*Mississippi State has played only two teams currently ranked, losing both on the road at now-#17 Clemson and #16 Tennessee. The Wildcats have played, and lost, to two teams that have held the #1 ranking this season. In Hawaii, Kentucky fell to UCLA by five points. And in early December they lost at current #1 North Carolina by twelve. UK has also played and lost to now-#20 Memphis.
*The University of Kentucky has only one roster player from the state of Kentucky, little-used backup center Jared Carter.
About the Wildcats: What is this world—or at least this conference—coming to? A Kentucky team without a ranking and looking up the SEC ladder at a pair of Eastern Division rivals, not to mention a couple of rated foes in the other loop? Blame a sub-par season in 2005-06 for Tubby Smith's troops, which settled for a tied-third place in the Division and for the first time since 1989 did not score double-digit SEC wins. And, the attention given glitzier programs at Florida and Tennessee. Which might just suit Smith fine because while Blue fans aren't used to playing things this way his tenth Wildcat squad is quite capable of bolting out of the pack and resuming their accustomed status. And ignore the non-ranking because while UK lost those aforementioned matchups with this year's powers they played well enough to alert the rest of the SEC of trouble to come. A much more matured Randolph Morris is the literal center-piece in the picture; since coming to his career-senses last winter the junior has developed into a force at both ends. He's 4th in SEC scoring, 7th in rebounding, making 61% of his shots and anchoring a solid defense that tops the SEC in stopping shooting. Senior Bobby Perry plays his complimentary role in the paint capably giving reliable rebounds and points. For a while skinny 6-9 freshman Perry Stevenson, who makes Jarvis Varnado look like the Hulk, was in a ‘big' starting lineup. He still participates as a boarder and blocker but now off the bench, with Kentucky turning to a somewhat-shorter overall lineup but a taller backcourt. The trio features just one regular starter from last season, and junior Joe Crawford has upgraded his game from 10.2 points to over 13 this year by popping more long shots. Fellow junior Ramel Bradley settled for a backup job and 7.9 points last winter. Now he's one of the SEC's better starting guards, whether it's scoring himself, getting the ball to teammates to put up points, harassing opponents or hitting the glass. He's also the surest shot in the SEC from the foul line at 86%. The real new face is freshman Derrick Jasper, a genuine guard in a forward's physique. The 6-6 kid can move, combining with Bradley for 47 steals. Another frosh, Jodie Meeks, is getting pretty good numbers himself in backcourt relief. Just about everybody on this versatile roster can pass the ball or go to the glass. It still isn't a typical Kentucky offense, ranking just tenth in three-point shooting and having only this week popped a 100th trey. But the Wildcats don't waste their ammo either, ranking fourth in field goal accuracy overall. If this team doesn't blow people out the way they definitely can get the job done…enough so that the league's leaders keep looking over their shoulders for something big and blue coming on fast.
The Series: The programs began playing in 1921 and have met for exactly 100 times since. The Wildcats have had much the better of things with a 83-17 lead. Mississippi State has won only once since the 1996 SEC Tournament title game, with an overtime victory at home in 2002. Otherwise the Wildcats have won 10 of the last 11 meetings and five-straight. State is 4-42 in Lexington games and has just one win in Rupp Arena, in 1995. Kentucky's longest winning streak is 17 games, spread from 1929-56. Rick Stansbury is 1-8 against Wildcat teams, and Tubby Smith is 9-1 against State squads with Kentucky. He was 0-3 against MSU when coaching Georgia in 1995-96.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Kentucky: F Bobby Perry, SR 6-8 215, 7.1ppg, 3.9rpg; F/C Randolph Morris, JR 6-11 260, 16.4ppg, 8.1rpg, 34 blks; G Derrick Jasper, FR 6-6 213, 5.1ppg, 3.6rpg, 3.4apg; G Ramel Bradley, JR 6-2 176, 13.6ppg, 4.4ppg, 3.7apg, 34 3ptrs; G Joe Crawford, JR 6-5 211, 13.6ppg, 4.0rpg, 2.7apg, 30 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Jodie Meeks, FR 6-5 206, 6.7ppg, 2.5apg, 13 3ptrs; F Perry Stevenson, FR 6-9 178, 3.5ppg, 2.9rpg, 20 blks; F Sheray Thomas, SR 6-8 236, 1.9ppg, 2.9rpg.
