M&F Bank Basketball Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (14-5, 5-0 SEC) takes the only unblemished league record back on the road for a meeting with Arkansas (14-5, 3-2 SEC). Gametime at Walton Arena is 7:00ct with regional telecast on Raycom Sports. State's own network broadcast will also air on XM satellite radio.

*Shades of 2004…Mississippi State had some problems playing away from home during the pre-SEC schedule, but since the calendar turned the Bulldogs are 2-0 in league road games.

*The teams have played one common non-conference foe, both defeating Missouri at home; Missouri by a 94-91 score and State 87-75. They have faced four common SEC foes, State winning all four while the Razorbacks went 3-1.

*Already the winningest coach in program history, Rick Stansbury can become the first MSU mentor with 200 career victories Wednesday.

*At 5-0 SEC these Bulldogs have matched the 1993-94 team for fastest start to a league season. The program record is a 8-0 start by the 1960-61 team that won the SEC Championship.

*In three meetings with Arkansas last season, State's Charles Rhodes scored 49 points with 26 rebounds; while Jamont Gordon had 52 points and 16 assists.

About the Razorbacks: Even ending a five-year NCAA drought wasn't enough to save Stan Heath's job, and after a few high-profile spurnings Arkansas found their man. John Pelphrey certainly found the Razorback program a good fit, not just for the step-up in professional status but because he was taking over the most experienced all-around club in the league. Inevitably there have been some first-year sputters with a new coach/old team melding, and losses to South Carolina (?) and at Georgia have put the pre-season West favorites a couple of strides behind in January. Still there is plenty season left to make up lost ground, especially if that home court's advantage can be maximized. And does any other squad at this level have three seniors starting in the frontcourt, with a fourth upperclassman in the mix? Elder Hogs Charles Thomas, Sonny Weems, and Darian Townes were why Arkansas (justifiably) got the pre-season nod to win the West. Thomas is expected to miss this game against his home-state team due to suspension, and that's a big loss for UA. His numbers aren't eye-popping but the Jackson native does something of everything and can take over in the crunch. That's why his minutes and stats have gone up in SEC season, while Townes' have slipped somewhat since New Year and the 6-10 senior now comes off the bench to score, board, and block shots. It's an effective tag-team. Steven Hill doesn't get much in the way of stats either, simply filling space—a lot of it—taking a few shots and making most of them, and blocking shots, though not as many as in the previous two years as opposing big men recognized the seven-footer's limited range. By the way, Arkansas also gets a lot of their own shots swatted aside. Still there's plenty of potential from the perimeter starting with Weems, a true inside-out performer able to bang on the front line but score from the backcourt. He's also putting in 37 minutes per SEC outing, only a few ticks more than Patrick Beverly. The off-guard is having a great sophomore season as a shooter and scorer, yet is a shockingly good rebounder at 6-1 with—check the stats—a 10.5-board average through five SEC games. That can't all be chasing down loose balls, either. Classmate Stefan Welsh has taken over as starting point from senior Gary Ervin, though the former Bulldog essentially alternates now in terms of total minutes and can be counted on to attempt some dramatic plays…the question being which team such efforts might benefit more. Ervin's efficiency is often a good gauge of how the game will go for Arkansas. Pelphrey has settled on a eight-man rotation with the same five starters so far in SEC action. Oh, and a key stat to consider: Weems and Beverly are a combined 47% shooting the three through five league games.

Projected Starting Lineups

ARKANSAS: F Sonny Weems, SR 6-6 200, 13.9ppg, 4.5rpg. 2.7apg, 23 3ptrs; F/C Darian Townes, SR 6-10 254, 10.9ppg, 5.1rpg, 26 blks; C Steven Hill, SR 7-0 250, 5.0ppg, 2.9rpg, 39 blks, 65.5% fgs; G Stefan Welsh, SO 6-2 180, 4.8ppg, 2.8apg, 16 3ptrs; G Patrick Beverly, SO 6-1 170, 11.8ppg, 6.4rpg, 2.5apg, 35 3ptrs.

Top Alternates: G Gary Ervin, SR 6-0 175, 9.0ppg, 3.4apg, 12 3ptrs; F/C Michael Washington, SO 6-10 230, 5.4ppg, 4.8rpg.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 14.9ppg, 57.7%fgs, 6.8rpg, 20 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.6ppg, 6.3rpg, 4.4apg, 33 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.4ppg, 62.1% fgs, 8.6rpg, 97 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 12.0ppg, 4.4rpg, 3.3apg, 31 3ptrs; G Phil Turner, rFR 6-3 170, 5.3ppg, 3.4rpg, 18 3ptrs.

