*For an in-state rivalry, there aren't a lot of state natives participating. Only three Bulldogs—F Charles Rhodes of Jackson, G Phil Turner of Grenada, and G Ravern Johnson of Lyon—hail from Mississippi hometowns. But that's a plethora compared to the Rebel roster with G Will Poole of Batesville the only in-state product.
*Nobody looks forward to this rivalry game more than Rhodes, with good reason. He has thrived the past two seasons in games against the Rebels, averaging for the four games 20.0 points and 6.3 rebounds.
About the Rebels: If awards were handed out for pre-conference coach/player/team of the year, Ole Miss would likely have swept the board with a 13-0 sweep of the non-league schedule. And the Rebels were a bounce away from opening SEC play with by knocking off Tennessee. That shot went awry, and last weekend Auburn hit darn near everything in an upset that has the Rebs with a split four games into conference season. Both losses have come on the road, too, something bound to be on OM minds tomorrow. Still it's dangerous to assume recent results mean Andy Kennedy's team has been exposed. Not with the sort of offensive prowess and balance displayed to-date. There's as much punch in this post-game as anywhere in the league, not to mention a combined 500 pounds of bulk. Dwayne Curtis has saved his best for the senior year and has to be rated the West's preeminent post-man at 15 points on almost 69% shooting. He'd be a load in the lane by himself; paired with classmate Kenny Williams it makes just seeing the goal challenging. It's a daily duel which gets to more rebounds. This tandem might not have the ‘vertical' game to block lots of shots, especially with Curtis hampered by a sore foot, but battling around them is brutal. And old hand Jeremy Parnell should be back soon from an ankle injury at Tennessee putting more muscle in the frontcourt. Graduations were supposed to deplete the Rebel backcourt; instead it's opened up room for younger guards to thrive. Sophs Eniel Polynice and David Huertas have more than picked up the perimeter scoring load with 44 treys combined. And at 6-5 each they're able to provide what help might be needed in getting to rebounds, as well as put a long arm up for foes to shoot over. There's help coming off the bench too with 33 treys so far from Trevor Gaskins. Yet it's the shortest, and youngest, Rebel starter who has had the really big impact on Ole Miss' fortunes. Forecasts of what Chris Warren would bring to the gameplan were lofty enough, but if anything the rookie has exceeded all. Warren does it all on offense; dribble, distribute, shoot, score. Naturally his size, or lack thereof, makes for some defensive mis-matches, but that's a modest detail for now. Through three months Warren is surely the SEC's freshman of the year with no reason to think he'll fall far off that pace the rest of the way. The same can be said for the Rebel team, an unexpected but clearly qualified contender in the Division race all the way into March.
Projected Starting Lineups
OLE MISS: F Kenny Williams, SR 6-8 240, 8.4ppg, 8.1rpg, 15 blks; C Dwayne Curtis, SR 6-8 262, 15.1ppg, 8.6rpg, 68.7%fgs; G Eniel Polynice, SO 6-5 216, 12.6ppg, 5.5rpg, 4.0apg, 18 3ptrs; G David Huertas, SO 6-5 197, 9.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 2.4apg, 26 3ptrs; G Chris Warren, FR 5-10 170, 15.9ppg, 5.3apg, 51 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: G Trevor Gaskins, FR 6-2 200, 8.5ppg, 2.1rpg, 33 3ptrs; G Zach Graham, FR 6-5 225, 6.1ppg, 2.4rpg, 8 3ptrs; F Jeremy Parnell, SR 6-8 242, 4.2ppg, 3.5rpg, 61% fgs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 14.1ppg, 55.3%fgs, 6.6rpg, 20 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.8ppg, 6.6rpg, 4.3apg, 31 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.2ppg, 61.1% fgs, 8.7rpg, 93 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 12.0ppg, 4.4rpg, 3.3apg, 31 3ptrs; G Phil Turner, rFR 6-3 170, 5.6ppg, 3.3rpg, 18 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 9.7ppg, 3.8rpg, 2.6apg, 33 3ptrs; F/C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.7ppg, 2.7rpg; C Elgin Bailey, FR , 1.5ppg, 2.0rpg.
