*Kentucky is the East #4 seed and advanced with a 79-67 victory over Alabama in Thursday's opening round.
*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.
MSU at the SECT: In the modern SEC tourney Bulldogs teams have compiled a 15-26 record with championships in both 1996 and 2002. State also reached the finals in 2003. Playing in Atlanta, either the old Omni or now the Georgia Dome, MSU is 6-6 with that 2002 title. The original SEC Tournament (1933-52) was first played in Atlanta also, with State making the finals in the debut year before losing to Kentucky.
*State has faced Kentucky eight times in SECTs, winning only in 1996 in New Orleans to take the championship. Other losses were in 1933, '36, '43, '50, '51,'94, and '03.
*Vanderbilt is State's most-played opponent in a SEC Tourney with 11 meetings since 1933. Vanderbilt is 7-4 against MSU in these events, including an overtime victory the last meeting in 2004 in Atlanta.
*Since Divisional play began in 1992, State is 7-12 against Eastern teams in SEC Tournaments, 5-1 against West squads.
*State has winning records in SEC tourney play against only Auburn (2-1) and Ole Miss (1-0). MSU is tied 2-2 with LSU.
*Rick Stansbury teams are 8-7 in SEC Tournament games with that 2002 title.
The Last Time (January 13): After ten lead changes and nine tie scores, it all came down to a one-on-one matchup in the final seconds. With Kentucky leading 62-60 Bulldog guard Jamont Gordon's driving attempt to even it up was blocked by Wildcat center Randolph Morris, and the home team escaped with a 64-60 win in Lexington. State trailed through the first period but caught up 40-40 with 11:30 left in the second and led 53-50 six minutes later. Morris was the difference-maker down the stretch, getting a layup and pair of free throws to break a 57-57 tie. He finished with a game-best 17 points, one of three Wildcats in double-digits, while Gordon's 13 points topped State. Charles Rhodes had eight points and a dozen rebounds in defeat and the Bulldogs did net more treys than the home team, nine to seven. State even out-shot the Wildcats 40% to 36% and was only one behind in total rebounds. But the Bulldogs went to the foul line only three times all day, making one; while UK was 15-of-19 at their stripes.
Projected Starting Lineups:
Kentucky: F Bobby Perry, SR 6-8 215, 8.2ppg, 3.7rpg, 32 3ptrs; C Randolph Morris, JR 6-11 259, 15.4ppg, 7.4rpg, 62 blks; G Ramel Bradley, JR 6-2 176, 14.2pppg, 3.7rpg, 3.7apg, 66 3ptrs; G Derrick Jasper, FR 6-6 213, 4.3ppg, 3.8rpg, 3.2apg; G Joe Crawford, JR 6-5 211, 14.0ppg, 4.0rpg, 59 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Jodie Meeks, FR 6-5 206, 8.4ppg, 2.4rpg, 39 3ptrs; F Sheray Thomas, SR 6-8 236, 2.2ppg, 3.3rpg; F Perry Stevenson, FR 6-9 178, 3.0ppg, 2.2rpg.
Mississippi State: G/F Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 10.0ppg, 5.6rpg; F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 5.5ppg, 2.4rpg, 26 3ptrs; C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 13.6ppg, 6.0rpg, 45 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 10.0ppg, 2.1rpg, 55 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 15.8ppg, 7.2rpg, 5.0apg, 35 3ptrs.
Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 4.9ppg, 4.2rpg, 59 blks; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 10.1ppg, 3.3rpg, 57 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 6.7ppg, 2.5apg, 38 3ptrs, 3.5apg.
