*State is also hosting a third Southland Conference club this season. The Dogs opened their pre-SEC schedule by beating Nicholls State 90-55, and two weeks ago defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 96-72. But last year State lost twice, at home, to SC teams Northwestern State and Southeastern Louisiana.
About the Cowboys: It's his first year in charge but Dave Simmons is not new to the Cowboy program nor the territory. A 1981 graduate and former Louisiana Tech player, Simmons coached in Lake Charles back in 1987-94 and from 1999-2006 at Northwestern State before moving into the top job at McNeese. He inherited a club that broke even overall last season, going 9-7 and tying for fourth place in a respectable league. And he has three starters and eight total lettermen back. But it hasn't been a smooth start due to health and grade issues. One starter and a prime backup only regain their eligibility as of today after missing nine games. Two more regulars are just getting back from injuries, including starting G Troy Aaron after missing the last two wins. So it could be a different sort of squad State sees on the court Saturday than the one scouted on tapes. The Cowboys were tested early, losing twice at Florida State's tournament and again at Illinois State. Since then they have taken advantage of lighter-weight fare with wins over Texas College, Mississippi Valley, and at Arkansas-Little Rock around a 91-57 thrashing at LSU. It looks like a team that prefers a deliberate pace with play centered, so to speak, on junior Jarvis Bradley, a 53% shooter. Though only 6-6 and 210 pounds he leads this lineup both in scoring and on the boards, aided there by similarly-sized classmate Aldryan Wardell. The lack of bulk on the front line will be addressed now with the return of 260-pound senior Quentin Gonzales, a starter in the post last season, and 250-pound soph Eric Massey. Both bruisers missed the fall semester getting their grades back in order. Big guard Anthony Robinson is also about to resume play after injury issues. Also back is assists leader Aaron, while 5-10 John Ford has drawn the duty as designated outside shooter. Ford has made 16 and attempted 49 treys, on a team that is just 43-of-121 at the arc. What height the Cowboys have had so far has come off the bench with 6-11 Kleon Penn, the leader in blocks with 19. Actually despite general lack of sheer size so far this has been a pretty fair shot-blocking bunch as well with 58 swats, yet only 28 of their own attempts have suffered rejection.
The Series: Mississippi State owns a 5-1 record over this other MSU and is 3-0 in Humphrey Coliseum against the Cowboys. The intermittent series began 20 years ago with the only McNeese win, at Lake Charles in 1986. Since then all games have been either in Starkville (2001, '03, '04), Jackson (1988), or a meeting in the 2003 NCAA Tournament in Dallas, won 70-58 by the Bulldogs. Rick Stansbury is 4-0 against the Cowboys.
Projected Starting Lineups:
McNeese State: F John Pichon, SO 6-4 196, 6.9ppg, 5.4rpg; F Aldryan Wardell, JR 6-6 215, 8.1ppg, 6.1rpg; C Jarvis Bradley, JR 6-6 210, 14.4ppg, 6.2rpg, 14 blks; G John Foprd, JR 5-10 150, 12.7ppg, 3.7rpg, 16 3ptrs; G Troy Aaron, SR 6-0 190, 9.6ppg, 4.7rpg 10 3ptrs
Top Backups: G/F Rory Lawrence, JR 6-5 195, 7.2ppg, 2.7rpg, 10 3ptrs; C Kleon Penn, JR 6-11 190, 3.1ppg, 2.9rpg, 19 blks.
Mississippi State: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 6.5ppg, 2.8rpg; F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.0ppg, 4.5rpg, 16 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 9.4ppg, 3.5apg, 3.6apg; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.0ppg, 2.1rpg, 14 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.8ppg, 8.6rpg, 5.1apg
Top Backups: C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 11.1ppg, 6.3rpg; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 12.5ppg, 3.5rpg, 17 3ptrs; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 4.1ppg, 3.5rpg, 12 blks.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 76.0ppg, McN 62.6ppg
PPG Allowed: MSU 59.2ppg, McN 63.9ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 47.1%, McN 42.5%
FG Defense: MSU 35.2%, McN 41.0%
3PT Shooting: MSU 38.2%, McN 35.5%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.9, McN 4.8
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 20.6, McN 13.4
Rebounding: MSU 41.8rpg, McN 34.7rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +7.7, McN 0.0
FT Shooting: MSU 64.9%, McN 67.6%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 26.0, McN 16.4
Assists PG: MSU 13.8, McN 11.2
Turnover Margin: MSU –2.1, McN –1.7
Did You Know: Mississippi State is 31-3 against teams making up the current Southland Conference lineup.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Coach Rick Stansbury now stands alone in second place for MSU career coaching victories, with 170 in his nine seasons. He surpassed Babe McCarthy (169 wins from 1956-65) when the Bulldogs defeated Miami on Monday night. The MSU standard is 191 wins by Coach Richard Williams (1987-98).
