About the Tigers: Karma, anyone? Considering the frustrations and infuriations of the current season, that seems the only acceptable explanation. LSU is paying a serious psychic price for their dash into the 2006 Final Four here in 2007. How else to figure that a team with four starters back from that squad, which also claimed the West championship by winning the close ones, is now losing them. Well, other than the fact that the one departure was a first-round draft pick. Their last five setbacks have come by a cumulative 17 points, including Wednesday's last-play heart-ripper at Oxford. It's been a long, hard, and painful fall for a team ranked as high as #5 before the season and still in the polls as late as January 28. Now the Tigers not only aren't getting votes but are an increasingly-long shot to return to post-season play a sixth-straight year. If there is no NCAA bid come March, don't blame Glen Davis. The one-time ‘Big Baby' is the big man in this league, second in scoring only to Tennesee's Chris Lofton and the only SEC player pulling down double-digit rebounds. He's a full board ahead of his nearest competitor. It's a credit to Davis' more-matured mindset and better-toned physique that, despite the attention and pounding taken in the paint he is still the SEC's sixth-best shooter and playing the third-most minutes. Oh, and he's added the outside shot to his inventory, which is a very helpful fact for a team that ranks dead-last in the SEC in made-treys. Their 145 three-balls as a team aren't twice what Lofton alone has made. Davis doesn't have Tyrus Thomas alongside in the post, but soph Tasmin Mitchell has tried to fill the void and done it well. He ranks 15th in SEC scoring and 11th in rebounds, no mean feat that with Davis dominating the glass. Triggerman Garrett Temple is charged with getting them the ball, though he has the green light at the arc himself. Temple also is top-ten in steals. All these three starters are in the SEC's top-eight in minutes played, showing just how shallow John Brady's bench is these days. Another soph, Terry Martin, is the primary perimeter threat and tops the team in made-treys. Still this squad is only 11th in SEC scoring and eight-best in shooting. Worse, they are 10th in turnover margin when there's precious little of that to work with already. So the Tigers stress defense and are very good at it, standing 2nd in scoring and 4th in shooting (hence many of those rebound chances). And if the shots happen to be falling, LSU still has the horses and experience to play with anyone. Their trouble has been making that one last play that would have turned February frustration into March optimism. But in the bizzaro-world of the SEC West there's still time to play catch-up.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Louisiana State: F Tasmin Mitchell, SO 6-7 225, 14.0ppg, 6.2rpg, 30 3ptrs; F Darnell Lazare, SR 6-8 230, 6.9ppg, 4.0rpg; C Glenn Davis, JR 6-9 280, 18.2ppg, 10.7rpg, 26 blks; G Garrett Temple, SO 6-5 190, 8.8ppg, 3.4rpg, 4.2apg, 32 3ptrs; G Terry Martin, SO 6-6 195, 10.5ppg, 2.4rpg, 40 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Dameon Mason, JR 6-6 183, 5.7ppg, 2.9rpg; G Ben Voogd, SO 6-1 165, 1.7ppg, 2.0apg; F Magnum Rolle, SO 6-10 205, 3.5ppg, 4.2rpg, 22 blks.
Mississippi State: G/F Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 9.8ppg, 5.2rpg; F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 6.2ppg, 2.5rpg, 25 3ptrs; F Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 12.8ppg, 6.0rpg, 34 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.4ppg, 2.2rpg, 43 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 16.1ppg, 7.2rpg, 4.8 apg.
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.2ppg, 4.5rpg, 55 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.1ppg, 2.5apg, 33 3ptrs, 3.5apg; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 10.9ppg, 3.4rpg, 51 3ptrs.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 76.8, LSU 69.3
PPG Allowed: MSU 67.8, LSU 61.8
FG Shooting: MSU 46.7%, LSU 45.7%
FG Defense: MSU 39.3%, LSU 40.0%
3PT Shooting: MSU 37.4%, LSU 35.7%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 8.1, LSU 5.8
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 21.6, LSU 16.2
Rebounding: MSU 38.9, LSU 38.1
Rebounds Margin: MSU +2.8, LSU +6.0
FT Shooting: MSU 66.3%, LSU 70.5%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 23.1, LSU 17.2
Assists PG: MSU 14.5, LSU 14.6
Turnover Margin: MSU –0.9, LSU –1.2
The Last Time: Mississippi State snapped a four-game, two-year losing streak to the Tigers with a 85-78 victory in Humphrey Coliseum on February 3. The Tigers led 18-7 at 13 minutes of the opening half before the Bulldogs caught up and tied the halftime count 39-39. The second period saw 11 lead-changes until consecutive layups from Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes put State in front at six minutes. A four-point play by Reginald Delk and following jumper broke the Bengals' backs. Delk's 18 points led four Bulldogs in double-digits while Glen Davis had a monster game of 27 points and ten rebounds. LSU out-shot the home team slightly and owned a ten-rebound advantage, but State's 13 treys more than offset those margins.
The Series: LSU owns a 101-89 lead in a series dating back to 1909; in fact this is State's oldest existing rivalry, beginning four years before Alabama and five before Ole Miss. The Bulldogs now lead 55-35 in Starkville but down on the bayou things have been very different, with LSU owning a 63-31 advantage. The Tigers have won six of the last eight games played in the PMAC, and the most recent two. Rick Stansbury is 10-9 against LSU, while John Brady is 9-12 against the school he worked at from 1983-90.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Mississippi State just moved back to first place in the SEC in shooting defense, allowing 39.3% for the season. The Dogs had been passed for two weeks by Florida.
