Basketball N.I.T. Scouting Report

THE GAME: Mississippi State (21-13, 8-8 SEC) meets West Virginia (25-9, 9-7 BE) in the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden. Game time is 6:00ct with national telecast by ESPN2. This is the first of a NIT double-header with Air Force and Clemson meeting in the nightcap. The winners play Thursday for the 2007 NIT title. There is no consolation round.

*This is Mississippi State's first appearance in the NIT semifinals, and only their second time to advance so far in any national tournament. In 1996 the Bulldogs reached the NCAA's Final Four, which was played in the nearby Meadowlands. State lost in that semifinal game to Syracuse.

*A SEC team has played in the NIT championship game four times since 2001, and South Carolina won the event in both 2005 and '06. State joins SC, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas as SEC squads making the NIT semis since 1997.

MSU In The NIT: Mississippi State has played eleven games in six NITs, all since 1979. Bulldog teams are now 6-5 in the tournament, and 5-2 in home games; all played in Humphrey Coliseum. These records do not include the Preseason NIT of 2000-01 State played in and lost at California in the opening game.

*Coach Rick Stansbury has taken three teams to NITs: 1999, 2001, and now in 2007. He has a 5-2 record in this tournament, with a first-round loss at Colorado State in '99 and the quarterfinal loss to Tulsa in '01.

How They Got Here: Both the Bulldogs and Mountaineers were #1 seeds in their respective regionals, and won three-straight home games to advance to New York City. Mississippi State defeated Mississippi Valley State 82-63; Bradley 101-72; and Florida State 86-71. West Virginia beat Delaware State 74-50, Massachusetts 90-77, and North Carolina State 71-66.

*State's average victory margin in this NIT run has been 21 points. Yet for the season as a whole, when the Bulldogs won it was still by an average 18.3 even including SEC season.

*This is Mississippi State's third trip to Madison Square Garden. In December 2002 the Bulldogs beat Xavier in the world-famed arena; and in November 2004 State played in the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic semis and consolation rounds, losing to Syracuse and beating Saint Mary's.

*West Virginia by contrast is 19-15 in their 15 appearances in the NIT. They have been to the semifinals five times, though four were in the 1940s and the most recent in 1981.

*And the Mountaineers play annually in MSG. They are 20-38 in the venue and have won five of their last eight games there.

*MSU and WVU have never played in basketball. The Bulldogs did not play any Big East squad this season, while the Mountaineers defeated Arkansas 71-64 in Orlando, Fla., in November.

Projected Starting Lineups:

West Virginia: F Joe Alexander, SO 6-8 210, 10.8ppg, 4.5rpg, 40 3ptrs; F Frank Young, SR 6-5 210, 15.0ppg, 4.4rpg, 107 3ptrs; C Rob Summers, SR 7-0 250, 4.5ppg, 4.5rpg, 31 blks; G Darris Nichols, JR 6-2 190, 10.6ppg, 2.7rpg, 4.5apg, 47 3ptrs; G Alex Ruoff, SO 6-6 210, 10.4ppg, 3.5rpg, 5.3apg, 68 3ptrs.

Top Backups: F Da'Sean Butler, FR 6-7 205, 9.9ppg, 3.4rpg, 37 3ptrs; C Jamie Smalligan, JR 7-0 250, 5.4ppg, 2.9rpg, 28 3ptrs.

Mississippi State: G/F Dietric Slater, SR 6-3 200, 10.1ppg, 5.6rpg; F Richard Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 5.6ppg, 2.4rpg, 30 3ptrs; C Charles Rhodes, JR, 6-8 240, 13.8ppg, 6.1rpg, 63 blks; G Reginald Delk, SO, 6-4 175, 9.6ppg, 2.0rpg, 61 3ptrs; G Jamont Gordon, SO, 6-4 225, 16.2ppg, 7.2rpg, 5.3apg, 42 3ptrs.

Top Backups: F Jarvis Varnado, FR, 6-9 195, 5.1ppg, 4.3rpg, 66 blks; G Barry Stewart, FR, 6-2 165, 9.8ppg, 3.2rpg, 66 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, FR, 6-3 200, 7.5ppg, 2.8rpg, 47 3ptrs, 3.2apg.

By The Numbers:

Points Per Game: MSU 77.4ppg, WVU 72.6ppg

PPG Allowed: MSU 68.7ppg, WVU 62.1ppg

FG Shooting: MSU 46.1%, WVU 46.0%

FG Defense: MSU 40.4%, WVU 43.8%

3PT Shooting: MSU 35.4%, WVU 37.2%

3PT Made Per Game: MSU 7.9, WVU 10.4

Rebounding: MSU 39.0rpg, WVU 30.2rpg

Rebounds Margin: MSU +3.0, WVU –3.8

FT Shooting: MSU 66.3%, WVU 72.1%

Assists PG: MSU 14.7, WVU 17.7

Turnover Margin: MSU +0.4, WVU +5.0

Bulldog Team Notes: This Mississippi State team has set a pair of season records, for made three-pointers and blocked shots. The Bulldogs have hit on 268 treys, breaking the 1994-95 mark of 240. They hit ten or more treys in 11 games, and this is the first MSU team ever with four players having at least 40 longballs.

*And they have surpassed the 1995-96 team's standard of 175 blocks with 219. Only once this year have the Dogs not swatted a shot, at LSU.

