About the Patriots: When State beat George Mason exactly one calendar year ago, it seemed a nice non-conference conquest at the time. Three months later the Bulldogs were looking back on a much more impressive win when the Patriots burst into the Final Four. That was also the end of the season, a strong one for Coach Jim Larranaga as GMU tied for the Colonial Athletic Conference title at 15-3 and went 28-7 overall. It's a different Pats club this time around, with just two starters—though seven other lettermen—back. The rebuilt lineup has been up-and-down, or maybe on-and-off, through this early season, alternating a win with a loss so far. That's not good news for MSU, since the Patriots are coming off a loss in their CAA opener when they scored only 49 points. In fact the most this team has scored is 79, in the opener against Cleveland State. Yet they shoot the ball efficiently at almost 46%, and play even better on the defensive end where they lead their league in shooting defense and give up under 60 points per game. The stat sheet doesn't lie: this is a three-man squad on offense as three Patriots score double-digits and nobody else as many as six points per contest. State fans will remember two of these leaders though, as they played well in The Hump a year ago. Folarin Campbell has stepped to the forefront, contributing over 16 points per night as well as leading the team in assists. He's also second in treys made on a team that doesn't rely much on longballs. But, he also has shot under 40% so far, having to carry maybe too much of the load. The other returning starter, Will Thomas, is getting a dozen a night and tops the team in rebounding. It's John Vaughn who has really upped his game since last year, scoring 13.6 through nine games and throwing in a squad-best 17 treys. How critical are these three to any outcome? All are putting in over 30 minutes of work. The rest of the lineup has shuffled in search of the best contributors, with the result that early-season starters Jesus Urbina and Jordan Carter have lost their jobs to Gabe Norwood and Louis Birdsong. It's not an ideal gameplan against an ambitious schedule that has had the Pats playing just their third home game of the year Saturday. GMU doesn't score a lot from outside and isn't much for blocking shots. What they do is play a sound basic game during what looks not so much like a rebuilding year as the start of a new era, because there is not a single senior on the current roster.
The Series: This is only the second meeting of the two programs, after the Bulldogs edged the Patriots 63-61 in Humphrey Coliseum last December 30. Four Dogs scored in double-digits, led by Jamont Gordon with 16 points and Reginald Delk with 15. This year's game completes the home-and-home contract.
Projected Starting Lineups:
George Mason (nine-game stats): F Will Thomas, SO 6-7 230, 12.1ppg, 6.8rpg, 61%fgs; F Louis Birdsong, FR 6-6 235, 3.3ppg, 3.7rpg; G/F Gabe Norwood, JR 6-5 190, 3.9ppg, 2.9rpg; G/F Folarin Campbell, SO 6-4, 205, 16.1ppg, 3.9rpg, 14 3ptrs, 35 asts; G John Vaughan, SO 6-3 185, 13.6ppg, 2.9rpg, 17 3 ptrs.
Top Backups: G Jordan Carter, SO 6-0 175, 2.6ppg, 2.1rpg; F Darryl Monroe, JR 6-7 260, 3.3ppg, 2.6rpg; G Dre Smith, SO 6-0 185, 5.5ppg, 1.3rpg
Mississippi State: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 7.6ppg, 3.0rpg, 15 3ptrs; F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 7.1ppg, 5.7rpg, 31 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 8.3ppg, 3.3apg, 3.8apg; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.0ppg, 2.1rpg, 17 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 16.0ppg, 7.7rpg, 4.9apg
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 78.2, GMU 61.2
PPG Allowed: MSU 59.9, GMU 58.2
FG Shooting: MSU 48.5%, GMU 45.5%
FG Defense: MSU 35.1%, GMU 42.8%
3PT Shooting: MSU 38.2%, GMU 32.2%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.9, GMU 5.4
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 20.7, GMU 16.9
Rebounding: MSU 42.3, GMU 31.7
Rebounds Margin: MSU +7.2, GMU +3.0
FT Shooting: MSU 63.0%, GMU 67.7%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 25.5, GMU 14.7
Assists PG: MSU 14.5, GMU 12.2
Turnover Margin: MSU –1.6, GMU +0.4
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Coach Rick Stansbury now stands alone in second place for MSU career coaching victories, with 173 in his nine seasons. He surpassed Babe McCarthy (169 wins from 1956-65) when the Bulldogs defeated Miami. The MSU standard is 191 wins by Coach Richard Williams (1987-98).
