*Wednesday's contest matches the SEC's top two teams in blocking shots this season. Mississippi State is first with 158 rejections in 23 games, while the Razorbacks have blocked 155 balls in 24 games.
About the Razorbacks: It took four years for Stan Heath to rebuild Arkansas into a NCAA participant; re-loading to line up another tournament team won't take nearly so long, though these Razorbacks do have plenty work left on that front if their name is to be called in March. Still it's welcome progress in Fayetteville that after some under-achieving seasons this Arkansas squad might actually be over-producing a bit. After all, both of the graduated big gunners of last winter took 106 treys and epochs of experience with them. While this lineup isn't shooting up opponents the same way it has become a more efficient and better-balanced ball club. Take Steven Hill, for Exhibit A. The seven-footer could always block shots but otherwise was a non-entity at either end. Now the junior has expanded his offensive repertoire and doubled his point production, while playing better position-defense. Without, that is, slacking on the swatting, where he continues to lead the league. If Heath chooses, the Hogs can go twin-tower and start veteran Darian Townes on the front line, with 6-10 Vincent Hunter available in reserve. Otherwise, Jackson native Charles Thomas (who has had some injury issues) opens as the big-forward. His own game is stronger than last year, too, by over a full basket and half-a-rebound and he's 19th in SEC boardwork. An excellent recruiting class has added two pieces to the league-season lineup, with small forward Sonny Weems stepping in to hit the jumper and provide almost a dozen points-per. The big splash though belongs to fellow frosh Patrick Beverley, one of the nation's top rookie guards. He not only leads his team ins scoring (15th-best SEC), but ranks third in the league in steals, second in free-throw shooting, and fourth in minutes. Beverley will end up with more made-treys than any of last year's UA marksmen, as long as Gary Ervin keeps feeding him the ball. The former Bulldog guard has had some up-and-down stretches in his new address, with turnovers always an issue, but he's still third in SEC assists and when the Hogs go small he can keep the tempo up. Ervin has also found his long-shot after a transfer year's layout. Not that Arkansas makes a living from the arc, ranking just 10th in SEC made-treys. For that matter the team is only 10th in scoring. But the Razorbacks are selective in their shooting and make the most of opportunity, while playing excellent defense all over the floor.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Arkansas: F Sonny Weems, JR 6-6 200, 11.5ppg, 4.8rpg, 25 3ptrs; F Charles Thomas, JR 6-8 235, 11.7ppg, 5.4rpg; C Steven Hill, JR 7-0 250, 6.6ppg, 4.3rpg, 71 blks; G Gary Ervin, JR 5-11 176, 9.6ppg, 3.5rpg, 5.3apg, 23 3ptrs; G Patrick Beverley, 14.2ppg, 4.5rpg, 51 3ptrs.
Top Backups: C Darian Townes, JR 6-10 250, 8.1ppg, 4.1rpg; F Vincent Hunter, JR 6-10 225, 3.7ppg, 2.1rpg; G Stefan Welsh, FR 6-2 210, 3.0ppg, 17 3ptrs.
Mississippi State: G/F Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 9.8ppg, 5.4rpg; F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 6.4ppg, 2.5rpg, 24 3ptrs; F Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 12.5ppg, 6.0rpg, 33 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.3ppg, 2.0rpg, 40 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 16.0ppg, 7.3rpg, 4.7apg.
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.3ppg, 4.5rpg, 51 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.3ppg, 2.5apg, 32 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 11.0ppg, 3.3rpg, 49 3ptrs; C Vernon Goodridge, JR, 6-9 225, 2.9ppg, 3.5rpg, 27 blks.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 76.5, ARK 71.4
PPG Allowed: MSU 68.1, ARK 64.0
FG Shooting: MSU 46.6%, ARK 47.4%
FG Defense: MSU 39.5%, ARK 41.2%
3PT Shooting: MSU 36.6%, ARK 36.5%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 8.0, ARK 6.0
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 21.7, ARK 16.5
Rebounding: MSU 39.0, ARK 34.1
Rebounds Margin: MSU +3.0, ARK +2.6
FT Shooting: MSU 66.1%, ARK 71.0%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 23.1, ARK 21.0
Assists PG: MSU 14.4, ARK 15.8
Turnover Margin: MSU –1.2, ARK –0.7
The Series: Arkansas holds a 23-17 lead in a series begun in 1952, but which did not become a regular rivalry until 1992. The Razorbacks posted a seven-game win streak from 1998-2000, and until last March the Bulldogs had a five-game streak going. State leads 13-5 in Starkville games. The West teams have only met once in a SEC Tournament, Arkansas winning in 1999 in Atlanta. Rick Stansbury is 8-9 against Arkansas, while Stan Heath is 2-6 against Mississippi State.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Mississippi State has already made more three-pointers, 183 in 23 games, than last year's team did all season with 176 in 30 games. This team is just a bit off the pace needed to catch the program record of 240 treys made by the 1994-95 team, though that squad also played three post-season games. So the mark is still in reach.
