*Only twice since the modern SEC Tournament began in 1979 has a team that played in the first round won the event. Auburn did it in 1985 in the old ten-team league, and post-expansion only Arkansas in 2000.
*The MSU Bulldogs are coming off a 83-70 home win over #17 Vanderbilt, which was their first victory over a Eastern Division squad in five tries. Georgia is 3-2 against the West but lost Wednesday night at Ole Miss.
*Mississippi State is 5-1 this February; in his nine seasons Rick Stansbury teams are now 37-28 for the month.
About the (other) Bulldogs: It's been a grind but here in year-four, with his own players, Dennis Felton's program is seeing results. Georgia has already won as many SEC games as in the previous two seasons combined, and while the last weeks of the schedule are brutal these Bulldogs have battled into position to shoot for a NCAA bid, the first since 2002. To finish strong won't be easy though and not just because of a slate that has UG hosting State and Tennessee around a trip to Kentucky. Georgia lost #2 scorer and all-around contributor Mike Mercer (13.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists) to injury a week ago, creating a lineup hole that isn't easily filled on either end of the court. Felton could choose to go big by using a veteran post player but so far has settled on a three-guard sort of set. With Mercer this was a well-balanced club of scorers and boarders, nobody with great stats but everybody producing. Now a couple of old Dogs must assert themselves more. It's something guards Levi Stukes and Sundiata Gaines are quite capable of, on both offense and defense. They have combined for 95 three-pointers along with 99 steals. In fact Georgia is second-best in the SEC in both outside-shooting accuracy and in thefts. And the 6-1 Gaines actually tops his team in rebound average. That's not a critique of the club at all because everybody hits the boards and only Florida does better on the glass than Georgia. The Dogs are particularly adept at getting to their own misses and scoring. This is a veteran ball club but the new pup in the lineup has made a big difference, with 6-8 Takais Brown topping the team in scoring at 14 points-per. He's a 56% shooter, the rate boosted by his second-chance baskets. Brown's presence is helping open the perimeter because while other teams make more treys Georgia is second-best in the league in outside efficiency. This is also a solid defensive club, and not just at stealing the ball (Gaines is the SEC leader there). If there is a soft spot it is in the lane as Georgia doesn't block many balls, though 7-0 soph Rashaad Singleton can come off the bench for a bit more inside presence. More often it will be veteran Steve Newman shuttling into the front court for a heftier lineup. And in Mercer's absence soph Billy Humphrey has stepped into a starting role and added a reliable perimeter threat to the gameplan.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Georgia: F Takais Brown, JR 6-8 245, 14.0ppg, 5.4rpg, 16 blks; C Dave Bliss, JR 6-10 255, 4.1ppg, 3.2rpg, 13 blks; G Levi Stukes, SR 6-2 200, 11.9ppg, 2.7rpg, 64 3ptrs, 44 stls; G Sundiata Gaines, JR 6-1 200, 10.5ppg, 5.6rpg, 55 stls, 31 3ptrs; G Billy Humphrey, SO 6-2 175, 7.3ppg, 3.5rpg, 41 3ptrs.
Top Backups: F Steve Newman, SR 6-9 230, 5.2ppg, 2.9rpg; G/F Terrence Woodbury, SO 6-6 205, 6.7ppr, 3.3rpg, 26 3ptrs; C Rashaad Singleton, SO 7-0 250, 3.8ppg, 3.2rpg, 33 blks.
Mississippi State: G/F Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 10.1ppg, 5.6rpg; F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 5.9ppg, 2.5rpg, 25 3ptrs; C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 13.3ppg, 6.0rpg, 35 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.4ppg, 2.1rpg, 47 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 16.0ppg, 7.4rpg, 4.8 apg.
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.0ppg, 4.3rpg, 56 blks; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 6.7ppg, 2.5apg, 34 3ptrs, 3.4apg; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 10.5ppg, 3.3rpg, 53 3ptrs.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 76.3, GA 76.1
PPG Allowed: MSU 67.2, GA 67.4
FG Shooting: MSU 46.8%, GA 46.5%
FG Defense: MSU 39.3%, GA 42.7%
3PT Shooting: MSU 37.0%, GA 37.9%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.9, GA 7.8
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 21.4, GA 20.7
Rebounding: MSU 38.9, GA 38.9
Rebounds Margin: MSU +3.4, GA +6.7
FT Shooting: MSU 65.8%, GA 67.6%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: MSU 22.7, GA 17.5
Assists PG: MSU 14.5, GA 14.9
Turnover Margin: MSU –0.8, GA +0.3
The Series: These Bulldog squads have played 95 times since 1932, with Mississippi State now holding a 48-47 lead. MSU moved in front by winning the last four games played in three seasons, including a 2005 rematch at the SEC Tournament. Before that Georgia had won three-straight to take a brief lead on the series scoreboard. Georgia is 25-17 in games played in Athens, and is 7-2 in SEC Tournament meetings. Rick Stansbury is 5-4 against UG, while Dennis Felton is 0-4 against Mississippi State.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Mississippi State is back in first place in the SEC in shooting defense, allowing 39.3% for the season. In the last three wins the Dogs have limited Arkansas, LSU, and Vanderbilt to a combined 61-of-159, or 38%
*The Bulldogs now own 167 blocked shots, only eight behind the season record of 175 set by the 1995-96 squad. That mark should fall soon, possibly before State returns for the last home game. Only once this year, at LSU last week, has State not been credited with swatting a shot.
