*The Bulldogs are looking to end a 12-game losing streak in SEC road games, dating back to the end of the 2005 season.
The Last Time: The teams met three weeks ago in Starkville with State taking a 87-76 decision. In a perimeter shootout four backcourt Bulldogs scored in double-digits, led by Barry Stewart's 22 points off the bench and starting G Reginald Delk's 20. Auburn led by nine points in the first half and 37-31 at the break, before State hit a string of three-pointers in a 10-0 run to take control. Josh Dollard (19), Quan Prowell (12) and Rasheem Barrett (10) led four Tigers in double-digits. Auburn surprisingly matched the Dogs on the boards 44-44 and had two more treys, but State shot 46% overall and blocked six shots.
About the Tigers: Maybe they peaked early. Or, maybe they're about to catch a second-wind. Not even Jeff Lebo likely knows how the rest of Auburn's season will play out. But give credit where it's due, as for one month the Tigers were the turnaround-tale of the SEC West. Lebo's first two Auburn teams were scrappy; this third still plays hard but has added some firepower to make it count for wins. More already, it needs noting, than the dozen Ws of last season. That's an achievement for a lineup that consists, practically, of seven big guards/small forwards. And talk of interchangeable parts, five Tigers are scoring double-digits within a one-point spread. Tops for now is Quan Prowell, a former Furman player who is has moved into the starting lineup to give Auburn something of, well, everything. He scores inside-and-out, hits the boards, dishes and defends. And at 6-8 he's easily the tallest Tiger regular, if not the stoutest. 220-pounders Korvotney Barber (who plays as much as most startes) and Rasheem Barrett aren't just physical bookends, their stats are similar as well. Barrett does spend more time on the perimeter popping threes while Barber does most of the shot-blocking in this lineup. Somebody has to run this show and soph Quantez Robertson does it well. He benefits from teammates popping those quick jumpshots to get over five assists per night, second-best in the SEC, but can also stick the three himself. For that matter so can almost anyone taking the court here. They all rebound the ball, too, an area where Auburn is much improved. Not much changes when the top two subs move in, either. The price such of balance is no Tiger ranks in the league's top-20 scorers. For that matter the club still has inherent weaknesses, ranking in the bottom-third in scoring and shooting. Worse, Auburn is last in the league in both shooting and defending the three, percentage-wise. But they take care of the ball well, and can steal it away too. Which is why this is the sort of squad nobody wants to play in a crucial game…if they aren't sure what sort of game they can have, how can an opponent properly prepare?
Projected Starting Lineups:
Auburn: F Quan Prowell, JR 6-8 210, 12.4ppg, 6.2rpg, 25 3ptrs; F Korvotney Barber, SO 6-7 220, 11.5 ppg, 6.5rpg, 47 blks; F Josh Dollard, SO 6-7 225, 11.8ppg, 7.1rpg, 12 3ptrs; G Frank Tolbert, JR 6-3 210, 11.4ppg, 5.1rpg, 28 3ptrs; G Quantez Robertson, SO 6-3 190, 8.4ppg, 3.9rpg, 5.4apg, 25 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Rasheem Barrett, SO 6-5 220, 11.8ppg, 4.3rpg, 38 3ptrs; G DeWayne Reed, FR 6-1 175, 4.9ppg, 21 3ptrs; G Archie Miaway, JR 6-4 200, 3.8ppg, 22 3ptrs.
Mississippi State: G/F Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 9.8ppg, 5.3rpg; F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 6.4ppg, 2.5rpg, 24 3ptrs; F Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 12.0ppg, 6.0rpg, 32 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.8ppg, 2.0rpg, 40 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.9ppg, 7.4rpg, 4.6apg.
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.3ppg, 4.5rpg, 49 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.1ppg, 2.5apg, 30 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 10.9ppg, 3.3rpg, 45 3ptrs; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 2.9ppg, 3.5rpg, 27 blks.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 75.9, AUB 72.0
PPG Allowed: MSU 67.4, AUB 70.5
FG Shooting: MSU 46.3%, AUB 45.3%
FG Defense: MSU 39.0%, AUB 44.2%
3PT Shooting: MSU 36.5%, AUB 33.1%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 8.0, AUB 7.4
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 21.8, AUB 22.2
Rebounding: MSU 39.2, AUB 36.6
Rebounds Margin: MSU +3.0, AUB +0.9
FT Shooting: MSU 65.9%, AUB 60.7%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 23.0, AUB 18.5
Assists PG: MSU 14.4, AUB 17.3
Turnover Margin: MSU –1.2, AUB –0.1
The Series: Auburn holds a 67-59 lead in a series dating back to 1915. That includes a 40-20 lead in games played on the plains, where the Tigers have won the last two times State visited. Before that MSU teams had won on three-straight trips to Auburn and eight consecutive games in all. Rick Stansbury is 10-7 against Tiger teams, while Jeff Lebo is 2-3 against State.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Mississippi State has made 175 treys as a team so far. Last year's team had 176 in 30 games. These Bulldogs are currently tied for third in the SEC for made-threes per game with Georgia. The season-record is 240 treys made by the 1994-95 team.
*The Bulldogs added eight blocks to their team total Wednesday, giving them 154 for the season. This pace not only leads the SEC but if maintained will soon shatter the State-season record of 175 set by the 1995-96 team.
*Three Dogs rank among the league-leaders in swatting shots. C Jarvis Varnado is 4th in the league this week, C Charles Rhodes 9th, and C Vernon Goodridge 13th.
*Varnado already has 49 blocks, the 4th-best year ever by a Bulldog rookie and two behind Kal Wells (1980). The freshman record is 65 by Erick Dampier in 1994. Varnado needs 65 blocks to move into the career top-ten, a list also led by Dampier at 249. Rhodes now has 69 career blocks and ranks 9th on the MSU list, three behind Marcus Grant (1992-95).
