*Only twice since the modern SEC Tournament began in 1979 has a team that played in the first round won four games to take the championship and automatic NCAA berth. Auburn did it in 1985 in the old ten-team league, and post-expansion only Arkansas in 2000.
*Mississippi State has won five of the last six ‘Senior Day' games. The lone setback in this stretch was in 2005 when Alabama beat the Bulldogs in their homecourt finale. This is the third-straight season State has ended the home schedule against Alabama.
About the Crimson Tide: It's a fair reflection this absurd SEC season that the squad supposed to win the West can, after all the twists and turns, end up sharing a piece of that crown without winning the top-seeding in the SEC Tournament. Yet, still be the lone Division club earning a NCAA berth. There's plenty at stake for Alabama in their regular-season finale, and a team that if allowed into the tournament has the horses to do some serious dancing. Also, if healthy, which the Tide is not. It's been a tough season for G Ron Steele, the consensus top point guard in the league and among the land's best. Knee problems have slowed his junior season just enough to keep from maximizing all that frontcourt talent to the fullest. Steele has struggled through the ills to keep passing out assists and popping treys, and as Mississippi State knows all-too-well can still make things happen at clutch time. As of Saturday he is reported as not playing this game, but only tip-off will tell. Juco Mykal Riley has been an even more fortunate guard signee than intended, able to start or spell as needed and giving Alabama just enough perimeter scoring presence. Soph Brandon Hollinger can take care of himself on a SEC court also, with freshman Justin Tubbs a bench-scorer from the arc. Make no mistake, though, this is a club built around the best post pairing in the conference. Richard Hendrix is a force in the middle, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds, and while much of his scoring comes off putbacks the soph has the skills to manufacture more points this second season. He's 11th in SEC scoring and the only player in the league shooting over 60% from the floor, but his stats would be all the more impressive if not for the numbers piled up by paint-partner Jermareo Davidson. Or the senior could put it the other way-around as he's also getting over 14 points and eight boards, and blocking even more balls. These efforts have come despite personal tragedies mid-season. As if Alabama needed any further frontcourt force 6-6 Alonzo Gee is contributing five boards and a dozen points, as well as sticking the occasional long shot. Alabama doesn't dominate either end of the floor, they're just efficient ranking 6th in SEC scoring and 5th in defense. Lack of backcourt depth does show in a poor turnover rate, but that talented front line makes up for most errors elsewhere. And for a team relying on big bodies the Tide is not to be fouled with impunity as they are second-best in SEC free throw accuracy. Beating this bunch typically means heaving up a lot of long shots and hoping enough connect over forty minutes.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Alabama: F Alonzo Gee, SO 6-6 215, 12.4ppg, 5.3rpg, 28 3ptrs; F Richard Hendrix, SO 6-8 265, 14.8ppg, 8.9rpg, 35 blks; F/C Jermareo Davidson, SR 6-10 220, 14.1ppg, 8.5ppg, 65 blks; G Mykal Riley, JR 6-6 185, 12.4ppg, 4.5rpg, 67 3ptrs; G Ron Steele, JR 6-3 185, 8.8ppg, 4.2apg, 45 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Brandon Hollinger, SO 5-11 170, 4.3ppg, 23 3ptrs; G Justin Tubbs, FR 6-2 175, 3.0ppg, 15 3ptrs; F Demetrius Jemison, FR 6-7 225, 3.0ppg, 3.4rpg.
Mississippi State: G/F Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 10.0ppg, 5.7rpg; F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 5.6ppg, 2.5rpg, 25 3ptrs; C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 13.4ppg, 6.0rpg, 41 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.8ppg, 2.1rpg, 54 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 16.0ppg, 7.3rpg, 4.8apg, 33 3ptrs.