Top Alternates: G Riley Benock, FR 6-4 180, 2.7pg, 14 3ptrs; F/C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.7ppg, 2.7rpg; C Elgin Bailey, FR , 1.9ppg, 2.1rpg.

How They Compare

Scoring: MSU 73.4ppg, ARK 73.4ppg

Scoring Defense: MSU 61.3ppg, ARK 64.1ppg

FG Shooting: MSU 46.7%, ARK 47.2%

FG Defense: MSU 36.0%, ARK 40.4%

3-Point Shooting: MSU 33.4%, ARK 32.6%

3-Point Attempts: MSU 21.3pg, ARK 15.8pg

Rebounding: MSU 41.8rpg, ARK 37.4rpg

Rebound Margin: MSU +6.6, ARK 6.4

Free Throw Shooting: MSU 60.3%, ARK 68.3%

Free Throw Attempts: MSU 20.8pg, ARK 21.6

Assists: MSU 13.9pg, ARK 14.9pg

Turnover Ratio: MSU -1.5, ARK -0.4

The Series: Arkansas owns a 25-18 advantage, the difference being a seven-game win streak from 1998-2000. The Razorbacks also lead 20-14 since the program began playing as SEC rivals in 1992, and have beaten the Bulldogs both meetings in the conference tournament. That includes the most recent get-together, in Atlanta last March by a 81-72 score which essentially was why Arkansas earned a NCAA berth while State settled for the NIT. State is just 3-15 in trips to Fayetteville, with only two wins (2004, '05) in Walton Arena. Rick Stansbury is 9-11 against Arkansas.

Bulldog Notes: Mississippi State is the SEC's dominant defensive club, leading the league in scoring defense (61.3 points allowed), field goal defense (36.0%), and blocked shots (8.63)

*Yet State's defensive numbers in SEC play are even more impressive. The 55.2 points allowed is a dozen better (or fewer) than number-two Georgia gives up in league games. At 32.5% shooting-allowed State is well ahead of Arkansas' 39.2% in second place. And the 52 SEC shots blocked by Bulldogs is double that of runner-up Alabama, 26.

*And contrary to popular perception, State is the top perimeter-defending team in the conference. SEC opponents have made just 14 treys and shot 21.2% at the arc, 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.

*It might look like a ‘slump' for C Jarvis Varnado. After all, he blocked 27 shots his first three SEC games, and only four in the next two (none at Alabama). The fact is foes are shying away from challenging the league's swat-leader, or putting big bodies on him when possible. Varnado was still able to block four balls against Ole Miss' physical frontline, giving him 97 for the year. He needs nine more to match the MSU season record of 106 by Erick Dampier in 1996.

*In two seasons Varnado has already climbed to 4th on the MSU career blocks list with 164. He just passed Rickey Brown (163, 1977-80) for that spot. Now Varnado is going after the 3rd place held by Kalpatrick Wells (183, 1980-83). The career record also belongs to Dampier with 249 in three seasons.

*Three times this year, twice in SEC play, Varnado has blocked ten balls to set the school record (against Miami Fla.) and then tie (Georgia, Kentucky) his own mark. Varnado has blocked a shot in 47 of 54 career games and two or more balls in 33 games.

*The last time he got ten blocks also gave Varnado only the third ‘triple-double' in MSU records. He also had ten points and a dozen rebounds against Kentucky. Varnado joined teammate Jamont Gordon (2006-07) and Lawrence Roberts (2004-05) as Bulldogs with a triple-double game, though those other two did it with double-digit assists instead of blocks.

*Foul trouble cramped Varnado's style, and stats, at Alabama. But he rebounded, and scored and blocked, against Ole Miss the next time out with a dozen points and eight boards. During his team's nine-game winning streak Varnado has matched 85 total points with 85 rebounds, a 9.4-average in both. When State was just 5-5, the soph center was averaging 5.6 points and 7.9 boards.

*And while Varnado isn't a big scorer he is efficient. In this winning stretch he has picked his shots carefully enough to make 62.3% of attempts. And that includes a 1-of-9 outing back in December at Texas A&M-CC which slightly distorts his stats. That was one of only four games where Varnado has shot less than break-even. Of course, he only attempts five-to-six shots per SEC contest, which is why he doesn't have enough shots taken to qualify for listing among the league's most accurate shooters. He would be 4th this week if he met the minimum.

*As impressive is how Varnado has upgraded his efforts on the boards, doubling his freshman year average of 4.2 boards to 8.6 this season so far. And this has in-turn allowed teammates to invest more of their energies elsewhere. Varnado ranks 3rd in league all-season rebound average this week.