*State has been able to stay atop the league in shot-blocking. While MSU and Arkansas both have 163 swats, the Dogs have played one less game than the Hogs. State is now only a dozen blocks behind the standing season-record of 175 by the 1995-96 team. At their current rate the Bulldogs will break that mark in two more games. Three players rank in the SEC's top-15 in blocking; Jarvis Varnado is 4th, Charles Rhodes 10th, and Vernon Goodridge 13th.
*This team has already made more three-pointers in 24 games, 194, than the 176 of last year's squad in 30 games. If they continue to average 8.0 treys per game, these Bulldogs will just break the school record of 240 (1994-95) in the regular season, before going to the SEC Tournament and any ensuing post-season games.
*G/F Jamont Gordon is on the offensive tear of his career, having scored 98 points in the last five games. Included was a career-best 27 point night at Alabama. Gordon has notched double-digits in the last nine games, and 21 of 24 this season.
*Gordon has averaged 17.1 points this SEC season, and talk about consistency: in State's five victories he has netted 17.2 points.
*Gordon's career scoresheet now stands at 800 points exactly, in 54 games, most of any active Bulldog. He also tops the active rebound list at 374.
*Gordon now ranks in the SEC's top-ten in four categories. He is 6th in assists, 7th in scoring, 8th in rebounds, and 10th in free-throw shooting. He is also 15th in field goal percentage.
*Gordon has become one of the most reliable stripe-scorers in the league, after hitting only 65% overall and under 60% SEC as a freshman. In his last seven games he is 45-of-56 on free throws, and raised his season average to 72.7% (77.9% SEC).
*Gordon has attempted 150 free throws this year; the three Dogs who play center have combined for 160.
*Gordon is up to 114 assists for the season, after getting credit for 129 as a freshman. But of more interest, Gordon is turning the ball over 3.7 times a game this year; as a rookie he led the SEC with 142 turnovers, 4.7 per game.
*While Gordon continues as the starting point guard, freshman G Ben Hansbrough is being worked into more minutes in the role. In the last four games the rookie has had 17 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 4th-best in assist/turnover ratio. Gordon is not even in the top-15.
*But the two have helped State, once the league's worst team in that category, improve to 9th in a/t ratio and to 8th in turnover margin.
*Playing with the ball more instead of off the ball should give Hansbrough more opportunities at the foul line. He is hitting 81.6% for the season and if he had enough attempts would rank in the SEC's top-ten for accuracy. He is 40-of-49 for the year.
*Rhodes now has 71 career blocks and ranks 9th on the MSU list, one behind Marcus Grant (1992-95).
*Rhodes has responded well to a eight-point night at Alabama by scoring 25 at Auburn and 19 more against Arkansas, giving him eight double-digit SEC games. He now ranks 22nd in SEC scoring. Rhodes had ten or more points in all 16 of his soph-season league games.
*Yet the junior is 4th-best in shooting field goals. In his last eight games Rhodes has been good on 47-of-83 attempts from the floor, 56.6%. So State wants him taking more shots and the last two times out he has responded, with 14 attempts at Auburn and 15 Wednesday. Before that he had taken seven or eight in all the previous five contests.
*Rhodes now has a career field-goal average of 56.2%, just outside the MSU top-ten. He also has 743 career points, in 68 games for a 10.9 average. Take away a limited freshman season and it is a 13.4 career scoring average.
*Hopefully Rhodes' rebounding has picked up with 13 boards the last two games. But he has not notched more than seven in a SEC game since 12 at Kentucky. He still ranks 13th in SEC rebounding.
*Before the Auburn game Rhodes had attempted just 29 free throws in nine SEC games. He was 7-of-7 Saturday and 4-of-6 against Arkansas, showing why the coaches want the junior to draw more fouls and score non-guarded points.
*Varnado already has 55 blocks, the 3rd-best year ever by a Bulldog rookie. The freshman record is 65 by Erick Dampier in 1994. Varnado needs 59 more blocks to move into the career top-ten, a list also led by Dampier at 249.
*Senior G Dietric Slater has scored double-digits in eight of his 11 SEC games, and averaged 10.2 points in the process. Since moving back into the starting lineup the last three dates he has scored 48 points and shot right at 50%.
*Sitting out half-a-season may have helped with Slater's shot selection. He has not only hit 47% from the field in 12 games, but his three-point accuracy is 31% compared to his previous career mark of 20% for three seasons.
*G Reginald Delk is up to 43 treys for this sophomore season, 22 in his SEC games. He set the MSU freshman record with 59 longballs in 30 games last year. Delk now has 102 treys for his brief career and just moved into 10th place on the MSU listing. He needs nine to catch Doug Hartsfield for 9th.
*Between them twin brothers Reginald and Richard Delk have 68 treys this year; they had 70 together as freshmen.
*G Barry Stewart seems to have broken out of a shooting slump. After going 2-of-16 in a four-game stretch the freshman has been good on 6-of-9 the last two MSU wins. Stewart broke into the league by hitting 54% of his arc-shots in the first five games. He Currently ranks 7th in SEC three-point accuracy.
*And with Reg Delk putting on the pressure, Stewart has stretched his team-lead in made-treys. He now has 51 longballs for the year, and is on pace again to break Delk's rookie-season record of 59 set last winter.
*Stewart has slipped at the stripe a bit. He had been on a red-hot pace, making 27-of-31 with a tear of 25-straight; he is 8-of-13 since, but still ranks 6th in the SEC at almost 79% for the year.
*For most of the season Stewart has shot better from arcs drawn on hostile courts. But now he has almost balanced the books. On three-point attempts Stewart is 23-of-57 (40.4%) in road games, and 27-of-70 (40.0%) at home. And in SEC action he is now 12-of-27 at home (44.4%) and 10-of-24 (41.7%) on the road.