*However, the next year UK came to Starkville as defending national champions and were defeated by the 1979 Bulldogs. The other time a State team has beaten the reigning national champ in The Hump was in 1995 as the Dogs knocked off Arkansas. (Kentucky did not come to Starkville the year after their 1996 and '98 titles).
*Mississippi State has twice beaten a #1-ranked team; in 1996 Coach Richard Williams' Bulldogs beat top-rated Kentucky in the SEC Tournament finals. And in 1959 Coach Babe McCarthy's first SEC championship team beat #1-ranked Kentucky in the New Gym.
*These teams have played one common opponents. Both own a home win over Mississippi; Florida by 79-70 and State 77-67.
*Mississippi State has won its last six SEC home games, all by double-digit margins.
About the Gators: They ended 2006 seated on college basketball's throne, and the way these Gators are still playing knocking them from that exalted seat will require a real coup. The only surprise is it took ten seasons for Billy Donovan to claim the national crown, with the collection of sheer talent that's come through Gainesville during that decade. Is this his most gifted Gator roster yet? Likely so because the coach pulled off his best recruiting job to-date by keeping some of the game's premier underclassmen in school for another year after earning their NCAA rings. Certainly pro franchises lust for the chance to draft frontcourt stars Joakim Noah and Al Horford, maybe the most gifted tandem in the land this season and certainly the SEC's best pairing in the post. Look at the balance in their stats, especially the near-identical rebounding and blocked-shots, and wish opponents well in picking which to attack. Each big Gator can also gallop to the other end and handle, pass, or shoot with guard's poise. Then there's the ‘glue' guy in this lineup with Corey Brewer doing something of everything; how many 6-9s average almost four assists? Of course that stat is aided by dishing to, say, Horford with his SEC-best 63.5% shooting rate. At the same time kicking the ball out to gunners Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey is nearly as automatic, with the Gator guards shooting either side of 45% at the arc. They have 88 treys between them already, with soph Walter Hodge adding firepower off the bench. But, don't look at Florida as a run-and-gun outfit. While they certainly have the talent to play it that way, this team starts with outstanding defense. They're not just first in the league in stopping-scoring, their average margin is 25 points and they rule the backboards nightly. Then they go on offense and do it surperbly, shooting almost 55% as a club (the next-best SEC squad hits just 49%), as well as leading the league in outside shooting…though they actually are mid-pack in made-treys. Efficiency, again. And talk about ‘team' efforts, while no Gator is among the SEC's top-15 in scoring four of them rank between 18th and 28th. That's a formula that will work well as Florida attempts to defend their national championship. It might even produce the one thing lacking on Donovan's resume: an outright, unshared SEC Championship.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Florida: F Corey Brewer, JR 6-9 185, 12.4ppg, 4.4rpg, 3.7apg; F/C Joakim Noah, 12.9ppg, 8.5rpg, 33 blks; C Al Horford, 12.0ppg, 8.2rpg, 32 blks; G Lee Humphrey, 10.5ppg, 50 3ptrs; G Taurean Green, 13.6ppg, 4.0apg, 38 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Walter Hodge, SO 6-0 170, 7.2ppg, 22 3ptrs; F/C Chris Richard, SR 6-9 255, 4.9ppg, 2.8rpg; F Dan Werner, FR 6-7 235, 3.3ppg, 12 3ptrs.
Mississippi State: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 7.3ppg, 2.6rpg, 20 3ptrs; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 3.2ppg, 4.0rpg, 23 blks. C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 11.7ppg, 6.5rpg, 23 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 10.2ppg, 2.1rpg, 31 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.1ppg, 7.7rpg, 4.8apg
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.9ppg, 5.2rpg, 39 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.2ppg, 3.8apg; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 12.1ppg, 3.3rpg, 40 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 8.0ppg, 6.4rpg.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 76.6, FLA 82.9
PPG Allowed: MSU 64.9, FLA 57.9
FG Shooting: MSU 47.4%, FLA 54.7%
FG Defense: MSU 37.2%, FLA 39.2%
3PT Shooting: MSU 37.9%, FLA 42.7%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.9, FLA 7.7
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 20.8, FLA 18.1
Rebounding: MSU 41.1, FLA 37.9
Rebounds Margin: MSU +5.4, FLA +9.1
FT Shooting: MSU 64.0%, FLA 66.4%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 23.5, FLA 20.1
Assists PG: MSU 14.6, FLA 18.4
Turnover Margin: MSU –2.5, FLA +1.5
The Series: This is the ‘youngest' of State's series with the original SEC lineup, dating back only to 1936. After trailing in the rivalry into the mid-1980s the Gators caught up and moved on ahead, and now own a 55-45 lead. Florida has won the last two meetings after State took three of the previous four games. The longest UF streak is 12 wins from 1984-89; State's longest streak is just four games several times, most recently 1979-81. State is 31-18 in Starkville but only 12-11 in Humphrey Coliseum. Rick Stansbury is 4-6 against Florida, while Donovan is 8-4 against State.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Mississippi State went into the Auburn game ranked 11th in SEC free-throw shooting. The Bulldogs then hit 22 of 26 at the foul stripe. So while their overall accuracy is still just 63.5%, State is 65.3% in SEC play.
