*State and Auburn have played two common non-conference opponents. State defeated Nicholls State 90-55 and South Alabama 84-46; the Tigers beat Nicholls in overtime 92-87 and USA 82-71, both games at home.
About the Tigers: When Jeff Lebo took over this was labeled a ‘rebuilding' job. Yet for all the woes of recent seasons, both on-court and in the NCAA's court, it really wasn't all that long ago that Auburn was annually competitive with eight post-season trips from 1993-2003. So the precedent is certainly there for Tiger success, and the promise of a much-needed new facility brightens the future further. The current team? Things are looking up here, too, after Lebo's first two squads struggled through combined 26-33 and 8-24 SEC records. These Tigers have already won as many games as last year and have had an early impact on the league standings, certainly in the Eastern Division. Give Lebo credit (or blame) for aggressive scheduling; the pre-SEC lineup brought meetings with Oklahoma State and Wisconsin in a Texas tournament; and visits from Pittsburgh and Texas A&M, both lost. But that seems to have helped prepare the Tigers for league play as they have knocked off both Vanderbilt and Tennessee at home, each time in a three-point nailbiter. Auburn has had to deal with a number of varying injuries that delayed settling on one regular lineup; now they seem to have the right mix of starters and backups—all of them underclassmen. Certainly there can't be many clubs in the country with five in double-digits, so it's risky to call any Tiger the ‘leading' scorer. But it's easy to tell defenses to focus on backcourt gunners Frank Tolbert, the ‘old' cat in this Tiger lineup, and Rasheem Barrett with 54 treys between them. Quantez Robertson does his offensive damage by getting the ball to the scoring threats. And while this is a three-guard lineup the backcourt does have some size to it with guys willing and able to go get rebounds. It can get even taller out there, too, as 6-8 junior transfer Quan Powell can either shoot and handle outside or go to the goal at each end. Rookie guards DeWayne Reed and Archie Miaway also offer long-range scoring from off the bench. Auburn's vulnerable aspect is inside where they rely on forward-size bodies Korvotney Barber and Josh Dollard to play post roles. Their rebounding numbers shows the pair can get to caroms, and Barber offsets size mis-matches with good hops and blocked shots. There's still lots of room for improvement here on a team that ranks 9th in SEC scoring, 10th in scoring defense, 10th in shooting, and flat last in free-throwing. But only Tennessee has attempted more treys, and if the longballs are falling the Tigers can hang with anyone on the schedule. And, as this roster without a single senior matures, not just stay in games but win them.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Auburn: F Korvotney Barber, SO 6-7 220, 11.8ppg, 6.5rpg, 43 blks; F Josh Dollard, SO 6-7 225, 10.7ppg, 7.3rpg; G Rasheem Barrett, SO 6-5 220, 12.7ppg, 4.8rpg, 31 3ptrs; G Frank Tolbert, JR 6-3 210, 12.2ppg, 5.3rpg, 23 3ptrs; G Quantez Robertson, SO 6-3 190, 7.8ppg, 4.4rpg, 5.3apg.
Top Backups: F Quan Powell, JR 6-8 210, 12.3ppg, 6.3rpg, 14 3ptrs; G DeWayne Reed, FR 6-1 175, 5.7ppg, 3.4apg, 19 3ptrs; G Archie Miaway, JR 6-4 200, 4.6ppg, 21 3ptrs.
Mississippi State: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 7.4ppg, 2.7rpg, 19 3ptrs; F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 6.2ppg, 5.4rpg, 38 blks; C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 11.6ppg, 6.7rpg, 20 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.6ppg, 2.0rpg, 27 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.3ppg, 7.5rpg, 4.8apg
Top Backups: G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.6ppg, 3.6apg; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 11.5ppg, 3.2rpg, 36 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 6.8ppg, 6.0rpg; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 3.4ppg, 4.1rpg, 23 blks.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 75.9ppg, AUB 72.7ppg
PPG Allowed: MSU 64.2ppg, AUB 68.7ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 47.5%, AUB 45.3%
FG Defense: MSU 37.3%, AUB 42.8%
3PT Shooting: MSU 38.0%, AUB 32.5%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.8, AUB 7.7
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 20.6, AUB 23.6
Rebounding: MSU 40.9rpg, AUB 37.24rpg
Rebounds Margin: MSU +5.7, AUB +0.6
FT Shooting: MSU 62.6%, AUB 59.8%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 23.4, AUB 21.6
Assists PG: MSU 14.3, AUB 17.5
Turnover Margin: MSU –2.6, AUB +0.8
The Series: The programs have played 125 times since 1915, with Auburn currently holding a 67-58 lead. The Tigers only moved in front during the 1980s, though, by dominating the decade, and at one time built a sizable lead by winning nine-straight from 1997-2000. Then it was State's turn to go on a tear, winning eight-straight into the 2005 campaign. The teams have split there last two season-series, each winning the home games. They have met three times in SEC Tournaments with the Bulldogs winning twice, in 1986 and '96. State is 35-24 in games played in Starkville, and 20-10 against the Tigers in Humphrey Coliseum.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: This game matches the SEC's two poorest free-throw shooting teams. State ranks 11th at 62.6%, while Auburn is last at 59.8%
*Mississippi State's loss at Kentucky was only the second game this season where just one Bulldog scored in double digits. G Jamont Gordon led State with 13 points. At Clemson, F/C Charles Rhodes was the lone Dog in double-digits at 20 points.
