*Mississippi State has won the last three home-SEC openers, and seven of the last eight. State has not opened a SEC schedule with consecutive losses since 2002-03.
*Though less than half of MSU's roster (five) hail from Mississippi hometowns, there is not a single Rebel on their roster who is a state native.
About the Rebels: The lineup and roster look familiar enough, but this isn't the same Rebel team that drifted through the final SEC schedule of the Rod Barnes era. The arrival of Mississippi native Andy Kennedy has put the expected spark into a mostly-veteran ball club and has Ole Miss playing the way they should have last winter. The players who went 4-12 in 2006 (tied for 5th West and 14-16 overall) have mixed a fresh spark with their combined experience to produce a club capable of giving the league's better teams all they can handle. Such as in their SEC opener when the Rebels kept snapping at Kentucky's heels until the visitors finally hit some jumpshots. And while the Rebel pre-SEC record was fattened by a smart schedule, they did take on a couple of powers in Connecticut and Memphis and played both well. The home folk have noticed and Saturday's game drew about as many as any three combined home dates in the fall semester. Getting the big boy, 280-pound Dwayne Curtis, back after missing eight games has certainly restored muscle to the lineup. The former Auburn postman hasn't played enough games to meet SEC stat-minimums but at almost ten rebounds per game he is a ferocious presence in the paint. His offensive boards help his scoring efficiency, too, as Curtis selects his shots well and gets opponents in foul troubles. He's also gotten needed help in junior Kenny Williams, another healthy body hitting the boards hard (12th in SEC rebounding) and providing some shot-blocking the lineup had missed. And reliable Jeremy Parnell is always available, now off the bench but still getting good minutes and essentially doing just as much as starter Williams. In fact the whole bench is not just longer now but better overall, though Kennedy doesn't run the constant sideline-shuttle his predecessor over-did. Where the Rebels are thriving is in the backcourt with a trio of old dogs who are having their best years. Particularly big guard Bam Doyne, who ranks third in SEC scoring. He gets most of his points near the rim, thus his strong rebounding, but has been able to step out and hit some longballs as well. The openings are there because seniors Clarence Sanders (8th in SEC scoring) and Todd Abernathy have together tossed in 59 treys. Abernathy doesn't just shoot either as he's 4th in SEC assists and has the best assist/turnover ratio in the league so far. That's a good reflection of the whole team, which turns the ball over only about a dozen times per game and has a positive overall ratio that ranks with the league leaders. The Rebels also ranks second in free throw shooting. The defense could be more efficient as only Auburn gives up more longballs, and those bulky postmen aren't quite as stout in a ‘vertical' game. Still this is a old club playing with new direction and energy, meaning SEC foes no longer can take a visit from the Rebels for granted.
The Series: This is the most-played series of the in-state rivals with 233 meetings since 1914. In fact the schools played four times in that first year alone. So not surprisingly Mississippi State has more wins against Mississippi than any team on the schedule, leading 131-102. This includes a 86-23 scoresheet in Starkville games, and a 25-6 record in games played Humphrey Coliseum where the Rebels have not won since 1998. At neutral sites State leads 5-4, though only once (2003) have the rivals met in a SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs took that one in New Orleans. Rick Stansbury is 13-4 against Ole Miss.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Ole Miss: F Kenny Williams, JR 6-8 240, 7.4ppg, 6.1rpg, 16 blks; C Dwayne Curtis, JR 6-8 280, 12.7ppg, 9.7rpg, 53%FG; G Todd Abernathy, SR 6-1 190, 9.9ppg, 5.1apg, 22 3ptrs; G Bam Doyne, SR 6-4 180, 17.6ppg, 6.1rpg, 18 3ptrs; G Clarence Sanders, SR 6-1 180, 15.5ppg, 3.0rpg, 37 3ptrs.
Top Backups: F Jeremy Parnell, JR 6-8 245, 7.2ppg, 4.3rpg, 13 blks; G Eniel Polynice, FR 6-5 200, 3.6ppg, 10 3ptrs; F Trey Hampton, SO 6-8 225, 3.3ppg, 2.3rpg.
Mississippi State: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 7.4ppg, 2.6rpg, 17 3ptrs; F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 6.8ppg, 5.9rpg, 37 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 8.0ppg, 3.0apg, 3.9apg; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.7ppg, 2.1rpg, 24 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 16.0ppg, 7.9rpg, 5.0apg
Top Backups: C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 11.5ppg, 6.2rpg; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 11.6ppg, 3.1rpg, 32 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, SR 3.5ppg, 4.5rpg; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 3.6ppg, 4.1rpg, 19 blks.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 77.0, UM 75.1
PPG Allowed: MSU 64.1, UM 66.5
FG Shooting: MSU 48.0%, UM 44.6%
FG Defense: MSU 37.7%, UM 41.5%
3PT Shooting: MSU 38.0%, UM 37.5%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 8.0, UM 6.9
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 19.7, UM 18.3
Rebounding: MSU 40.7, UM 37.8
Rebounds Margin: MSU +6.0, UM +2.7
FT Shooting: MSU 63.1%, UM 71.5%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 22.4, UM 18.5
Assists PG: MSU 14.8, UM 14.2
Turnover Margin: MSU –2.1, UM +3.3
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Under Coach Rick Stansbury, the Bulldogs are 47-17 in all SEC home games.