Mississippi State: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 7.4ppg, 2.8rpg, 18 3ptrs; F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 6.5ppg, 5.6rpg, 37 blks; C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 11.9ppg, 6.3rpg, 18 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.7ppg, 2.0rpg, 25 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.5ppg, 7.5rpg, 4.8apg
Top Backups: G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.5ppg, 3.1apg, 3.7apg; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 11.7ppg, 3.2rpg, 33 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 7.7ppg, 7.0rpg; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 3.6ppg, 4.3rpg, 22 blks.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 77.0, UK 72.2
PPG Allowed: MSU 64.3, UK 63.5
FG Shooting: MSU 48.0%, UK 48.1%
FG Defense: MSU 37.3%, UK 37.0%
3PT Shooting: MSU 37.4%, UK 35.9%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.7, UK 6.3
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 20.7, UK 17.6
Rebounding: MSU 41.2, UK 38.4
Rebounds Margin: MSU +6.1, UK +3.3
FT Shooting: MSU 62.8%, UK 66.4%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 24.7, UK 21
Assists PG: MSU 14.4, UK 16.3
Turnover Margin: MSU –2.5, UK –2.4
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Under Coach Rick Stansbury, the Bulldogs are *Stansbury made his latest lineup change in the last game, but he went back to a grouping previously used by starting guards Jamont Gordon, Richard and Reginald Delk, forward Charles Rhodes, and center Jarvis Varnado. It was the lineup which defeated Charlotte back on November 29…by no coincidence the last time Rhodes had started a game. He replaced G Ben Hansbrough, who had been part of a four-guard lineup (with Varnado at center) which started nine-straight games.
*Rhodes celebrated his return to the tipoff team by scoring a team-best 17 points with eight rebounds and four blocks. It was his fourth double-digit outing in the last five games. More notably, it kept Rhodes' streak of scoring ten or more points in SEC action going after his 15-point effort off the bench at Tennessee. In every league contest of his sophomore season Rhodes scored double-digits.
*Rhodes just surpassed 600 career points; through 59 college games he has 614 points, a career average of 10.4. This despite getting only 47 points in 16 games as a freshman. Rhodes now has 325 career rebounds.
*As a freshman Rhodes did not score a point in two games against Ole Miss. In his last three games with the rivals he has scored 24, 15, and now 17.
*Rhodes tied his career-best mark with four blocks against the Rebels, matching his four swats last month against New Orleans.
*Gordon played a season- and career low 20 minutes in State's win over Ole Miss. Twice as a freshman he played as few as 22 minutes, and his low so far this season had been 24 in a romp over Alabama A&M. Twice last season he played the full 40 minutes.
*Gordon remains the team's top scorer for the season with a 15.5 average, but only had eight points Wednesday night which matched his lowest output of this sophomore season. This after he had nearly pulled off a triple-double Sunday at Tennessee with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists. In games against Missouri and UT Gordon had combined to shoot 15-of-27; against the Rebels he slumped to 3-of-9. Gordon is still shooting 33% from the arc this season, compared to his 26% accuracy as a freshman.
*Gordon also continues to pace the team in rebounding at 7.5, but his two boards in the last game matched a career-low. Gordon has collected 315 rebounds in 45 career games, a better average for the 6-4 soph than 6-8 Rhodes has managed.
*Only three this season has Gordon not topped his team in either points, rebounds, or assists. He just passed 200 career assists with 201.
*Improving competition means fewer opportunities for freshman C Varnado to block shots. He did not get a swat Wednesday, the second time in three games he's gone block-less but only the third time this season. Varnado has 37 blocks for the year, already more than the team-leader in both the past two seasons. He should soon catch the 40 by Branden Vincent (2004) that is the most in the 2000s so far. The program record of 106 by Erick Dampier in 1996 is likely out of reach, so to speak.
*But the Bulldogs still combined for 10 blocks in beating the Rebels (compared to one by the visitors), with four from Rhodes and three by soph C Vernon Goodridge. State has 107 blocks through 15 games; last year's team had 136 blocks in 30 games.
*Since returning to active status senior G Dietric Slater has had an impact, at least in his two SEC outings. He put in 17 minutes at Missouri with five points and three boards; then got six rebounds at Tennessee, though just two points. But on the home court Slater really celebrated his return with 16 points and 12 rebounds, his fourth career double-double. Slater now has 395 career points, in 81 games.
*Rookie G Barry Stewart attempted only one long-shot Wednesday and made it, giving him 33 for this season…all off the bench. Stewart has a legitimate ‘shot' at topping the MSU freshman record for made-treys of 59 set last season by Reginald Delk.
*A perfect evening from The Hump's arc (though with just one try) raised Stewart's accuracy on the home court to 17-of-45, 37.8%. Yet the rookie has been even more sharp on his shooting away from home, hitting 16-of-38 (42%) in road competition.
*Stewart also went 7-of-7 from the foul line Wednesday, raising his season efficiency to 78%. He ranks in the top-ten of the SEC for free-throw accuracy. Interestingly, guard Stewart has attempted and made more free throws than any Bulldog post player.
*Fellow frosh Hansbrough still has the best charity-tossing on the team at 83.3%, though with just 36 attempts in 15 games he misses meeting SEC minimums for listing.
*But if Hansbrough and Stewart are taken out of the totals, the rest of the team is shooting just 56.9% from the foul line.
*After a five-game stretch with just one made trey, though in only six tries, Hansbrough is asserting himself offensively again. He has hit six of the last twelve long attempts.