*Alabama is ranked #18 (AP) this week. Mississippi State has played two games against teams ranked at the time, losing at then-#19 Tennessee and at home to #1 Florida. State has played three other teams that are now or have been ranked, beating LSU while losing to Clemson and Kentucky. Under Coach Rick Stansbury, State teams are 14-39 playing ranked opponents.
*These teams played one common non-SEC opponent, both beating Alabama State in home games; MSU 74-59, and Alabama 92-58.
*Under Stansbury, State teams have posted a winning record, 33-27, in February games.
About the Crimson Tide: They've moved into the position forecast, atop the Western Division standings; it just took a tough month for Alabama to get there. At times very tough, with the Tide struggling through injury and inconsistency and lack of productive depth. Still Mark Gottfried's squad has broken-even, something no other West team can claim, and remained in the national rankings, ditto. This starting lineup is certainly the Division's best and most balanced with four scoring between 15 and 12 points per night. And speaking of ‘balance' look where Alabama ranks in SEC stats: 7th in scoring, 6th scoring defense; 6th shooting, 6th shooting defense. So doing everything well means not needing to be great at anything. Though ‘great' is a fitting description for this frontcourt tandem. Jermareo Davidson has developed into a superb senior with an all-around game, able to position for the easy buckets or step out a bit and pop the jumper. He takes almost one-fourth of his team's shots and with good reason, ranking tenth in SEC scoring. Oh, don't foul the 6-10 guy either as he's around 80% at the stripe. It's surprising that Davidson is tied for third in SEC rebounds, not because he can't do the job but because Richard Hendrix is in there muscling for just as many boards. The soph center is a load in the lane and an opportunistic scorer, his 62% shooting standing second-best in the league this week. With these middle-men no wonder Alabama is third in SEC rebound margin, as well as third in blocking shots. Even the perimeter starters bring size to the lineup with 6-6 underclassmen Mykal Riley and Alonzo Gee combining for about ten more rebounds. But these wing-men can shoot and score, too, with almost 70 treys between them. Juco transfer Riley has been the difference-maker by adding the perimeter punch lost to graduation. Those long shots have been needed with Ron Steele not enjoying quite the season forecast. He's still one of, if not the elite point guards in the land but nagging injury has slowed the junior's pace. He's gone from 14.3 points as a soph to 9.4 so far this year, and assists are off as well…if being 9th in the SEC is ‘off.' He's still battled to play 36-plus minutes in league action, and demands close defensive attention as a proven perimeter threat in his own right. Still Alabama hasn't relied on the longball as much the last month and given up more SEC treys than made, 60 to 45. Don't look for big help off the bench, as the three bodies regularly rotated are contributing just 18 combined points. This team doesn't swipe the ball a lot, either, but prefers sound position defense. Still as long as those starters are in, and on, their games this is the West's best squad and they open the second half in first. Staying there won't be easy though because the Tide must go to Florida and Tennessee and host Kentucky, which makes this week's dates with State and at Ole Miss critical.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Alabama: F Mykal Riley, JR 6-6 185, 12.1ppg, 4.5rpg, 47 3ptrs; F Jermareo Davidson, SR 6-10 220, 15.0ppg, 8.9rpg, 54 blks; F/C Richard Hendrix, SO 6-8 265, 14.5ppg, 8.9rpg, 29 blks; G/F Alonzo Gee, SO 6-6 215, 13.9ppg, 5.6rpg, 22 3ptrs; G Ronald Steele, JR 6-3 180, 9.4ppg, 4.0apg, 39 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Brandon Hollinger, SO 5-11 170, 4.3ppg, 18 3ptrs; G Justin Tubbs, FR 6-2 175, 2.9ppg, 11 3ptrs; F Demetrius Jemison, FR 6-7 225, 2.8ppg, 3.3rpg.
Mississippi State: G/F Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 9.4ppg, 5.0rpg; F Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 12.2ppg, 6.0rpg, 31 blks; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 2.9ppg, 3.5rpg, 27 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.9ppg, 2.0rpg, 38 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.4ppg, 7.3rpg, 4.7apg.
Top Backups: F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 6.7ppg, 2.5rpg, 24 3ptrs; F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.4ppg, 4.5rpg, 46 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.0ppg, 2.7apg, 27 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 11.2ppg, 3.2rpg, 45 3ptrs.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 75.7ppg, ALA 74.9ppg%
PPG Allowed: MSU 66.8ppg, ALA 66.4ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 46.7%, ALA 46.6%
FG Defense: MSU 38.9%, ALA 40.6%
3PT Shooting: MSU 37.1%, ALA 36.7%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 8.0, ALA 6.5
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 21.4, ALA 17.7
Rebounding: MSU 38.8, ALA 39.7
Rebounds Margin: MSU +2.8, ALA +6.0
FT Shooting: MSU 65.5%, ALA 70.9%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 22.8, ALA 20.3
Assists PG: MSU 14.4, ALA 13.8
Turnover Margin: MSU –1.4, ALA –1.2
The Series: Alabama owns a 109-66 lead in a series that began in 1913. The schools have met annually since 1945 and twice-per-year since 1965. The Tide has dominated play in Tuscaloosa with a 69-13 lead, and State has lost the last two trips to Coleman Coliseum. Rick Stansbury and Mark Gottfried took over their respective programs the same year, and State has a 9-8 margin since with the difference a 2002 Bulldog win in the SEC Tournament championship game. Stansbury teams are 2-6 in Tuscaloosa.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Under Rick Stansbury, Mississippi State has played ten SEC games into overtime(s). Three have been against Alabama and all of those in Tuscaloosa, with a 1-2 result. The one win of course came in 2004 when the Bulldogs clinched the SEC Championship. Stansbury teams are 5-5 in SEC overtime games, and 3-2 in non-conference extra period-play.
