Gordon moved into the lane. Gordon and Rhodes are the only Dogs to have started all 15 SEC games.
*Meanwhile the other guard jobs have been assigned to the Delk twins, Richard and Reginald. The latter has started 14 SEC games and after a month of struggles offensively the true freshman is back on his game. He scored 16 points in consecutive games with Mississippi and Auburn, and Wednesday night Reginald lit up Arkansas with a season-best 27 points. He hit seven three-point goals that night, one shy of tying the school record. Brother Richard regained a starting job for the Georgia game, his first tipoff since January 7, and responded with a season-best 13 points along with eight rebounds and five assists. He had seven points in 35 minutes at Arkansas.
*His hot night against the Hogs, and Edmondson's health, mean Reginald Delk will claim the team's three-point title. He now has 55 treys, to Edmondson's 45. And 34 of his longballs have fallen in SEC games, where Reginald is shooting 41% from the arc now. Delk set the MSU freshman record for threes weeks ago, surpassing the 30 by Tony Watts as a 1988-89 rookie. In fact, Delk is just two treys shy of the 57 Shane Power hit to lead last year's team.
*Closer to the goal State's big scorer is Rhodes, who has just taken over the team lead from Gordon with a 13.9 average for the season. But his efforts in SEC season have been even better, with a 17.4-point average. And while Rhodes has muscled for 7.3 rebounds over the course of the whole schedule, in league play he has hit the boards at a 8.5 clip. He has scored in double-figures every SEC game this season.
*And Rhodes has done it playing somewhat out of his best position. In five SEC starts at power forward he shot just over 60%; and after a couple of weeks adjusting to back-to-the-basket play, in ten games at center he is now up to 69-of-117 accuracy or 59%.
*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 and three more at Arkansas, giving him 31 for the year. That also gave Rhodes the team lead, passing the 30 by Morgan who got all his 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 72.8%, he still ranks in the league's top-ten at the stripe…excellent for a post player.
*Now at 13.8 points Gordon still has his shots at becoming 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 ten games, and in 25 of 28 games this season. And his production has been remarkably consistent all year. His season scoring average is 13.75, his SEC average 13.87.
*Gordon is having to take his shots to score those points, with a 41.0% average for the year and 40.4% rate in league play. Where the rookie struggles is from long range; he is shooting just 12-of-52 or 23% at the arc in SEC season.
*Much more impressive is Gordon's work on the boards against SEC opposition. He's pulling down 7.6 rebounds per league game, compared to 6.6 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 76/81. Gordon is still the SEC leader by a wide margin in total turnovers, with 130.
*With 916 minutes for the season, and at least two games (80 possible minutes) left Gordon has a good 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.
*There have only been ten foul-outs for State this season. Rhodes, Gordon, and Slater have all been disqualified twice.
*Through 15 SEC games State has attempted 286 free throws, and the opponents 294. The total fouls called is 268 on State, 257 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. Still there are some signs of improvement, as in the last two games MSU had balanced it out with 31 of each. In fact at Arkansas the Dogs had 15 assists and 12 turnovers, only the third time all year State has posted a positive ratio along with South Carolina and Santa Clara.
*The Bulldogs are too-used to seeing opponents taking and making long jumpshots. State is being hit for 7.6 treys per SEC game, and while the opposing accuracy is not great the other teams put up over 21 trey-tries per contest. That's roughly 40% of all attempts from the field against State.
*This tendency is compounded by State's own problems with outside shooting, which is just 30.5% for SEC season. Even that is somewhat misleading, as take away Reginald Delk's contributions and it falls to 27.7%.
*With Edmondson (417 points) out the last three games, Rhodes has just become the roster's leader in career points with 421, in 43 college games. Rhodes is also first in career rebounds at 228. Gordon how has 394 points in his first 28 college 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 #2 Babe McCarthy from 1956-65.