*As he continues to top the team in all three categories, it is not surprising Gordon has led State in either scoring, rebounding, or assists in all but three games this sophomore season. He stands 7th this week in SEC scoring average, and 8th in rebounding. But in MSU's last win, over Ole Miss, he had a season-low eight points; only days after he nearly notched the second ‘triple-double' in program history with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists at Tennessee.
*As a freshman, Gordon scored 16 and 13 points in his games with Auburn with seven rebounds and seven assists in each outing.
*Gordon is 4th in SEC assist average and now has 206 career assists. He will need 301 to reach the MSU career top-ten.
*Take away his down-night against the Rebels, and Gordon has shot a combined 21-of-40 in the last three outings. He was 3-of-9 against Ole Miss in just 20 minutes. For the season Gordon is a 42.6% shooter, which ranks 14th-best in the SEC this week.
*But his long-range accuracy has been sliding lately. Since the New Orleans game, Gordon is 3-of-13 at the arc and 2-of-8 in SEC play.
*In his two SEC road games Gordon grabbed 19 rebounds; at home against the Rebels he had a career-low two boards. He already has 323 career rebounds in 46 games, a better career average (7.02) for the 6-4 guard than 6-8 Rhodes can claim (337, 60 games, 5.62).
*Getting back in the starting lineup has helped Rhodes' production. After missing nine tip-offs, the junior celebrated his return to starting-status with 17 points and eight rebounds against Ole Miss. He followed it up with eight points and a dozen rebounds at Kentucky. However, that offensive output ended Rhodes' string of double-digit scoring in SEC play at 19 games. In every sophomore-season SEC contest he had at least ten points, and he had 15 at Tennessee to open this league schedule.
*Rhodes also enjoyed success against Auburn in 2006. He scored 21 points with 19 rebounds, his best all-around game to-date, in a home win over the Tigers; and had 17 points with 11 boards at Auburn. Of his five career double-doubles, two have come against Tiger teams.
*Rhodes has surpassed 600 career points; through 60 college games he has 622 points, a career average of 10.37. This despite getting only 47 points in 16 games as a freshman.
*Better competition means fewer opportunities for freshman C Varnado to block shots. He did not get a swat against Ole Miss and one at Kentucky, so the rookie has just three blocks in his three SEC games. This after rejecting 35 in non-conference action.
*Still the Bulldog team had five total blocks at Kentucky, giving them 112 for this season in 16 games. Last year's team had 136 blocks in 30 games.
*G Barry Stewart was named the SEC's Freshman of the Week after scoring 21 points and hitting four three-pointers in MSU's two games. The honor was likely more a recognition of how this rookie has played all through his first State season. Stewart is topping the team in treys with 36, all off the bench. At this pace he should surpass the school freshman-record for threeballs of 59, set only last season by teammate Reginald Delk.
*This rookie has shown himself entirely comfortable on the road, even in SEC gyms. He has shot 19-of-44, or 43.2%, in all his road games; and 17-of-45, 37.8%, on the home court.
*Stewart is also effective when shooting from the stripe at 78%, ranking 7th in the SEC's current standings. He was 7-of-7 on free throw chances against Ole Miss. The slender 6-2 guard has attempted and made more free throws than any Bulldog post player, starter or backup.
*Since being activated for the last half of his season senior G Dietric Slater has contributed. Most notably, with a 16-point, 12-rebound night against Ole Miss. He had four points and three boards at Lexington, showing better shot selection in the process and not heaving up a trey-try or turning the ball over. Slater now has 399 career points, in 82 games.
*State would like to get freshman G Ben Hansbrough to the charity stripe more often. He has the team's best accuracy there at 83.3%, which would rank second-best this week in SEC standings if he met the league's minimums for listing. He does with only 36 attempts in 15 games. Hansbrough hasn't shot a free throw the last two SEC games.
*Where Hansbrough is asserting himself again is on the perimeter. After taking just six three-point attempts in one five game stretch, the freshman has gone 9-of-17 at the arc in the last four games.
*Mississippi State ranks last in the league in turnover margin at –2.6. Next-worse is Kentucky at –1.9.