*Stansbury has used four starting lineups through 14 games, with three Dogs—G/F Jamont Gordon, G Reginald Delk, F Richard Delk—opening every game. The same fivesome, with Vernon Goodridge at center and Ben Hansbrough at G, has started the last nine games. Last season State used ten lineups for 30 games.
*Though his team lost, Gordon came close to posting only the second ‘triple-double' in program history Sunday when the sophomore guard scored 25 points with 11 rebounds and nine assists. Gordon did register a career-high for scoring with his third 20-point game of this season; he only did it twice as a freshman. Gordon now ranks sixth in SEC scoring at 16.0.
*In his last two games Gordon has hit 15-of-27 from the field, bouncing back from a 3-of-13 day at George Mason. During his team's seven-game winning streak Gordon shot 45% and averaged 17.1 points. He is hitting almost 43% for the year compared to his rookie-season shooting of 40.8%.
*Gordon continues to pace his team in rebounding at 7.9 per game, compared to a 6.8 rookie average, and at 6-4 he ranks eighth in the SEC in rebounds. Yet he also tops his team in assists with 70 through 14 games (he had 129 in 30 games last year). Gordon ranks 4th in SEC assists and has a positive assists/turnovers ratio after leading the league in giveaways last winter.
*Only twice this season has Gordon not topped his team in either points, rebounds, or assists.
*Junior C/F Charles Rhodes has not started a game since Nov. 29. This might have gotten to the All-SEC frontcourt man as, after two strong efforts off the bench against New Orleans and George Mason he was held to six points and three rebounds in 24 minutes at Missouri. But Rhodes came back to put up a double-double, the fifth of his MSU career, with 15 points and 10 rebounds at Tennessee. And he managed just 21 minutes there due to foul trouble.
*By getting 15 at Tennessee, Rhodes now has scored double-digits in 17-straight SEC regular season games. Rhodes is about to surpass 600 career points; in his 58 games he has 597 points.
*Rhodes had 24 and 15 points in games against in-state rival Mississippi last season; the higher tally in a loss at Oxford.
*Starting C Varnado now has 37 blocks for his freshman season, and ranks 4th in the league average. His total already surpasses the team's leader in both 2005 and '06 (32 each season), and with three more he'll catch the 40 swats by Branden Vincent in 2004 for most blocks by a Bulldog since 1999 when Tyrone Washington rejected 65. The record is 106 by Erick Dampier in 1996.
*However, Varndo's offensive production is falling off as the competition toughens up. Since posting his first career double-double with a 13-point, 15-rebound effort against New Orleans the rookie has totaled 17 points and 20 rebounds in three losses. He only took two shots at Tennessee in 18 minutes.
*The Bulldogs collectively have 97 blocked shots; they totaled 136 all last season.
*At Tennessee, the Bulldogs shot over 55% from the floor and under 53% from the free-throw line. In their last two games the Dogs are 21-of-36 at the stripe, 58%. Take away G Hansbrough's 85% accuracy and the rest of the squad is just over 60% for the whole season.
*State had cooled off at the arc somewhat before going 10-of-23 at Tennessee, raising the season accuracy to 38%. Last year's team hit only 31.4 of trey-tries.
*Soph Reginald Delk has been hot lately, hitting 7-of-15 from the arc the last two games and raising his season total to 24 treys. Delk set the MSU freshman record with 59 longballs. With 83 for his career, he has a chance to move into the top-ten list this second season at State. He needs to make 101 to catch Marckell Patterson (1999-02) for tenth place.
*But his rookie trey-record is in jeopardy, as freshman G Barry Stewart has hit 32 in 14 games this season…all off the bench. Despite not starting Stewart is second in team scoring average playing under 25 minutes per contest.
*Oddly, Stewart has been even more accurate at the arc playing away from home. He is 16-of-38, 42%, in road games; and at Humphrey Coliseum he has been 16-of-44, 36%.
*Stewart is 7th in the SEC three-point standings. He is also 10th in free throw accuracy. Hansbrough would rank higher but doesn't meet league minimums, having taken only 34 attempts at the stripe to Stewart's 52. In fact, Stewart has attempted more free throws than either postman Rhodes or Varnado.
*After having a big night against Corpus Christi, hitting 5-of-6 at the arc, Hansbrough settled for passing the ball more for several weeks and went 1-of-6 in the next five games. Now the freshman is asserting himself more and in the last three games he is 6-of-12 on longballs.
*As a starter Hansbrough is averaging 4.4 assists; as a backup he got 2.0 assists.
*Success and failure seem to hinge on State taking care of the ball. During their winning streak the Bulldogs had 107 assists and 91 turnovers; in the last three losses they combined for 47 assists but 55 turnovers.