By The Numbers:
Points Per Game: MSU 76.0, KY 73.3
PPG Allowed: MSU 67.8, KY 66.8
FG Shooting: MSU 46.1%, KY 48.3%
FG Defense: MSU 40.2%, KY 40.8%
3PT Shooting: MSU 36.3%, KY 36.1%
3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.9, KY 6.8
Rebounding: MSU 38.5, KY 36.2
Rebounds Margin: MSU +2.7, KY 3.1
FT Shooting: MSU 65.9%, 69.6%
Assists PG: MSU 14.8, 16.0
Turnover Margin: MSU +0.1, KY +1.7
The Series: In a series going back to 1921, Kentucky owns a 84-17 lead. That includes winning the last six meetings and 12 of the last 13, a streak only interrupted by a Bulldog home overtime win in 2002. As noted above, Kentucky is 7-1 in SEC Tournament meetings with State, 2-1 in the modern tourney. Rick Stansbury is 1-8 against his home-state school, while Tubby Smith is 10-1 against State.
Bulldog Basketball Notes: Sophomore G/F Jamont Gordon was voted first-team All-SEC by the league coaches, the only underclassman on the nine-man squad. He was second-team in the media voting. He is the first non-senior from State to make a first-team SEC list since Erick Dampier did so as a freshman in 1994. Gordon was a unanimous All-Freshman SEC pick last season.
*Junior F/C Charles Rhodes was voted second-team All-SEC by the Coaches.
*And for the first time since the SEC sponsored an all-freshman squad, two Bulldog rookies made the cut this season. G Ben Hansbrough and G Barry Stewart were voted to the ten-player list.
*This squad has set one season record and has a shot at another. The Bulldogs have smashed the season standard for blocked shot with 188 in 29 games. The mark had been 175 by the 1995-96 team, in 34 games. Only once this year has State not blocked a ball (at LSU). But they still trail Arkansas for this year's SEC lead as the Razorbacks have 195.
*The other record in reach is for made-treys in a season. State has hit on 229 this year and are 11 short of the 1994-95 team's mark of 240 (30 games).
*Mississippi State moved back into first for SEC field-goal defense this week. The Bulldogs are allowing 40.2% shooting by all opponents. That is just a tenth better than LSU, with Arkansas and Kentucky even at 40.6% in third. And while late-season shooting by Georgia and Arkansas skewed the numbers, this State team is still second-best in the SEC in defending against the three-pointer behind only Kentucky.
*While this team has greatly upgraded their perimeter shooting and shot-blocking, the less-appreciated but more-meaningful progress has come in just taking care of the basketball. Last year the Bulldogs ranked dead-last in SEC turnover margin, and as late as this New Year were still near the bottom. But going into the tournament State is suddenly fifth-best in turnovers (or lack thereof) in the league, and sixth in turnover/assist ratio.
*Gordon earned his All-SEC status with a strong all-around season. State's leading scorer, passer, and rebounder rated 6th, 5th, and 8th in those categories for the league, and for most of the campaign was even in the top-15 in field goal and free throw accuracy. He recorded only the second ‘triple-double' in MSU history when he had 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists against Vanderbilt.
*Gordon ended the regular season having scored double-digits in 25 of 29 games, with a career-high 27 points at Alabama and six other 20-point performances. In SEC games he failed to reach ten points only against Ole Miss at home (8 points in 20 minutes before being benched) and at Georgia (also 8 points, in 39 minutes).
*Gordon now has 872 career points and a 14.8 average over 59 Bulldog games, both tops on the current roster. He also has more rebounds, 412, than any active Bulldog.
*In 13 games the 6-4 Gordon, despite playing at least half his time at point, has grabbed eight or more rebounds.
*Where Gordon is most-improved as a sophomore is his assist/turnover rate. As a rookie he had 129 scoring passes against 142 turnovers; this year the balance is positive at 144/102. He needs 160 assists this season to have a top-ten season in State history.
*As a rookie Gordon was a 65% free-throw shooter. This season he has made almost 72% at the stripe, and over the last dozen games he was 64-of-82, 78%. Gordon does a far better job getting to the foul line as well, having attempted 181 free throws this season compared to the 184 charity tosses from the three teammates who line up at center.