*The Bulldogs have connected on 206 three-pointers in 26 games, and are just behind pace to match the season record of 240 by the 1994-95 team in 30 games. They are making 7.9 per game and have four assured contests left to play counting the SEC Tournament.
*Is it a coincidence that the Bulldogs turned their SEC season around when senior G/F Dietric Slater returned to the lineup? Since then State has won five of six games, the lone loss coming by a single point. In this stretch Slater has thrived, averaging 12.3 points. His 18 points against Vanderbilt was Slater's second-best output of his SEC career, after scoring 20 against Georgia last season. And he has limited his long-shot attempts to just one or two a game, improving his overall accuracy.
*More meaningful perhaps has been Slater's work on the glass. In his six starts he has averaged 6.3 rebounds, better than any MSU true-post player.
*And this career 58% free-throw shooter is suddenly efficient at the stripe. In the last five games he has made good on 13-of-18 free throws.
*During State's four-game win streak C Charles Rhodes has dominated play the lane, making 32-of-53 (60.4%) of his shots and averaging just under 21 points per win. This is the most productive four-game scoring stretch of his MSU career.
*Rhodes has raised his career accuracy to 57.0%, which would rank 8th-best in MSU annals. He now has 781 career points in 70 games for an 11.0 average.
*The junior has scored double-digits in ten SEC games this year; as a sophomore he had ten or more points in all 16 league contests.
*Rhodes just moved into 8th place on the MSU career list for blocked shots, with 73.
*Where Rhodes has not produced quite as well as expected this year is on the boards. But his pace is also improving there lately with 20 rebounds in the last three games. He's averaging 6.2 in SEC games this year compared to his 8.4 rate as a soph. Rhodes has 388 career rebounds.
*Before the Auburn game Rhodes had attempted just 29 free throws in nine SEC games. In MSU's four-straight wins he has been 17-of-23 at the stripe.
*G/F Jamont Gordon scored a piece of program history this week when he recorded only the second ‘triple-double' by a Bulldog. Against Vanderbilt, the Nashville native scored 15 points with 12 rebounds and 10 assists. That latter was a career-high. Only C Lawrence Roberts previously posted a 3-D for State, against Nicholls State in 2004-05.
*Gordon has notched double-digits in the last eleven games, and 23 of 26 this season. Included in this run was a career-best 27-point night, at Alabama. But Gordon is more remarkable for his consistency putting up points rather than a handful of big games. He is averaging 16.0 points for the season as a whole, and 16.8 points in SEC games. In MSU victories Gordon scores 15.3 points; in losses 17.1 points. And he notches 15.7 points in home games, 16.5 on the road.
*Gordon is at 830 career points, in 56 games, and 394 rebounds. Both are the most of any active Dog.
*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 nine games he is 50-of-64 on free throws, and boosted his full-season average to 72%.
*Gordon has attempted 159 free throws this year; the three Dogs who play center have combined for 170.
*For the first time this season, Gordon was not charged with a turnover in the LSU game. He is still averaging 3.5 giveaways this year, but that's greatly-improved from his freshman season when he lost the ball 4.7 times per outing and led the SEC in turnovers.
*Freshman G Barry Stewart is back on target, making 8-of-14 from the arc in State's four-straight wins. Before that he was 2-of-16 in a four-game stretch.
*For most of the season Stewart has shot better from arcs drawn on hostile courts. Now he has tipped the balance to the home-court side. In SEC action Stewart is now 13-of-30 at home (43.3%) and 11-of-26 (42.3%) on the road.
*Stewart now has 53 longballs for the season. That's six shy of the MSU freshman record set last winter by teammate Reginald Delk.
*Along with his long-range chills, Stewart also had a stretch of struggling to make good from the charity stripe. After hitting 25-straight free throws and 27-of-31 he fell off to 3-of-7 in two games. But he's made all four chances the last two games, keeping his season FT shooting at 79.3%.
*While he watches Stewart threaten his rookie-record, soph Reginald Delk has almost caught up with the younger teammate in contributing treys this season. He now has 47 for the year, compared to Stewart's 52. Delk has made 26 of his longballs in SEC games.
*Delk now has 106 treys for his college career, which ranks 10th on the all-time MSU list. He is five behind Doug Hartsfield (1988-91) for 9th place.
*Between them twin brothers Reginald and Richard Delk have 72 treys this year; they had 70 together as freshmen.
*Freshman C Jarvis Varnado has seen his playing time diminish through the stretch-run of his first SEC season, as well as with Rhodes getting more minutes and putting up big numbers. Still the rookie has been effective in relief minutes and continues to swat shots. Varnado now has 56 blocks for the year, the third-best such season for a MSU freshman. The rookie-record is 65 by Erick Dampier in 1994.
*Freshman G Ben Hansbrough is being worked into more minutes in the role. In the last six games the rookie has had 20 assists; he had just three the three preceding contests. With improved ball-handling by Gordon and Hansbrough's development, State has gone from the SEC's worst club in assist/turnover rate to 9th.