*There should be a sense of déjà vu to this first-round matchup. The last time the SEC Tournament was played in the Gaylord Center, in 2001, State lost to South Carolina 69-62 on the opening day.
*Perhaps that item is somewhat encouraging, as while those Dogs fell in the first SECT round they also earned a NIT bid three days later. And Mississippi State is playing this week for a berth in the ‘other' tourney, since the only chance to return to the NCAAs for a fifth-straight year would be to win the league tournament and earn the automatic berth. That 2001 NIT bid began a string of five years playing in the postseason, an ongoing program record this squad likely must win at least once in Nashville to extend.
*The Bulldogs also need another victory to post a sixth-straight winning season, which has not happened at MSU since 1928. However, the current record-streak of four 20-win seasons in a row is a much taller challenge and depends entirely on first scoring a postseason bid.
ABOUT THE GAMECOCKS: With four starters back from a 15-win regular season team that slipped into the 2005 NIT and promptly won the whole darn thing, expectations were obviously higher in Dave Odom's fifth season. Instead these Gamecocks finished the '06 schedule with the same record as last year and actually lost two games' worth of SEC ground. Of course USC can still win their way back into the NIT, but this might not satisfy those who wonder about decreasing results since the 2004 team made the NCAAs. And while the Gamecocks did end this schedule with a road win they also lost the previous four games and don't bring much momentum to Nashville…if that matters in tourney time. Certainly the Bulldogs know what SC is capable of after being routed in Columbia; the question is why this team didn't play that well more often with a good mix of size and skill, better depth than many league teams, and more experience than most in a relatively youthful SEC. Yet only Georgia had fewer road SEC wins, or road wins period, in the East. This squad ought to have done better based on the backcourt talent alone. Senior Tarence Kinsey is as potent a point-producer as any big guard in the league, with 57 treys, and his season scoring average is almost the same as what he notched in SEC competition. Not only that, but Kinsey is a force on the other end with almost five rebounds and 38 steals. Junior Tre' Kelly, who shredded State from the arc a month ago, is a fine complement to his taller teammate, second only to Florida's Taurean Green in SEC-assists average at 5.2 per league game. And he scored nearly 12 points every SEC contest. The duo is also almost always on the court, ranking 4th and 9th respectively in average minutes over 16 league games. And don't foul them at crunch time, either, especially Kinsey with his free-throw accuracy. The Gamecocks notch over seven treys per SEC outing, with forward Dwayne Day (29) and guard Rocky Trice (18 more) contributing either off the bench or as starters when USC goes with a smaller lineup. But if Odom wanted to play big, he could line up a frontcourt to compare capably to most anyone. Junior Brandon Wallace might not be the bulkiest pivot around but he's a presence inside, having blocked 45 shots while providing steady points and plenty of rebounds. He can be paired in the paint either with 6-8 forward Renaldo Balkman, a good scorer and shot-swatter himself, or with bruising Antoine Tisby. For that matter any combo of those three can get it done around the goal. What South Carolina was best at this SEC season was defense, ranking second in points allowed. The Gamecocks also take care of the ball reasonably well and manage to create a good quota of turnovers. At the same time it's a team with modest margin for defensive error because SC is just 10th in SEC scoring and 8th in overall shooting. They also tend to give up a lot of long shots, something State can empathize with. Whether the Dogs can take advantage, now, that could settle which team advances to the second round…and makes a better case to the NIT.