*The Bulldogs added nine blocks to their team total Saturday, giving them 146 for the season. This pace not only leads the SEC but if maintained with shatter the State-season record of 175 set by the 1995-96 team.
*Freshman C Jarvis Varnado now has 46 blocks for the season, and ranks 4th in the latest SEC standings. Varnado already has the 10th-best year by a Bulldog blocker ever. But the season-record is likely beyond reach; 106 by Erick Dampier in 1996. Dampier also holds the MSU freshman record for blocks, 65. Varnado is up to 4th in that list.
*Junior F/C Charles Rhodes has 68 career blocks, giving him possession of ninth place on the MSU list. He is four blocks behind assistant coach Marcus Grant's 162 from 1992-95.
*After being held under ten points in two-of-three games, Rhodes has put up 10, 24, and 13 the last three contests. As a sophomore he scored double-digits in all 16 SEC games and averaged 17.3 points. Through the first half of this conference schedule Rhodes has scored double-digits six times, averaging 13.6 points.
*Rhodes attempted 16 shots at Ole Miss; in the other four most recent games he has taken 8, 7, 8, and 8 shots. At least he's been efficient in this stretch. Including the OM game he has shot 28-of-47 or 59.6%. He has raised his career shooting average to 56.9%, which at the moment ranks 8th in MSU annals.
*But the junior isn't going to the foul stripe often this semester. In eight SEC games he has attempted just 25 free throws.
*Lack of fouls-drawn might relate to less aggressiveness around the glass. Rhodes has just 20 rebounds in the last five games. Or it might be a shift in his personal emphasis as he is going after shots before they get to the backboards; Rhodes has blocked 11 balls in that same stretch.
*A typical outing will push Rhodes over 700 career points. He has 691 for his 65 Bulldogs games.
*Soph G/F Jamont Gordon is on the verge of ranking in the SEC's top-10 in four categories. Going into the week he is 6th in assists, 7th in rebounds, 9th in scoring, and a surprising 11th in free-throw accuracy. Gordon has been on a tear at the stripe the last five games, going 28-of-35 or 80%.
*Gordon not only has the most free throws on the squad, 92 makes in 129 tries; but he has taken more free shots in SEC play than Rhodes, Varnado, and C Vernon Goodridge combined, 47 to 35.
*Gordon is on another double-digit scoring streak, having gotten 10 or more points the last six games. He has scored double-digits in 18 of 21 games this year, and is putting up 15.5 per SEC game compared to his season-average of 15.4.
*Gordon now has 736 points in 51 career games, a 14.4 average. His SEC rate is almost identical, 14.5 in 24 games.
*Gordon now has 99 assists for the season, against 84 turnovers. As a freshman the ratio was reversed at 129/142 when Gordon led the league in giveaways. He has 228 career assists and needs 301 to move into the MSU top-ten.
*The soph continues to set the pace for minutes-played as he has taken breaks of just 2 and 4 minutes the last two games. Curiously, though, Gordon's current rate of 32.2 minutes in SEC play is behind his freshman average of 33.1 when he was also the squad ‘iron man.'
*Whether he's entirely out of that end-of-January slump is to be seen; but freshman G Barry Stewart did show a couple of encouraging signs Saturday. Specifically, the two treys he hit in five tries. In the previous two games Stewart was 0-of-7 at the arc and 0-of-11 overall. Before that, he had hit 54% in five SEC games. With 45 treys in 21 games Stewart is also back on-pace to break Reginald Delk's MSU freshman record for three-pointers, 59 last season.
*But Stewart has started to slip at the stripe. He had made 25-straight through seven games before a miss on his third try at Ole Miss. Saturday he missed his first chance and hit the next three. Stewart is still a 65-of-78 marksman on free pitches this year, 83.3% which ranks him fourth-best in the SEC this week. He is 29-of-33 in league games.
*Stewart is ninth in SEC three-point accuracy, tenth in treys made per game.
*At the arc Stewart has shot 19-of-46, 41.3% in all road games, compared to 26-of-67, 38.8%, on his home court.
*Freshman G Ben Hansbrough has regained his status as the team's most accurate foul shooter. He is 33-of-39, 84.6% for the year. But he doesn't have enough attempts to meet SEC minimums for ranking; otherwise Hansbrough would be 2nd in the league this week.
*Hansbrough plays off the bench and not all that many minutes at the point. Yet he still manages to rank 13th in the SEC in assists average, better than some full-time pointmen.
*Waiting a half-season to get back in action certainly seems to have done G Dietric Slater good. The senior has scored double-digits in four of his last five SEC games, five in all, and he is averaging 10.0 points through the first half of the league schedule. He celebrated his first start of this season, and first since last year's game at Arkansas where he was injured, by scoring 15 points against LSU.
*Other than a 4-of-13 night against Florida, Slater has shot the ball efficiently. In his last three games he is 12-of-18 from the field and 5-of-9 at the arc. And after picking up 14 fouls in three losses, Slater was assessed just two personals in MSU's Saturday win.
*Sophomore G Reginald Delk has made 38 threes this season, 17 in SEC games. He now has 97 longballs for his short college career. With four more he will move into the MSU career top-ten, catching Marckell Patterson's 101 from 1999-02.