*The Bulldogs have slipped a bit in their defensive proficiency. After leading the league in both overall shooting defense and three-point shooting defense, State now ranks second in each behind Florida and Kentucky, respectively.
*G/F Jamont Gordon had a career-best scoring night Wednesday at Alabama, putting up 27 points. His previous best-game was 25 points this season at Tennessee. It was the soph's sixth 20-point game of the season, eighth of his MSU career.
*Gordon has scored in double-digits his last seven games, and 19 out of State's 22 games this season. His SEC scoring average is up to 16.8 now, compared to his 15.3-point rate in non-conference contests. As a freshman Gordon averaged 14.1 in SEC play, 13.8 overall, and scored 10 or more points in all but one league game.
*Gordon now has 763 career points, in 52 games, most of any active Bulldog. He also tops the current roster in career rebounds with 365.
*Gordon is a couple of made-free tosses from ranking in the SEC's top-ten in four categories. He is 6th in scoring, 6th in assists, 7th in rebounding, and 11th in free-throwing.
*That latter stat might be his most impressive this season. As a freshman Gordon shot under 65% from the foul line, under 60% in SEC games. This year he is hitting 73% overall and 78.6% in conference play. And in the last six SEC games he has been good on 36-of-44 tries at the line, 82%.
*For comparison, Gordon has attempted 138 free throws this season; the three Bulldogs who have played center have taken a combined 147 attempts.
*Gordon just went over 100 assists for the season, with 101 in 22 games. He had 129 in 30 games as a freshman. But of more interest, Gordon is turning the ball over 3.86 times a game this year; as a rookie he led the SEC with 142 turnovers, 4.73 a game.
*But Gordon is slipping on his outside shooting. He had a three-game stretch of hitting 33% even, but in the last two is 1-of-7. In his first four SEC games Gordon was 2-of-11 at the arc.
*Based on how his SEC season has ‘cycled' Rhodes was due for an off-game offensively. He had it Wednesday, scoring eight at Alabama to end a three-game streak of scoring double-digits. This has been a much more up-and-down junior year, after Rhodes scored double-digits in all 16 of his soph-season SEC games. Rhodes averaged 17.3 as a SEC soph; he's averaging 13.0 this league season.
*Part of the problem is lack of attempts-on-goal. Other than a 16-shot night at Ole Miss, Rhodes has averaged under eight shots in the last three weeks. He has been more efficient in this stretch, making 31-of-54 shots (57.4%) the last six games, take away four ill-advised attempts from the arc and the rate leaps to 62%. Yet his scoring pace has fallen as his accuracy has increased.
*It will be hard for Rhodes to not break the 700-point mark this weekend, as he now has 699 in 66 games. Rhodes still ranks 10th-best among MSU career-shooters, at 56.3%
*The coaching staff would like for Rhodes to assert himself in other ways, drawing more fouls. He has taken only 29 free-throw attempts in nine SEC games, among the lowest totals for any league post player.
*Rhodes has also not been the sort of force expected around the glass this year, certainly not for a month now. After getting double-digit rebounds in games at Tennessee and Kentucky, Rhodes has not gotten more than seven boards in any game. In the last six games he's only averaged 4.2 rebounds. He still ranks 13th in the SEC stats, but is slipping steadily down the list.
*Perhaps it is because instead of grabbing missed shots Rhodes is focused on blocking them, with 16 swats in the last eight games.
*While Gordon continues to set the offensive tone, freshman G Ben Hansbrough is being worked into more minutes at the point. In the last two games the rookie has had 11 total assists; he had just three the three previous contests. Though coming off the bench Hansbrough now ranks 12th-best in the SEC assist list, better than some league starters; and he's fifth-best in assist/turnover ratio.
*Playing with the ball more instead of off the ball should give Hansbrough more opportunities at the foul line. Though he did miss a tough last-minute chance at the stripe, he is still hitting 82.9% for the season and if he had enough attempts would rank in the SEC's top-five for accuracy. He is 34-of-41 for the year.
*Senior G Dietric Slater is certainly making up for time-lost sitting out the first half of his last college season. Since activation January 2 Slater has scored double-digits in six of ten games, and he's averaged 10.3 in SEC action. And as a starter the last two games he has scored 15 and 13 points, shooting 9-of-19 from the field and 4-of-9 from the arc.
*Slater did not hit a trey in his first five games-back; in the last five he has thrown in eight longballs and hit 47% from the arc.
*Slater is playing a bit more cleverly lately on defense; after fouling out in the Ole Miss game he has had five total personals the past two contests.
*G Reginald Delk is up to 40 treys for this sophomore season, 19 in his SEC games. He set the MSU freshman record with 59 longballs in 30 games last year. Delk now has 99 treys for his brief career and needs two more to move into a tie for 10th place on the MSU list, with Marckell Patterson (1999-02).
*Between them twin brothers Reginald and Richard Delk have 64 treys this year; they had 70 together as freshmen.
*G Barry Stewart began his college career and first SEC season on a shooting-tear, and still ranks in the conference top-ten in both made-treys and accuracy. Through his first five SEC games he was hitting 54% outside. But the rookie has fallen into a shooting slump lately; in the last four games he is 2-of-16 at the arc with both made-threes in the LSU game. Stewart has seen his team-lead in made-treys diminish as he leads Reginald Delk by five now. Stewart still has a good shot, or shots, at breaking Delk's rookie-year record.
*The strains of a first SEC season might also be showing at the stripe, where Stewart is 6-of-10 the last two games. Before that he had hit on 27-of-31, 87%, in the first seven SEC games and in one stretch made 25-straight.
*No Bulldog ranks in the SEC's top-15 in steals.