How They Compare
Scoring: MSU 72.6ppg, OM 84.9ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 60.9ppg, OM 72.1ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 46.1%, OM 49.6%
FG Defense: MSU 35.9%, OM 42.7%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 33.2%, OM 35.7%
3-Point Attempts: MSU 21.4pg, OM 24.1pg
Rebounding: MSU 41.9rpg, OM 42.5rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU +6.9, OM +7.1
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 59.8%, OM 66.0%
Free Throw Attempts: MSU 20.1pg, OM 18.9
Assists: MSU 13.9pg, OM 17.5pg
Turnover Ratio: MSU -1.3, OM +2.9
The Series: Mississippi State's most-played rivalry dates back to 1914, and now stands in MSU's favor 132-103. This includes a 87-23 advantage in games played in Starkville venues, with a 26-6 record in Humphrey Coliseum. The rivals have met just once in a SEC Tournament, with State winning in 2003 in New Orleans. Coach Rick Stansbury is 14-5 against Rebel teams and has more wins over Ole Miss than any other foe; while Andy Kennedy is 1-1 against State.
Bulldog Notes: Mississippi State is the SEC's dominant defensive club so far, leading the league in scoring defense (60.9 points allowed), field goal defense (35.9%), and blocked shots (8.67)
*Yet State's defensive numbers in SEC play are even more impressive: 52.0 points allowed, 31.1% shooting (Tennessee is a distant second at 41.5%), and most of all blocked shots. State has rejected 41 shots in three conference contests; *And contrary to popular perception, State is among the better perimeter-defending teams in the conference. SEC opponents have made just 14 treys and shot 20.6% at the arc, second-best in the league this week.
*Such defensive prowess means that while State is tied for only 10th in SEC-game scoring, the Dogs still come out first in scoring margin.
*But to the surprise of none who've watched State in their four league games, this team is dead-last in free throw shooting at 51.2%. Kentucky has made almost as many free throws, 75, as State has attempted, 82.
*The Alabama game spoiled an extraordinary SEC stretch for C Jarvis Varnado, who for only the second time this season did not block a shot. In his first three league wins the sophomore had swatted 27 balls with consecutive ten-block outings. The second time he did so (the third time this season) gave Varnado a ‘triple-double' with his ten points and 12 rebounds against Kentucky. It was only the third T-D in program history, but where Lawrence Roberts (2004-05) and teammate Jamont Gordon (2006-07) did with points/rebounds/assists, Varnado did it by blocking shots.
*Limited to 21 minutes by fouls, Varnado had just four points and six rebounds at Alabama. Yet in State's eight-game winning streak the young center has averages of 8.0 points and 9.6 rebounds. In the preceding 10 games when State was 5-5 Varnado averaged 5.6 points and 7.9 rebounds.
*Varnado's breakthrough on the boards means he currently ranks second in SEC rebounding at 8.7 for the season average. He averaged 4.2 boards his freshman season.
*Varnado has become a scoring threat without forcing anything offensive. He has taken only 24 shots in the four SEC games and made 15 of them, 63% shooting. He's the most accurate man on the roster and only four times has been under break-even. Though, admittedly he doesn't push his luck and attempts not quite five shots per contest. That's why Varnado is not ranked in the SEC top-ten in shooting accuracy, lacking enough attempts to qualify. If not for that he would be in the league's top-five.
*Varnado more than makes up for not taking shots on the other end of the court by denying baskets. He is the SEC's shot-blocking beast with 93 swats already, 5.2 per game. Varnado is ridiculously far ahead in the league standings, as #2 Anthony Randolph of LSU has just 44 blocks.
*Varnado's ten blocks against Kentucky matched his output against Georgia and Miami Fl. which had set the Mississippi State game record. He now holds the MSU marks for blocks as both a freshman (67) and as a sophomore barely halfway through the season. He has blocked a shot in 46 of 53 career games, and blocked two or more balls in 32 games.
*Only a year-and-a-half on the job, Varnado already ranks 5th on the career list with 160 blocks. And at this pace he's only a few series from catching Rickey Brown (163, 1977-80) for 4th. The career record is 249 by Erick Dampier (1994-96) in three years.
*The season blocks record also belongs to Dampier, 106 as a 1996 junior. Varnado is obviously on a pace to swat away that mark in just a couple more games.
*G Jamont Gordon notched his eighth 20-point game of the season Saturday with 24 against Alabama. That matches his eight 20-point outputs of last season. Gordon has scored double-digits in 74 of 83 career games, and 17 of 18 games this year.
*With 24 points in consecutive games, Gordon is averaging 19.0 points in SEC play compared to his season-rate of 17.8.
*At his current pace Gordon would be the highest-scoring Dog over a season since Darryl Wilson (18.0) in 1996.
