*The Dogs and Rebs have played two common non-conference opponents. Both own wins over New Orleans (MSU 89-63, OM 85-77) and South Alabama (MSU 84-46, OM 82-72). They have played three common conference foes, and while both lost to Kentucky and Florida the Rebels beat Tennessee, where State lost.
*Mississippi State has lost ten-straight SEC road games. The last league win away from home was at Arkansas in 2005.
About the Rebels: As foolish as it might sound on the surface, who in the West is playing any better than Ole Miss at the moment? True, they've lost three of the last five games and the one win came at home over a team missing its best player. Yet they've given LSU, Florida, and Vanderbilt all those host-teams could handle and if not for classic Nashville home-cooking likely should have won Saturday. Now the Rebels have a friendlier stretch of scheduling coming up and excellent chances to gain some SEC ground…which in this bizarre year could put them in the top half of the Division by March. Certainly the backcourt seniors are playing like winners. Bam Doyne has stepped to the offensive forefront and nearly doubled his output of last year, and when on his game Clarence Sanders can light it up. The two rank 4th and 7th respectively in SEC scoring, and while Sanders' shot looks awkward he's 4th in the league in made-treys. So Todd Abernathy can't go wrong passing the ball to either, and is 3rd in SEC assists as well as the league's leader in assist/turnover ratio. He's a legit scoring threat as well, and not just at the arc but with aggressive runs at the rack. Of course the paint belongs to 280-pound Dwayne Curtis. His presence was missed in the early-season but the unintended benefit is fresher legs for the big boy. He would rank third in SEC rebounds and among the leaders in shooting average (54%) if he met the minimum-games line, but if Curtis isn't in the league stats he's very much in any gameplan against the Rebels. Those four starters average double-digit points; the fifth man in the lineup has varied, usually with forward Kenny Williams complementing Curtis in the middle. He's the top shot-blocker on the squad and a 55% shooter on the relatively rare times he takes it upon himself to score. Junior Jeremy Parnell knows his way around the league and is a good alternate choice to Williams, while Eniel Polynice is quick help off the bench. So, lately, has been Brian Smith who has played in every SEC game. Just by the numbers this team might not seem too threatening; 7th in scoring, 11th in shooting, 9th in scoring defense and 10th in shooting defense. But the Rebels take chances on the defensive end that pay off enough, and this team is best in the conference in turnover margin. And with nobody in the West able to step out so far, a team that can limit its own errors and take advantage of opportunities could soon find itself in front.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Ole Miss: F Kenny Williams, JR 6-8 204, 7.1ppg, 5.7rpg, 21 blks; C Dwayne Curtis, JR 6-8 280, 13.1ppg, 9.2rpg; G Clarence Sanders, SR 6-1 180, 15.3ppg, 2.8rpg, 53 3ptrs; G Bam Doyne, SR 6-4 180, 16.2ppg, 5.3rpg, 26 3ptrs; G Todd Abernathy, SR 6-1 190, 10.8ppg, 5.1apg, 32 3ptrs.
Top Backups: F Jeremy Parnell, JR 6-8 245, 5.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 15 blks; G Eniel Polynice, FR 6-5 200, 3.8ppg, 1.9rpg, 11 3 ptrs; G Brian Smith, JR 5-11 170, 2.0 ppg, 9 3ptrs.
Mississippi State: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 6.8ppg, 2.6rpg, 21 3ptrs; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 3.2ppg, 3.9rpg, 27 blks; C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 11.4ppg, 6.2rpg, 28 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.7ppg, 1.9rpg, 32 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.2ppg, 7.4rpg, 4.7apg.
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.6ppg, 5.1rpg, 43 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.2ppg, 3.5apg, 26 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 11.8ppg, 3.4rpg, 43 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 8.4ppg, 5.6rpg.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 75.4, OM 74.1
PPG Allowed: MSU 65.3, OM 68.6
FG Shooting: MSU 46.5%, OM 44.1%
FG Defense: MSU 37.6%, OM 43.9%
3PT Shooting: MSU 36.8%, OM 35.5%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.8, OM 6.9
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 405, OM 19.3
Rebounding: MSU 40.1, OM 36.8
Rebounds Margin: MSU +3.9, OM +1.3
FT Shooting: MSU 64.6%, OM 69.3%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 24.1, OM 16.9
Assists PG: MSU 14.3, OM 14.0
Turnover Margin: MSU –1.8, OM +3.9
The Last Time: Playing at home for the first time since mid-December, the Bulldogs scored their first SEC win of the season by defeating the visiting Rebels 77-67. It was a typically-tense first half with six lead changes and a 28-28 tie, broken when State ran off eight-straight points for a lead never lost. Ole Miss did get within a point in the second half at 53-52, only to see the Dogs score ten-straight and stretch the lead to as many as 16. Four MSU players scored in double digits led by Charles Rhodes with 17, and eight rebounds. The real star of the night was Dietric Slater with a 16-point, 12-rebound performance off the bench. Barry Stewart, who opened that decisive 10-run, had 12 points and Reginald Delk 10. OM's Todd Abernathy led all participants with a 20-point performance and seven assists, while Clarence Sanders had 17 points but needed 25 shots to get them. Dwayne Curtis clocked a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards. State shot 49% for the day, the Rebels 33%, and the home team took 35 free throws to just 10 for the guests. It was MSU's ninth-straight home win over the Rebels.