POSSIBLE LINEUPS (All-season Stats):
SOUTH CAROLINA: G Tre' Kelley, JR, 6-1 185, 11.6 ppg, 4.3apg, 49 3ptrs; G Tarence Kinsey, SR, 6-6 190, 15.5ppg, 4.8rpg, 57 3ptrs, 38 stls; C Brandon Wallace, JR, 6-10 200, 7.5ppg, 6.2rpg, 45 blks; F Renaldo Balkman, JR, 6-8 215, 9.5ppg, 5.9rpg, 34 blks; F Dwayne Day, SO, 6-6 190, 5.5ppg, 2.3rpg, 29 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: C Antoine Tisby, SR, 6-8 235, 5.4ppg, 2.9rpg, 21 blks; G/F Rocky Trice, SR, 6-3 170, 7.1ppg, 3.1rpg, 18 3ptrs; F Bryce Sheldon, JR, 6-5 200, 3.9ppg, 0.5rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G Richard Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 3.5ppg, 2.0apg; 2G Reginald Delk, FR, 6-4 170, 9.0ppg, 2.1rpg, 57 3ptrs; C Wesley Morgan, SR, 7-2, 4.3ppg, 5.3rpg, 30 blks; PF Charles Rhodes, SO 6-8 240, 13.9ppg, 7.3rpg, 32 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, FR, 6-4 225, 13.9ppg, 6.6rpg, 4.3apg; Top Reserves: PF Piotr Stelmach, JR, 6-9 240, 3.5ppg, 3.0rpg; G Michael Boler, SR, 6-5 190, 1.2ppg, 1.3rpg; C Vernon Goodridge, FR, 6-9 220, 1.9ppg, 2.0rpg; PF Bernard Rimmer, FR, 6-8 195, 0.5ppg, 1.6rpg BY THE NUMBERS (SEC-season Stats Only):
Average Points: MSU 66.4ppg, SC 65.4ppg
Scoring Margin: MSU –5.2, SC –1.0
Field Goal %: MSU 43.7%, SC 43.9%
Field Goal Defense: MSU 43.7%, SC 46.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 31.6% (89/282), SC 34.1% (117/343)
Rebounding Average: MSU 37.8rpg, SC 32.3rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +3.3, SC +1.1
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 59.9%, SC 69.0%
Free Throws Att. Per SEC Game: MSU 18.4pg, SC 14.3pg
Average Turnovers: MSU 16.8pg, SC 12.5pg
Turnover Margin: MSU –4.3, SC +0.1
THE SERIES: This is a series only as old as the SEC's Divisional format, as the teams did not meet until 1992. State won the first four games and that is still the difference after 14 years, with MSU holding a 10-6 lead. The Bulldogs had a four-year winning streak going until this February when the Gamecocks won in Columbia. The teams have met once in SEC Tournament play, in 2001, with South Carolina winning 69-62 in Nashville. Rick Stansbury has a 6-3 record against S.C., while Dave Odom is 1-4 against State.
THE LAST TIME: These teams met on February 11 this season with South Carolina blowing the Bulldogs out 83-61 in Columbia. Guard Tre' Kelly scored 16 of his 22 points in the first half and finished with six three-point goals in the rout, while guard Tarence Kinsey added 15 points. State did play well at first and even led after ten minutes, 19-15, before the Gamecocks went on a torrid shooting tear to take control by halftime, 43-27. Center Brandon Wallace scored 11 points with seven rebounds and S.C. won the battle of the boards 34-30. The Gamecock bench scored 21 points while Bulldog backups contributed exactly zero points. Charles Rhodes led State with 18 points and eight rebounds; big guard Jamont Gordon added 13 points with eight rebounds also, while guards Dietric Slater had 12 points and Reginald Delk 10.
SECOND ROUND: If the Bulldogs win Thursday, they earn a rematch with East champion Tennessee. The Volunteers took a 88-65 victory in Starkville on January 25, bolting to a 44-29 halftime lead and handing State it's worst homecourt defeat since 1997-98.
BULLDOG NOTES: Coach Rick Stansbury now has 164 wins in his eight MSU seasons. He ranks third in coaching victories at State and is now just five behind the 169 won by #2 Babe McCarthy from 1956-65.
*Stansbury has a 8-6 record in SEC Tournament play. Prior to his tenure, State was a total 7-19 in the modern league tourney which began in 1979.
*State is 0-3 in SEC Tournaments played in Nashville, 0-1 in the Gaylord Center (2001). Previous losses were both on the Vanderbilt campus in both 1984 (Georgia) and 1991 (Tennessee).
*What five Dogs will take tipoff this week? It's a reasonable question since Mississippi State has used ten differing lineups this season. The most recent, and unbeaten in one start, had seniors Wesley Morgan and Michael Boler at center and small forward for the Alabama game. Of course that was Senior Day at State, too, but with a 1-0 record it might be worth a second start. With junior G/F Dietric Slater out for this week with a knee injury, the MSU staff has to choose between a ‘small' lineup of four guard-type players around F/C Charles Rhodes; or a more traditional set with a true C such as Morgan in the post. If State does go with the four-guard lineup, Richard Delk would likely join his twin brother Reginald in the backcourt with Gordon and Boler. Although, there is a chance senior PG Jamall Edmondson could be available by the end of the week after missing two whole games and all but ten seconds of a fourth with illness and injury.