*After making just 2-of-16 at the three-point arc in the preceding six wins, Gordon is 9-of-17 at the arc in the last two victories.
*Though he's currently tied for second on the team in made-treys with 31, Gordon is easily tops on the team in league play with 10 of the squad's 28 SEC longballs.
*Gordon had three total assists in wins over LSU and Georgia; but in the last two wins he's had nine scoring passes. He is still fifth in MSU career assists at 392; he's trying to catch Doug Hartsfield (413, 1988-91) for fourth place.
*With teams putting up more perimeter shots against State, Gordon has had a chance to pad his own blocks total. He's swatted four balls in the last five games.
*Gordon is now 20th in MSU career rebounding with 569, and needs one more board to tie Mario Austin (570, 2001-03); and two to match Cameron Burns (571, 1989-91). Gordon has grabbed 44 rebounds in the last six games.
*With 1,295 points in three seasons Gordon is 13th on the career scoring list, and top-ten status of 1,307 is within sight.
*Gordon is the only State starter who hasn't fouled-out of a game this year.
*Despite an ankle problem that kept him out of three games, Rhodes has put in 61 minutes in the last two contest. The injury has crimped his scoring style though, with 12 and 5 points and 7-of-15 shooting.
*That's dropped his career accuracy a tiny bit, to 55.88%. Rhodes is trying to end his MSU tenure in the top-ten in shooting, with the threshold the 56.27% of Robert Jackson (1999-01).
*After going 13 games without throwing up a three-point goal, Rhodes pulled the trigger at Alabama. It missed, as did his two trey-tries back on November 22 against Cal-Irvine. Rhodes is a 7-of-29 shooter at the arc.
*Those five points at Alabama did move Rhodes past Greg Carter (1988-91) for 23rd place on the career scoring list with 1,125. Next-up is the 1,136 of Wiley Peck (1976-79).
*While his scoring has been down, Rhodes did hit the boards better at Alabama with nine rebounds. He'd grabbed just six in the previous two games combined.
*Through his first three years Rhodes was a 71% free-throw shooter. As a senior he is 34-of-59, or 57.6%.
*Rhodes is 6th in career blocked shots with 121.
*And Rhodes now does own one MSU career record. He scored twice on dunks at Alabama, giving him 149 official stuffs for his career. That surpassed the 148 dunks by Dampier from 1994-96.
*After missing a game with a broken finger, G Ben Hansbrough returned to action at Alabama to hit a trio of treys. That keeps him first on the team in longballs with 33, ahead of G Barry Stewart and Gordon with 31 apiece.
*Hansbrough was 3-of-7 at the arc in the Alabama win. That was even better than his long-shooting in the previous six games. He's a 34.7% marksman at the arc this year, though that's down from the 41.2% Hansbrough shot there as a freshman. But before his injury he was shooting 45.6% on all attempts during the winning streak.
*Hansbrough continues one freshman trend; he's the most reliable free throw man on the team, at 74.3% this year, yet he doesn't get to the stripe often enough to be ranked by the SEC in that category. He had taken four stripe-shots in his last four games.
*Hansbrough's assist/turnover rate is almost 2-to-1, at 45 scoring passes to 24 giveaways.
*Though he's tied for second on the team this season, Stewart still has the most treys for a career on this roster with 99 (Hansbrough has 80). Stewart is one made longball from becoming the 11th Bulldog with 100 career threes.
*Hopefully a 3-of-5 afternoon at the Alabama arc means Stewart is coming out of his January slump. Before that game the soph was 2-of-19 on trey-tries in the month, and 1-of-14 in SEC action.
*For the year, Stewart is a 30.6% shooter on threeballs on the home court; and 38.1% in road games.
*But home or road, Stewart has picked up his passing pace. He's averaging 3.5 assists in SEC games this soph season. And it is Stewart, not Gordon, who tops the lineup in steals.
*While the smallest of the regulars, Stewart is also putting in the most minutes of any Bulldog at 34.1. That's among the SEC leaders as well. Stewart averaged 24 minutes as a freshman off the bench.
*While Stewart is first in team steals, more minutes of play have let G Phil Turner catch up fast. The redshirt freshman now has 22 thefts in not much more than half the minutes Stewart has played.
*Turner is the most surprisingly efficient rebounder on the squad. The 6-2 guard has recovered 3.3 boards per-game for the season overall, but in SEC play he's getting 4.8 rebounds-per.
*The six Dogs who have started a game this year have accounted for 82.7% of the minutes-played.