*It took G Jamont Gordon a while to find his long-range touch this junior year, and he's still only a 34.3% marksman at the arc for the entire season. But in SEC season Gordon has been good on 42.9% of trey-tries. His overall shooting has gone from 44% to 50% in SEC play, too.

*Gordon has really picked up the perimeter pace of late. He was 1-of-7 at the arc in the LSU and Georgia games, but in the last three wins is 11-of-21.

*Gordon became the eleventh Bulldog with 100 career three-pointers and now has 102 in three seasons.

*With 13 points against Ole Miss, Gordon has scored double-digits in all nine of MSU's consecutive wins. He has scored ten or more points in 75 of his 84 career games and 18 of 19 times this year.

*His current season-average of 17.5 points is the most by a Bulldog since Darryl Wilson had 18.0 in 1996.

*Gordon just jumped up three spots on the career scoring list, passing both Timmy Bowers (1,300 2001-04), Rich Knarr (1,307, 1973-76) and Tang Hamilton (1,307, 1998-01) on the same day. Gordon now stands 10th in MSU scoring history with 1,308 points.

*One-fourth of Gordon's points have come at the foul line, where his 328 made free throws are 8th-most in MSU annals.

*But his name is highest on the career-chart for assists, where Gordon is 5th with 399. In the last three games he has passed out 15 assists.

*Gordon also just passed the 100-steal mark, with 101 for his career. He needs 122 to crack the MSU top-ten though.

*And Gordon is now 18th in career rebounding with 572, having broken the tie with Cameron Burns (571, 1989-91).

*Gordon is the only State starter who hasn't fouled-out of a game this year.

*F/C Charles Rhodes has had some good shooting days in his four varsity seasons. But he set a personal benchmark by making 12 of 14 attempts for 26 points in his last home-court meeting with Ole Miss. Ankle issues had limited him to 7-of-15 shooting in the previous two games and 17 total points.

*Rhodes just missed matching his career-best scoring day, of 27 points against Georgia as a sophomore. But he did surpass his previous high against the rival Rebels, 25 points that same season.

*And Rhodes moved up two rungs on the MSU scoring list, to 21st with 1,151 points in 95 career games. He passed both Wiley Peck (1,136, 1976-79) and Gary Hooker (1,144, 1976-78) Saturday.

*The big day also bumped Rhodes back into the career top-ten in shooting. Rhodes is now at 56.398% through four years, again edging just past the 56.27% of Robert Jackson (1999-01) for 10th place.

*Rhodes had six rebounds in wins over Georgia and Kentucky. Healthy again, he's grabbed 15 boards the last two wins.

*Through his first three years Rhodes was a 71% free-throw shooter. As a senior he is 36-of-62, or 58.1%.

*Rhodes is 6th in career blocked shots with 121.

*And Rhodes now owns a career MSU record. With two dunks at Alabama, he broke Erick Dampier's mark of 148 slams and he how has 152 in four seasons.

*G Ben Hansbrough has had a tough January. First it was a broken finger on the left hand that kept him out of the Kentucky game entirely. Then after playing in relief, with nine points, at Alabama, he came down with mononucleosis and is sidelined indefinitely. Still Hansbrough is tied with Gordon for the team-lead in treys with 33.

*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 not injured, classmate Barry Stewart has not enjoyed the first month of SEC play either. The soph guard has struggled to get his longballs to fall the right way, going 5-of-28 at the arc in January (4-of-23 in SEC games).

*Stewart still is about to become the 12th Bulldog with 100 career three-balls, as he's made 99 in his two seasons.

*For the year, Stewart is a 28.3% shooter on three-pointers on the home court; and 38.1% in road games.

*While his shooting has slipped, Stewart has contributed to the offense by getting the ball to scorers. He has 17 assists in SEC play, and has averaged 3.8 scoring passes in State's winning streak. That's only 1.0 behind Gordon.

*And it's Stewart, not Gordon, who has picked more passes in the winning-stretch, with 13 steals to 10.

*For a while freshman G Phil Turner was the team's top thief, but he's gone the last three games without a steal. And his scoring pace has fallen off as well. Turner had 18 total points in wins over Georgia and Kentucky; he's scored three points in the last two wins on 1-of-10 shooting.

*Yet the 6-3, 170-pounder is having a big impact on the backboards. While bigger bodies battle in the lane Turner has slipped in for 4.8 rebounds per-SEC game, including six against the Rebels. Since the Missouri game Turner has averaged 6.0 rebounds in MSU wins.

*State has developed more depth in the last month, and injuries to Rhodes and Hansbrough have allowed backups to get more playing time. Yet through five SEC games the six Dogs who have started games are still accounting for 83.1% of all minutes.

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