The Series: State is now 132-102 against the in-state rivals, having won nine-straight home games and 14 of the last 17 meetings overall. That includes a victory in the 2003 SEC Tournament, the only time the rivals have played in a league tourney. The Rebels do hold a 75-40 advantage on their home courts and won last year's game, ending a three-year win streak for State in Oxford. Rick Stansbury is 14-4 against Ole Miss, and Andy Kennedy 0-1 against his home-state team.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: The Bulldogs continue to lead the SEC in shot-blocking, adding eight to their total Saturday for 133 in 19 games. Last year's squad blocked 136 in 30 games. At this pace, the team will set a season-standard for swats. The current record is 175 by the 1995-96 team. Three Dogs—backup C Jarvis Varnado, starting C Vernon Goodridge, and F/C Charles Rhodes—rank in the top-12 of the SEC individually in blocks.
*The South Carolina game was State's first loss this year after leading at halftime.
*Mississippi State is still among the poorest free-throw teams for the whole season. But that three-game homestand did wonders for Bulldog accuracy at the charity stripe. In those games State was 47-of-59 at the stripe, or 79.7%, compared to the full-season rate of 64.6%.
*The Bulldogs hope to see F/C Charles Rhodes get back in all-SEC form soon and this might be the right opponent to inspire the junior. He has had three big games against the Rebels, including this month's 17-point, 8-rebound effort. As a sophomore he scored 24 points with 5 boards at Oxford, and at home had 15 points with 5 rebounds.
*Rhodes has been efficient in SEC season, shooting 53% in the six games. But he has only put up 59 attempts in league play, and 14 of those were at Kentucky. Otherwise the junior is trying about eight shots per conference game. And he has only been to the foul line 17 times in six SEC games. As a soph he averaged 12 shots per SEC game and scored in double-digits all 16 times; he has done so in four of six chances this season.
*What has really fallen off is Rhodes' rebounding. He has grabbed 11 boards in the last three SEC games. In that same stretch he had eight blocked shots, almost all out-of-bounds or recovered by the shooting team. 6-4 G Jamont Gordon has one more SEC rebound than the 6-8 Rhodes.
*Rhodes has blocked 65 shots in his career and just moved into a tie for 9th on the MSU records list with Gary Hooker (1976-78). Next up at #8 is current MSU assistant Marcus Grant with 72 (1992-95).
*Rhodes still has a career scoring average over ten points, with 654 points in 63 games. He needs 1,144 to make the MSU career top-20 for scoring. The threshold for top-20 in rebounding is 564; Rhodes has 348.
*It was bound to happen eventually; freshman G Barry Stewart was going to have an off-night. After shooting 53% overall and 54% at the arc in his first five SEC games, the rookie went 0-of-8, 0-of-5 Saturday. He managed to make a pair of free throws, so Stewart has still scored in all of his college games.
*With those free shots, Stewart was perfect for those last three home games going 15-of-15. He's raised his season accuracy to 61-of-73; and he's a startling 25-of-27 at the stripe in SEC action. Stewart ranks 2nd in SEC free throw shooting (whole season).
*Despite coming off the bench the 6-2 guard also gets to the stripe more than any MSU post player. Compared to his 73 trips, Rhodes has taken 60 free throws; starting C Vernon Goodridge 36; and sub-C Jarvis Varnado 34.
*Stewart still easily tops his teams in made-treys with 43 and should set the State freshman record. The current mark of 59 was set last season by teammate G Reginald Delk.
*Stewart has been more accurate from the arc in road games (19-44, 43.2%) than at home (24-62, 38.7%). Until Saturday though he had almost ‘caught up' by hitting a combined 7-of-13 in the previous two games.
*Until the last game freshman G Ben Hansbrough was MSU's most accurate free-throw shooter, at 83.3% But he has taken only 36 trips to the stripe (making 30), none in the last four games.
*Hansbrough isn't getting the minutes Gordon does but the two are tied for the team-lead in steals at 20 each.
*Gordon has another double-digit scoring streak going, now at four games. One was a double-double, against Auburn, his third of the season. Gordon has scored double-figures 16 times in 19 games this year, and led State in scoring nine times. His last game not to get to 10 points? At home against Ole Miss, when he managed eight points in 20 minutes and sat most of the second half.
*Last year against the Rebels, Gordon and an 11-point, 9-rebound game at Oxford and 17-point, 8-board game at home.
*Gordon now has 702 career points, in 49 games for a 14.3 average. His SEC average is 15.0-even.
*With 90 assists this season Gordon has a positive ball-handling ratio, against 79 turnovers. As a freshman the ratio was reversed at 129/142 when Gordon led the league in giveaways. He has 219 career assists and needs 301 to move into the MSU top-ten.
*Gordon might be getting his shooting-eye back from long range. After going 2-of-10 at the arc the first four games he was 4-of-11 the last two. And his free-throwing is much improved as Gordon is 22-of-30 for this SEC season. He was 55-of-92 in SEC games as a freshman.
*Freshman Varnado continues to pace the conference in blocking shots with 43 for the season. That is more already than any Dog for a season since Tyrone Washington blocked 65 in 1999.
*After starting 11-straight games, Varnado has come off the bench the last three. His playing time has dropped accordingly, to 11 minutes per contest in that stretch. He had averaged 21 minutes as a starter.
*SEC season has been good to G Dietric Slater. The senior has averaged 9.0 points in league games and 6.0 rebounds. Other than the Florida game Slater has also picked his shots well, connecting on 16-of-33 in those other five league games. But, he is 2-of-8 at the arc in January.
*Sophomore G Reginald Delk has made 32 threes this season, 11 in SEC games. He now has 91 longballs for his short college career. With ten more he will move into the MSU career top-ten, catching Marckell Patterson's 101 from 1999-02.