*The season record that is soon to be shattered is for blocked shots. These Bulldogs have rejected 158, most in the SEC as of this week. The record is 175 by the 1995-96 team, which at this squad's pace is just 2.5 games away.
*Three Dogs rank among the league-leaders in swatting shots. C Jarvis Varnado is 4th in the league this week, C Charles Rhodes 10th, and C Vernon Goodridge 13th.
*Varnado already has 51 blocks, the 3rd-best year ever by a Bulldog rookie tied with Kal Wells in 1980. The freshman record is 65 by Erick Dampier in 1994. Varnado needs 63 blocks to move into the career top-ten, a list also led by Dampier at 249.
*Rhodes now has 70 career blocks and ranks 9th on the MSU list, two behind Marcus Grant (1992-95).
*G/F Jamont Gordon followed up a career-best 27 points at Alabama with 19 more at Auburn Saturday, just missing his seventh 20-point effort of the season. Gordon has notched double-digits in the last eight games and 20 of the 23 this season. He is averaging 16.9 in SEC play, compared to his freshman average of 14.1 when he scored ten or more in all but one league game.
*Gordon now has 782 career points, in 53 games, most of any active Bulldog. He also tops the current roster in career rebounds with 369.
*By hitting 4-of-5 free throws at Auburn, Gordon moved into the top-ten in four SEC categories. He now ranks 5th in scoring, 6th in assists, 8th in rebounds, and 10th in free-throwing. He is also 15th in field goal percentage.
*As a freshman Gordon shot a bit under 65% from the free-throw line, 60% in SEC games. In his last seven league games he has been good on 40-of-49 tries, raising his 2007 averages to 73% overall and 79% SEC.
*For comparison, Gordon has attempted 143 free throws this season; the three Bulldogs who have played center have taken a combined 154 attempts.
*Gordon is up to 107 assists for the season, after getting credit for 129 as a freshman. But of more interest, Gordon is turning the ball over 3.8 times a game this year; as a rookie he led the SEC with 142 turnovers, 4.73 per game.
*Rhodes bounced back from an eight-point night at Alabama with 25 at Auburn, his seventh double-digit SEC game this junior season. He had ten or more points in all 16 of his soph-season SEC games and averaged 17.3 in league play. Rhodes is producing 14.2 points in conference games this season.
*Yet Rhodes has been more efficient this year, likely because of more selective shooting. In his last seven games the junior has hit 40-of-68 shots, almost 59%. For a five-game stretch he was taking between seven and eight shots; at Auburn he attempted 14, making nine. In the process his career shooting improved to 56.7%. He needs to hit 59.8% to rank among the career top-ten.
*Rhodes just passed the 700-point plateau with 724 after 67 games. He owns a 10.8-point career scoring average, but take away his limited freshman season and Rhodes has netted 13.3-per in his two years as a starter.
*Before the Auburn game Rhodes had attempted just 29 free throws in nine SEC games. He was 7-of-7 Saturday, showing why the coaches want the junior to draw more fouls and score un-defended points.
*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 seven games he's only averaged 4.2 rebounds. He still ranks 13th in the SEC stats.
*While Gordon continues as the starting point guard, freshman G Ben Hansbrough is being worked into more minutes in the role. In the last three games the rookie has had 13 total assists; he had just three the three preceding 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. He is hitting 83% for the season and if he had enough attempts would rank in the SEC's top-five for accuracy. He is 39-of-47 for the year.
*Senior G Dietric Slater has scored double-digits in seven of his ten SEC games, and averaged 10.3 points in the process. Since moving back into the starting lineup the last three dates he has scored 38 points and shot almost 50%.
*Maybe sitting out half-a-season has helped with Slater's shot selection. He has not only hit 46% from the field in 11 games, but his three-point accuracy is 32% compared to his previous career mark of 20% for three seasons.
*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 hopes he broke out of a shooting slump, by hitting four-of-seven threes at Auburn. In the preceding four games the rookie had gone 2-of-16; this after Stewart burst into SEC season—and stats—by hitting 54% at the arc his first five games. The freshman still ranks 7th in three-point percentage, and 9th in made-treys per game.
*And he continues to lead State in longballs with 49. He needs ten more to match the MSU freshman record set last season when G Reginald Delk sank 59 threes.
*Stewart is slipping at the stripe, though. After hitting 27-of-31 in his first seven SEC games, including a run of 25-straight, he is 6-of-11 in the last three contests. He still ranks 8th in SEC accuracy this week.
*For the whole season, Stewart has shot a bit better from arcs drawn on hostile floors, 23-of-57 (40.4%), than at home, 26-of-68 (38.2%). But in SEC play he is almost equal wherever shooting 10-of-25 at home and 10-of-24 on the road.