*For a second-straight week guard Barry Stewart is the SEC's Freshman of the Week. He only played one game in the most recent period but made it count with a game-best and season-high 22 points in the win over Auburn. In earning POTW previously he had scored a total 21 points in two games, against Ole Miss and Kentucky. He also had four treys in those contests, a total he matched in the one outing with Auburn. Stewart is the second-leading scorer among league freshmen with a 12.1 average.
*Stewart leads State in three-pointers with 40, all of them off the bench and in 17 games. The MSU rookie-record for treys was set last season by teammate Reginald Delk with 59, in 30 games.
*For the first two months of the schedule, Stewart looked more comfortable shooting from arcs painted on hostile courts with a better outside-accuracy on the road than at home. Including SEC action he is still 19-of-44 (43.2%) in road shooting. But after going 4-of-6 in the Auburn game Stewart is up to 21-of-51 (41.2%) in Humphrey Coliseum.
*Stewart is also efficient shooting from closer-in, and stationary. He was a perfect 10-of-10 on free throws Saturday, making him 56-of-69 for the season. That 81.2% ranks him third in the SEC. And the 6-2 guard does a much better job getting fouled than any bigger Dog. Centers Jarvis Varnado and Vernon Goodridge have only 68 free-throw attempts combined, with just 31 makes! Even F/C Charles Rhodes is only 32-of-54 at the stripe.
*Yet Stewart is not quite the most accurate Dog at the charity line. Fellow freshman guard Ben Hansbrough is 30-of-36, 83.3%. This is not enough makes or attempts to meet SEC minimums for ranking, though. And Hansbrough has been to the line only twice in the last four games.
*Take Stewart and Hansbrough out of the totals, and the rest of the team is just 170-of-295, or 58%
*Soph guard Jamont Gordon posted his seventh career double-double, and third this season, with 11 points and 11 rebounds against Auburn. He has had a D-D in two of his four SEC games, after getting 25 points and 11 boards at Tennessee. In fact he barely missed scoring only the second ‘triple double' ever for State with nine assists at UT.
*Gordon leads State in scoring, rebounding, and assists for the season, and only thrice this year has he not topped the team in at least one of those categories. He ranks ninth in SEC scoring, eighth in rebounding, 14th in shooting, and fifth in assists.
*Limited to just 20 minutes against Ole Miss, Gordon netted a career-low two rebounds. In the other three SEC games he's been a glass-master with 30 total boards, including 11 against Auburn. He already has 334 career rebounds in 47 games, a better career average (7.1) for the 6-4 guard than 6-8 Rhodes can claim (341, 61 games, 5.6).
*But his long-range accuracy has been sliding lately. Since the New Orleans game, Gordon is 3-of-15 at the arc and just 2-of-10 in SEC play.
*Rhodes saw his multi-year streak of scoring double-digits in SEC action snapped at 19 when he managed eight points at Kentucky. He bounced back with 13 points Saturday against Auburn. Since returning to the starting lineup for three games Rhodes has scored 38 points with 24 boards.
*With a big day Rhodes could reach 650 career points; he now has 635 in 61 games, an average of 10.4
*Freshman C Varnado has found life tougher as competition in the post has improved. He has blocked one shot in three games and three in the last five. Before then, Varnado had collected 28 blocks in seven games. He still ranks fourth in SEC blocks at 2.29 per game.
*But the team as a whole leads the league in blocks with 6.94 per game. Oddly, the only other stat where State tops the SEC is three-point defense, at 27.8% allowed. The Bulldogs have 118 blocks in 17 games; last year's team had 136 in 30.
*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. Back at home against Auburn he had 13 points with eight rebounds. In his four SEC games, Slater has shot 14-of-30 overall and tried only three treys…all missed, but a demonstration of shot selection lacking the previous years. Slater has surpassed 400 career points with 412 in his 83 games.
*Mississippi State ranks last in the league in turnover margin at –2.53. Next-worse is Kentucky at –1.84.