Rhodes 11th rebs; 4th shooting 56.9 9th blocks *Rhodes began this week ranking 19th in SEC scoring, 11th in rebounds, 9th in blocked shots, and fourth-best in shooting.
*Rhodes goes the SEC Tournament on an offensive roll, having scored 40 points the last two games and hit 17-of-26 shots. Before he was held to seven points at Georgia, Rhodes had put together the best four-game string of his MSU career with 82 points and 26 rebounds. He now owns 828 career points and a 11.3 average.
*While Gordon has the all-season team lead in scoring, Rhodes has a better average in MSU conference victories—15.3 points to Gordon's 13.8. All four times this SEC season that Rhodes was held under 10 points, the Bulldogs lost.
*It's not just his scoring but efficiency that has made Rhodes the key to State's gameplan. When the Bulldogs won a SEC game Rhodes shot 61% even; in losses he was under 44%.
*For his career Rhodes is a 56.8% marksman, which ranks 8th-best in MSU annals.
*He is also up to 8th in career blocked shots with 82, five behind Marcus Campbell (2002-05) for seventh place.
*His free throw shooting is down this season as a whole, but in the last seven games (five of them wins) Rhodes is 26-of-35 at the stripe. In the first nine SEC games he only took 29 free throws.
*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 in. Slater did bounce back with 10 tough points in his home finale against Alabama, his 11th double-digit SEC game of the year.
*Not only has his scoring been consistently around 10-11 points, but Slater has been reliable on the backboards this SEC campaign. Hurt or not, over the last five games he had 33 boards.
*And this career 58% free-throw shooter is suddenly efficient at the stripe. In the last half of his last SEC season he made good on 15-of-21 free throws.
*Slater comes to Atlanta with 542 career points in 95 college games.
*The race to top State in three-pointers is too close to call now. Freshman G Barry Stewart is still first going into tourney-time with 57 treys made, but a late-year surge has brought soph G Reginald Delk into contention again with his 55.
*For his part Stewart is a good game, even half, from breaking Delk's record for freshman made-treys. Last season Delk hit for 59 to set the standard, in 144 trys. By coincidence that is exactly how many attempts Stewart took in his first regular season.
*Over much of this freshman year Stewart was a better marksman in road games than at The Hump. At season's end the scales have tipped a bit the other way. Stewart was 14-of-33, 42.4% in eight SEC home games. In the same number of SEC road games he was 14-of-35, 40.0% even. It might mean something more to MSU's gameplan that in State's SEC wins Stewart shot 55% at the arc, in the losses 32%.
*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. Between them twin brothers Reginald and Richard Delk have 81 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 59 balls this year, the second-best season by any MSU rookie since Erick Dampier blocked 65 in 1994. He has tied Tyrone Washington (1997) for the seventh-best season ever at State, and with six more blocks would move into the CAREER top-ten in only his first college season. Varnado ranks 4th in the SEC going into the tournament.
*Working freshman G Ben Hansbrough more at the point has been a big boost to Bulldog ball-handling. In the past nine games he has 33 assists and been 5th-best in the SEC in assist/turnover rate, 11th in total assists despite being a backup.
*State would like for the rookie to draw more fouls. When he gets to the stripe Hansbrough is a 80.8% marksman, best on the team and a top-five in this league. But he only has 52 attempts which is not enough to be listed by the SEC. In three of the last five games Hansbrough has not been awarded a free-throw try.
*But Hansbrough might be getting aggressive again at the arc; after only taking six attempts in three games, making one, he was 3-of-7 at the arc in the Alabama game. That's typical of the rookie who will go weeks with only a couple of long shots taken, then in the right matchup bomb away as he did in road games with Ole Miss and Auburn.
*And while the starting point guard Gordon plays many more minutes, 33 to 21 in SEC action, Hansbrough has almost caught him in thefts. Gordon has 37 steals for the season, Hansbrough 30.