*In nine seasons Stansbury teams are now 98-24 in non-conference competition and have won 71 of the last 80 non-league games. In this stretch State is 56-9 in December games.
*In their seven-straight wins, the Bulldogs have shot 38% from the three-point arc and 49% from the field. Yet they are only 61% at the free-throw line in this same stretch.
*Soph G/F Jamont Gordon has another streak of double-digit scoring underway. After getting ten or more points for 15-straight games (including last season) he managed just nine at Clemson. Since then though Gordon has a seven-game double-digit streak, in which he has averaged 17.1 points on 45% shooting. In the first four games Gordon shot under 33%.
*After shooting 26% from the arc as a rookie, Gordon has made 12-of-33 trey-tries this season, 36%.
*More impressive perhaps is Gordon's work on the backboards. The 6-4 guard tops State with a 7.7 rebound average, compared to his freshman pace of 6.8. He now has 288 career rebounds in just 41 games. Only once this season has Gordon failed to lead State in either points, rebounds, or assists.
*The SEC's turnover leader last year, Gordon now has a positive rate of 54 credited assists against 48 charged turnovers.
*A starting job at center has allowed freshman Jarvis Varnado to blossom early in his college career. In his last three games the rookie has scored 13, 12, and 13 points while shooting 16-of-22 (73%). It helps that he has not had to be on court more than 24 points in any game, keeping the kid's legs lively.
*And this shows up in his work on defense and around the boards. In his last outing, Varnado exploded for 15 rebounds to go with his 13 points for the first double-double of his young career. In the last six games he has averaged 7.8 rebounds.
*But where Varnado has been really spectacular is swatting away shots. He blocked seven last week against UNO, giving him 31 on the season. In fact, Varnado needs to block just one more shot to tie State's leading blocker for the entire 2005 and 2006 seasons. State has not had anyone block more than 40 shots (Branden Vincent, 2004) in the last seven seasons, a mark Varnado seems certain to reach soon.
*Varnado's seven swats last week helped the team break the program record with 15 blocks, surpassing the 14 rejections against Northeast Missouri in 1976.
*In their past seven wins the Bulldogs have blocked 62 shots, compared to only 15 by the opposition. State has 77 blocks through 11 games; last year's team blocked 136 in 30 games. The season record is 175 by the 1995-96 team.
*Contributing to this cause is soph C Vernon Goodridge with 18 blocks for the season. Goodridge has also become a productive performer off the Bulldog bench, averaging 6.5 points over the last six games and 7.8 rebounds. In the first five games Goodridge had only seven rebounds and 12 points.
*Junior F/C Charles Rhodes seems to be over the wrist problems and practice issues that cost him the starting job. Strong play by the younger posts hasn't made it easy for the All-SEC pick to regain that status, but a 25-point explosion against UNO will help. In the four preceding games Rhodes had just 23 total points. Rhodes had lacked for playing time since his Nov. 29 wrist injury, averaging just 18.4 minutes.
*Rhodes also had a 24-game streak of scoring in double-digits ended at Miami, with only two points in 19 minutes. He scored ten or more points in every SEC game of his soph season.
*In his third varsity year Rhodes is the team's leading career scorer with 562 points in 55 games, giving him a career double-digit average. He is now one rebound shy of reaching 300 for his career. The minimums for top-20 status at MSU are 1,144 points and 564 rebounds.
*He doesn't start but freshman G Barry Stewart plays a major role in this lineup. The rookie is back up to second in team scoring at 11.7 points. Stewart already has 24 treys for the season, all off the bench. But his accuracy has been up-and-down lately; Stewart was 0-of-5 at the arc at Miami, then a combined 9-of-20 in the next two games followed by a 3-of-11 week.
*After going on an offensive tear at the turn of November/December, freshman G Ben Hansbrough's scoring pace has dropped off. He has just 16 points in the last four contests and was held scoreless at Miami. He also has made just one trey in the last five games, though he also has attempted only six. What Hansbrough has done is focus on getting the ball to other scorers; he has issued 32 assists since becoming a starter compared to ten assists in the first five contests.
*Mississippi State has played dominating defense in their seven-straight victories, and now lead the SEC in both overall shooting and three-point shooting defense. MSU's average margin of victory in this stretch has been over 22 points.
*Critical to the success-streak has been a positive ratio of assists (107) to turnovers (91).
*Three Dogs have started all five games this early season: Gordon and Delk twins Richard and Reginald. State has used four lineups in eleven games. Stansbury used ten starting lineups in 30 games lasts season.