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 4.8ppg, 4.0rpg, 57 blks; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 10.2ppg, 3.3rpg, 56 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 6.5ppg, 2.5apg, 35 3ptrs, 3.4apg.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 75.5, ALA 74.1
PPG Allowed: MSU 67.8, ALA 67.7
FG Shooting: MSU 45.9%, ALA 45.9%
FG Defense: MSU 40.1%, ALA 41.0%
3PT Shooting: MSU 36.5%, ALA 36.1%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.8, ALA 6.4
3PT Att's. Per Game: MSU 21.4, ALA 17.9
Rebounding: MSU 38.5, ALA 39.2
Rebounds Margin: MSU +2.7, ALA +4.8
FT Shooting: MSU 66.0%, ALA 71.0%
Free Throws Att. Per Game: 22.3, ALA 20.7
Assists PG: MSU 14.4, ALA 13.3
Turnover Margin: MSU –0.2, ALA –1.5
The Series: After a one-point victory in Tuscaloosa three weeks ago Alabama now owns a 110-66 lead in the inter-state rivalry. In Starkville games the Bulldogs have a 51-34 lead, though since Humphrey Coliseum opened the advantage is just 17-14. In fact Alabama has won more games in The Hump than any SEC opponent. Both current head coaches took over in the same season, and after 20 games Rick Stansbury and Mark Gottfried are tied 10-10. The teams have played eight times in SEC Tournaments with Alabama leading 6-2, though the only time they met in a championship game the Bulldogs won, in 2002.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: They did not win at Arkansas, but the Bulldogs did reach a program record. By blocking seven shots this team now has 176 for the 28 games this season. That is one more than the previous record set by the 1995-96 team, set over 34 games. Only once this year has State not blocked a shot. However they have fallen behind Arkansas (191 in 29 games) in the latest SEC standings.
*This team also has a shot, or many shots, at reaching the season record for made-treys. These Bulldogs have hit on 219 and need 11 more to catch the 1994-95 squad's mark of 240 (in 30 games). State ranks 4th in the SEC this week in made-treys.
*Until recently the Bulldogs were among the SEC's best guarding the arc, either first or second in three-point defense. That was before Georgia and Arkansas rained treys, dropping State to third in the conference. However, in overall field goal defense the Dogs are still second-best SEC at 40.1%, barely behind Kentucky's league-leading 39.9%.
*Where this squad has shown the greatest progress is moving the ball around the floor. After ranking dead-last in the league in assist/turnover ratio last season and the first two months of this one, the Bulldogs are all the way up to 7th in the latest stats.
*Sophomore G Jamont Gordon shook off a eight-point day at Georgia to net a team-best 23 at Arkansas, his seventh 20-point effort of this season. Gordon has scored double-digits 24 of 28 games. He is up to 861 career points and 406 rebounds, both tops among active Bulldogs, in 58 career games.
*In three games against Crimson Tide teams Gordon has scored 18, 17, and most recently a career-high 27 points, with 21 total rebounds.
*Gordon has been a bit more proficient scoring on the SEC road (16.1 points) than at home (15.7).
*Gordon recorded only the second ‘triple-double' in MSU history when he had 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists against Vanderbilt. He currently is 5th in the SEC in assists, 6th in scoring, and 8th in rebounds.
*In 13 games the 6-4 Gordon has grabbed eight or more rebounds, despite playing primarily as the point guard.
*He has surpassed his freshman assist total of 129 with 135 this season, giving him 264 for the career. He needs 301 to reach the career top-ten at State, and 160 for a top-ten season.
*At Arkansas, Gordon attempted a career-high 16 free throws and made 11. This after not going to the stripe at all against Georgia. In the last eleven games Gordon has been a 59-of-77 foul-shooter, 77%. Much like his rebounding work, Gordon is better drawing fouls than any MSU post player. He has attempted 175 free throws this season; the three Dogs who play center have a combined 184 charity tries.
*Junior F/C Charles Rhodes recorded his fourth 20-point game of this SEC season with 22 at Arkansas, his tenth double-digit outing of this league schedule after he scored ten or more points in all 16 SEC outings as a sophomore. It's been more feast-or-famine for Rhodes this winter with four single-digit SEC games; all Bulldog losses.
*Rhodes has just surpassed 800 career points now, with 810 for 72 games.