*Should State earn a post-season bid, Slater has a good chance of being cleared to play by then.
*State does expect to have freshman C/F Vernon Goodridge fully-available this game, after missing one game with illness and almost all of another after lost practice time.
*With all the options, three starting jobs are now secure. Sophomore Rhodes will open on the frontline as either the big forward or center; Gordon will start in his all-around role as ‘point forward', and Reginald Delk at wing guard. Gordon is the only Dog to have started all 29 games, and he and Rhodes started all 16 SEC games.
*Gordon not only has started every game, he is far-and-away the team leader in minutes with 953 this season. That puts the freshman only 15 minutes short of tying the rookie-year record of 968 set by Jeff Norwood in 1982. Gordon played 530 minutes in SEC season, or 83% of the possible court time. Rhodes put in 514 SEC minutes.
*The official season record for minutes on court belongs to Daryl Wilson with 1,244 in 1995-96, in 34 games, an average of 36.6 minutes. Gordon is averaging 32.9 minutes.
*Another MSU freshman has already set a rookie-year record. Reginald Delk's 57 three-point baskets blows away the previous freshman season record of 30 set by Tony Watts in 1988-89. In fact, Delk is about to post a top-ten season for treys by Dogs of any class. He already has as many threeballs as last year's leader, Shane Power. Reginald finished one trey short of tying the school game record when he hit seven last week at Arkansas.
*Meanwhile, the season scoring race is almost a dead heat. Rhodes is averaging 13.93 points for the year, Gordon 13.86. For SEC season, though, it was no contest. Rhodes scored 17.3 in league play, Gordon 14.1—remarkably consistent with his all-year pace. Rhodes scored in double-digits in all 16 SEC games, Gordon in 15 with Vanderbilt the lone exception.
*Rhodes' rebounding showed comparable increases once State got into league competition. He is averaging 7.3 boards for the season, but grabbed 8.4 in SEC games.
*No wonder, then, that Rhodes was recognized by selection to the All-SEC second team this week.
*Rhodes has had a few erratic games the last month as far as accuracy, but on the whole he has finished the regular season strong. Take away a 6-of-13 evening at Arkansas, and he shot 31-of-43 or 72% in four of the last five outings. He has shot 58% for SEC season.
*After going two games without any blocked shots Rhodes is back on pace with five in the last three games. That gives him a team-best 32 for the season, one ahead of Morgan who got his first block since Vanderbilt in the Alabama game.
*Now at 13.9 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 sure now to become the first freshman perimeter player at State to average double-digits since Jeff Malone in 1980, at 11.9 points.
*By playing so much on the perimeter, Gordon ends up taking more outside jumpers than the coaches probably call for. He went 14-of-58, or 24%, on three-point attempts in 16 SEC games. But, the freshman has been somewhat more straight a shooter of late by making 5-of-13 in the last two games.
*Much more impressive is Gordon's work on the boards against SEC opposition. He's pulled down 7.5 rebounds per league game, compared to 6.6 for all-year. And while turnovers remain a weak link in his game, for a guy forced into point-guard duty Gordon has improved his assist/turnover ratio lately. His balance for SEC season is 84/86. Gordon is still the SEC leader by a wide margin in total turnovers, with 135.
*Gordon ended the regular season by earning his fourth SEC Freshman of the Week recognition. And he began tournament season by being named to hte league's All-Freshman team, though as most expected LSU's Tyrus Thomas was the SEC F.O.T.Y.
*There have only been ten foul-outs for State this season. Rhodes, Gordon, and Slater have all been disqualified twice.
*Through 16 SEC games State has attempted 294 free throws, and the opponents 306. The total fouls called is 283 on State, 271 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 the Dogs have had more assist than turnovers; the first consecutive games to do so all season. In their last three games State has had 46 assists and 42 giveaways.
*The Bulldogs are too-used to seeing opponents taking and making long jumpshots. State is being hit for 7.5 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 31.5% for SEC season.
*With Edmondson (417 points) out the last three games, Rhodes has just become the roster's leader in career points with 437, in 44 college games. Rhodes is also first in career rebounds at 235. Gordon how has 411 points in his first 29 college games.