In nine seasons Stansbury teams are now 95-24 in non-conference competition and have won 68 of the last 77 non-league games. In this stretch State is 53-9 in December games.
*MSU has won 19-straight December home games against non-SEC opposition.
*Mississippi State has played dominating defense in their last three victories, and now lead the SEC in both overall shooting (35.2%) and three-point shooting (22%) defense. The overall defense is fifth-best in the latest NCAA standings.
*The Bulldogs are still on the negative side of the turnover/assist ratio. But the gap is narrowing, thanks to more poised play the last three games, and for the season to-date State has 110 assists and 125 turnovers.
*A clear key to that progress has been the play of soph G/F Jamont Gordon. The SEC's turnover leader last year, Gordon now has a positive rate of 41 credited assists against 36 charged turnovers. Gordon and freshman G Ben Hansbrough have combined for 70 of the team's assists.
*Gordon's scoring pace has slowed a bit the last two outings, with 14 and 12 points in MSU wins coming after he'd put up 20 and a career-best 24 points in consecutive games. Yet in the process the soph's shooting has been better, hitting 10-of-24 from the floor his past two contests. For the season he is just a miss under 40% accuracy. Gordon is also passing up (or given the assist stats, passing off) more of the long jumpers he attempted in November, attempting just four three-pointers the last two games.
*Gordon is still just as aggressive on the glass though and continues to pace his team in rebounding at 8.6 boards. For his career he has 272 rebounds and a two-year average of 7.2.
*Junior F/C Charles Rhodes had his streak of double-digit scoring games snapped at 24, when he managed just one basket and two points at Miami. Rhodes did play 19 minutes at UM but took just four shots and one free throw attempt. He missed the TA&M-CC game with a wrist sprain so it did not count against his streak, and was limited to 16 minutes last Saturday against South Alabama but did put up ten points to extend the streak one more game.
*And after making one three-point shot, in seven attempts, for his first two State seasons, Rhodes is 2-of-6 at the arc this year.
*Rhodes is past the 500-career point threshold with 530 in 52 career games, and with 281 rebounds. The minimums for top-20 status at MSU are 1,144 points and 564 rebounds.
*In his first two starts as a collegian, Hansbrough scored 23 and six points. The third time out, at Miami, he went 0-of-2 from the floor. And since highlighting his initial start with 5-of-6 shooting from the arc the rookie has missed all three long attempts. But, Hansbrough has issued 19 of his 29 assists as a starter.
*Any outside slack from other guards has been picked up by freshman Barry Stewart. After going 0-of-5 at the arc against South Alabama, the rookie burned Miami for five treys in 11 tries. That ties Hansbrough for the season-high in made threes. Stewart is 17-of-42 at the arc this season and back into second place in team scoring, all off the bench.
*Soph G Reginald Delk is getting his touch back also. Through five games he was 6-of-18 on longballs; in the last three Delk is 8-of-19. His 14 treys only trails Stewart's 17. Delk holds the MSU freshman record for made-threes at 59.
*State's 38% team-accuracy at the arc is far ahead of last year's 31.4% overall shooting and 31.2% in non-conference games.
*The Bulldogs have blocked 48 shots in eight games, well ahead of last year's pace of 4.5 over 30 games. Freshman C Jarvis Varnado has 16 of the swats and soph C Vernon Goodridge a dozen.
*Three Dogs have started all five games this early season: Gordon and Delk twins Richard and Reginald. Varnado has started twice, against Winthrop and Corpus Christi. With Hansbrough now starting, State has used four lineups in eight games. Stansbury used ten starting lineups in 30 games lasts season.