*The 101 points scored in beating Bradley set a program post-season record, surpassing the 99 scored against Stanford in the 2005 NCAA Tournament.

*During their NIT run the Bulldogs have not only dominated the scoreboard but the backboards as well, by a 10.7 rebound margin. Five players have averaged 5.0 or more boards in these wins.

*These Bulldogs also set a program record for home victories with 16, in 19 chances (also a season record).

Bulldog Player Notes: Three Dogs are averaging double-digit points in NIT play; G Jamont Gordon 18.0, C Charles Rhodes 17.3, and sub-G Ben Hansbrough 12.0.

*Gordon has averaged 16.2 for the full season. That won't come close to being a top-ten season at State (the cutoff is 20.5ppg). But the soph needs just three points to have a top-ten year for total points. He has 550 this year, and by hitting a trey Tuesday he'll tie Rickey Brown (1980) at 553 points for the tenth-best State year.

*If State can reach the NIT finals Gordon has a shot, or several, at cracking the 1,000-Point Club in his second college season. He goes to New York with 963 points in 64 college games. There are 27 Bulldogs who have scored 1,000 points.

*Only four games this season did Gordon fail to score double-digits. He scored 20 or more eight times with a career-best 27 points in the road game with Alabama. Gordon led the squad in scoring 16 times this season, and in rebounding 15 times.

*Gordon also grabbed ten or more rebounds six times this year; the rest of the squad did it six times total.

*Gordon just moved into the career top-ten in assists with 307. His 178 scoring passes this season is the 7th-best year in MSU history. But of equal importance, Gordon has reversed his freshman assist/turnover ratio that was worst in the SEC among starting PGs at 129/142. This year the numbers are 178/122.

*Gordon was the only underclassman making this year's Coaches All-SEC first team. He ranks among the SEC's top-15 in no less than nine categories.

*For the season Gordon shot 42% from the field and 35% at the arc; in the NIT he has been good on 50% of all shots and 42.9% on trey-tries.

*Gordon has attempted 218 free throws this season. The three Dogs who play center have a combined 224 attempts.

*Junior C Charles Rhodes has bounced back from an eight-point game against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament semis, scoring 21, 17, and 14 points in the NIT wins. And he has shot 20-of-31 from the field in the process, almost 65%. His 56.5% career accuracy is 9th-best by a Bulldog to-date.

*Rhodes is a good indicator of what State will do. In MSU victories he has shot 60% even; in losses 50.4%. Though, Rhodes has averaged one-half shot more per loss than he has attempted in Bulldog wins.

*Rhodes has scored double-digits 25 times this season, with one double-double game. *Rhodes has just surpassed 900 career points, with 903 through 78 games. He also has 439 rebounds.

*Give him credit for consistency, as win or lose Rhodes has been good for six rebounds a game this year. But that is actually down from his junior-year average of 7.1 boards.

*Where Rhodes has really upgraded his game in year-three is blocking shots. This season he has 63 swats (a dozen in NIT play), the sixth-best year in MSU history and almost double the 32 blocks as a sophomore starter. His 100 career blocks ranks 6th in MSU annals.

*Mississippi State has 107 dunks this season; Rhodes has 52 of those.

*Rhodes has earned second-team Coaches All-SEC honors twice now.

*In his freshman season C Jarvis Varnado has set the school rookie record for blocking shots. His 66 rejections surpasses the 65 by Erick Dampier as a 1994 frosh. He has blocked five balls in the NIT.

*Varnado's season total is already the third-best in MSU history, and will likely stay there. Dampier set the season standard with 106 in 1996 after blocking 78 in 1995. But in just one year Varnado is already in the career top-ten.

*Varnado isn't a big offensive contributor off the bench at 5.1 points. But the rookie chooses his shots wisely because in MSU wins he has been good on 69.7%.

*He's only playing half his senior season but G/F Dietric Slater is making the most of it, scoring double-digits in 15 of his 22 games. He has averaged 10.1 this half-year, matching his junior stat of 10.1 for a full campaign. And when State wins Slater gets 11.7 points.

*Slater has now played in exactly 100 career games.

*In his first three full seasons with State Slater had 14 three-point baskets. He has hit that same number of treys this season alone.

*Freshman G Ben Hansbrough has picked up his scoring markedly in the post-season. He has scored double-digits in four of five games since the regular schedule ended and averaged 12.0 points on 43% shooting.

*Hansbrough has been particularly productive from the arc in tournament play, making 9-of 28 attempts in five games.

*And while few have noticed, the 6-3 rookie has become a force on the glass late in the year. In tourney competition Hansbrough has averaged 4.4 rebounds.

*The team three-point race is going down to the proverbial wire. Freshman G Barry Stewart is still in front with 66 treys, but soph G Reginald Delk has come on strong since January and now has 61. This, after he set the MSU freshman record with 59 last year; a mark Stewart has re-written.

*Delk now has 120 career treys, ranking 9th on the MSU list.

*Between them, brothers Reginald and Richard Delk have hit 91 longballs; they combined for 70 as freshmen.

*In home games, Stewart is a 38.7% shooter at the arc (36-of-93); in road and neutral-site games he has hit 30-of-76, 39.5%. The real indicator is in MSU wins Stewart is 40.8% good on long shots while in Bulldog losses he makes 36.4%.

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