*Other than a 2-of-6 shooting day at Georgia, Rhodes has been shooting and scoring efficiently for the second half of SEC season. In the past nine games he is 61-of-103, or 59.2%, and raised his season-accuracy to 4th-best in the conference. For his career Rhodes is a 56.5% shooter, a tenth of a percentage point behind Larry Fry (1973-75) for eighth-place on the MSU all-time listing.
*With three blocked shots at Arkansas Rhodes is in the SEC top-ten this season so far. He also has 78 swats for his career and 8th on the MSU charts. Next up is the 87 by Marcus Campbell (2000-05).
*For the whole year Rhodes is badly off his free-throw shooting pace of 2004-06. But by getting aggressive and drawing more fouls the junior has had chances to improve production at the stripe. In the last six games, four of them wins, he is 26-of-34 on free throws; in the previous nine games he had a total of 29 attempts.
*The real letdown this year has been Rhodes' rebounding, or often the lack of it. He is averaging just under six boards per junior-year game, after grabbing 7.1 as a soph force on the glass. In SEC play the disparities are greater, 5.9 this year and 8.4 in 2005-06.
*Until his trip to Fayetteville, senior G/F Dietric Slater was on a career-roll averaging 11.2 points in SEC play and with ten double-digit outings. Then he was held scoreless and 0-of-8 shooting by Arkansas, though an injured hand and ongoing lower-back issues had to factor into the problems. He averaged 10.1 for his junior season, which ended with a knee injury at Arkansas also.
*Though scoreless, Slater was not denied on the glass by the Razorbacks as he fought through health issues to get four rebounds. In the last four games he has grabbed 29 boards, and as a starter he is averaging 6.5 this senior season compared to a 4.9 rate as a junior.
*And this career 58% free-throw shooter is suddenly efficient at the stripe. In the last seven games he has made good on 13-of-19 free throws.
*Slater is over 500 career points now, with 532 for his 94 Bulldog games.
*The race to lead State in three-pointers is going down to the wire. Freshman G Barry Stewart's mid-SEC-season slump allowed soph G Reginald Delk to gain some ground, and now the rookie leads his elder only 56 to 54.
*Stewart is within one good game of catching or even breaking the MSU freshman-record for three-pointers made. The rookie is three short of the mark of 59 set last year by Reginald Delk. Stewart also has attempted 140 treys this year, four less than Delk did last season.
*By going 0-of-3 at the arc Wednesday, Stewart's see-sawing accuracy between home and road games has tilted back. In SEC games he has made 13-of-30 attempts, 43.3% at Humphrey Coliseum, where in league road games he is now 14-of-34, 41.2%. For most of this rookie season he has been a better marksman away from home. Stewart still ranks 7th in SEC outside shooting this week.
*Soph Reginald Delk had his best outing of the season when he stuck six treys, in nine tries, at Georgia. That topped his freshman-high of five longballs, at Arkansas. He wasn't as successful in a return to Fayetteville making just one trey in five tries. Still Delk now has 113 longballs for his two-season career which ranks him ninth on the MSU list.
*Between them twin brothers Reginald and Richard Delk have 79 treys this year; they had 70 together as freshmen.
*Freshman C Jarvis Varnado is not getting the minutes he did the first three months of the season, which has cut into his shot-blocking pace. Still the rookie has rejected 57 balls this year, the third-best year by a MSU rookie and 9th-best among all Dogs regardless of grade. The rookie record is 65 by Erick Dampier in 1994. Varnado is 5th in this week's SEC block-shot standings.
*Working freshman G Ben Hansbrough more at the point has been a big boost to Bulldog ball-handling. In the past eight games he has 28 assists and improved to 5th-best in the SEC in assist/turnover rate.
*State would like for the rookie to draw more fouls. When he gets to the stripe Hansbrough is a 82.3% marksman, best on the team. But he only has 51 attempts which is not enough to be listed by the SEC this week. In three of the last four games Hansbrough has not been awarded a free-throw try.