*Already the winningest coach in program history, Rick Stansbury can become the first MSU mentor with 200 career victories Wednesday.
About the Crimson Tide: Two weeks ago Alabama was about given up for dead, having fallen to 0-4 SEC after a home loss to Mississippi State. But even in defeats there was plenty of obvious potential for this ball club if only some backcourt issues could be settled. There's been progress on that front and the Tide has been able to take care of Auburn and LSU while giving Tennessee all the Vols count handle. No longer does Richard Hendrix have to be a one-man team, though certainly the SEC's best big man has the talent for the task. He's averaging a double-double both on the year and in league play; in fact his averages are a bit better against conference competition. If he somehow can maintain that 20-point average, go ahead and hand him the loop's Player of the Year trophy regardless how his team finishes. Demetrius Jemison doesn't bring big numbers but offers another big body to keep some heat off Hendrix. List them as big guards or small forwards, it doesn't matter because Mykal Riley and Alonzo Gee take care of business in both role. Not only do they have 86 treys between them, they provide priceless rebounding help and do the defensive jobs. And some ball-handling too, which has been Alabama's single great issue since Ronald Steele had a second knee operation before the season. Freshman Rico Pickett has tried to pick up the reins with mixed results. The good is Alabama hasn't had that many turnovers with a respectable assist total (tossing the ball to Hendrix is always a good game-plan). The bad is simply lack of an explosive point-guard to keep defenses honest. Now the Tide is adjusting to give shooting guard Brandon Hollinger more minutes, and more three-point shots with the encouraging results of the last three outings. There are still weaknesses, as the Tide gets those treys by tossing up lots of ‘em at just 32% accuracy in SEC action. They also give up quite a few longballs to foes. And even Mississippi State is better at the free-throw line than Alabama. Yet even if their recent wins have come at the expense of non-contenders, progress has to begin somewhere. And the Tide recalls giving State all the Dogs could handle back when at their lowest point. The team is better and so is their outlook for this rematch.
Projected Starting Lineups
ALABAMA: F Demetrius Jemison, SO 6-7 225, 5.0ppg, 4.9rpg; F Mykal Riley, SR 6-6 185, 13.1ppg, 4.7rpg, 57 3ptrs; C Richard Hendrix, JR 6-8 265, 19.4ppg, 10.5rpg, 46 blks, 63.8% fgs; F/G Alonzo Gee, JR 6-6 215, 16.3ppg, 7.5rpg, 29 3ptrs; G Brandon Hollinger, JR 5-11 170, 6.8ppg, 3.4apg, 34 3ptrs, 44.7% 3fgs.
Top Alternates: G Rico Pickett, FR 6-4 175, 6.4ppg, 3.5apg, 16 3ptrs; G Senario Hillman, FR 6-2 175, 4.2ppg, 1.0 rpg; G Mikhail Torrance, SO 6-4 185, 3.3ppg, 2.8apg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 14.7ppg, 55.9%fgs, 7.4rpg, 28 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.9ppg, 6.0rpg, 4.3apg, 40 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.0ppg, 61.0% fgs, 8.3rpg, 103 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 12.2ppg, 4.1rpg, 3.0apg, 37 3ptrs; G Phil Turner, rFR 6-3 170, 5.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 20 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: G Riley Benock, FR 6-4 180, 2.5pg, 14 3ptrs; F/C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.8ppg, 2.8rpg; C Elgin Bailey, FR , 1.8ppg, 2.1rpg.
How They Compare
Scoring: MSU 72.6ppg, ALA 77.4ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 62.8ppg, ALA 73.1ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 46.5%, ALA 47.3%
FG Defense: MSU 36.3%, ALA 43.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.0%, ALA 36.5%
3-Point Attempts: MSU 21.1, ALA 19.3
Rebounding: MSU 41.0rpg, ALA 38.0rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU +5.2, ALA +2.8
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 60.5%, ALA 59.6%
Free Throw Attempts: MSU 21.0pg, ALA 19.8pg
Assists: MSU 13.3pg, ALA 16.8pg
Turnover Ratio: MSU -2.0, ALA +1.7
The Last Time: January 19 Mississippi State survived some early foul trouble and a big day by Alabama's Richard Hendrix to take a 66-56 victory in Coleman Coliseum. There were five lead-changes and four ties in the first half, but a late burst with treys from Riley Benock and Ben Hansbrough let State take a 33-28 halftime advantage. Both sides made spurts early in the second half as Alabama was within four points at eight minutes, then again with 3:58 remaining. Jamont Gordon sank a jumper and Jarvis Varnado caught a rebound and scored it in the same motion to give the Bulldogs control, as Alabama mustered a single point in the last four minutes. Gordon was the lead-Dog in the scoring parade with 24 points, to go with five assists. Barry Stewart added 16 points, and between them the two top Dogs had seven treys. Alonzo Gee was the only other Tider in double-digits with 10 points.
The Series: Despite that loss Alabama maintains a comfortable 110-68 lead in the series. And Tide teams have done well in Starkville over the years, as State is just a 52-34 leader in campus games. And the margin only favors the Dogs 18-14 in Humphrey Coliseum. Rick Stansbury is 11-9 against Alabama, while Mark Gottfried is 9-11 against State.
Bulldog Notes: Mississippi State's defensive reputation, and statistics, have taken a beating in the past week. Still after consecutive losses and 78 and 76 points allowed, the Bulldogs remain first in the SEC in the major defense categories. They are first in scoring defense at 62.8 points (second is 63.7 points); in shooting defense at 36.3% (to 38.8%); and blocked shots at 182 (to 125). The Dogs are blocking 8.7 shots per game for the entire season.
*Where most of the damage has been done to State is from a distance. After Arkansas went 9-of-24 at the arc, Tennessee hit a dozen treys in 28 tries. In those two losses State gave up more treys, 21, than in the previous five SEC wins combined (18). So the Dogs have slipped to third in three-point defense. Ironically, the two teams that beat MSU last week are those leading in arc-guarding, both under 30%.
*Wednesday's game matches the SEC's two worst free-throw shooting squads. Alabama is 57.6% from the stripe in league games, MSU is 57.1%.
*And though fans might not believe it, the Bulldogs have attempted more free throws this SEC season than eight league clubs. It's not for lack of opportunity presented by officiating that State isn't scoring at the stripe.
*It's SEC season and Jamont Gordon is again stepping to the fore for State. In his last four games the senior G/F has scored 24 points three times, and in six league games he has averaged 18.8 points. His current all-season pace of 17.9 points is the best by a Bulldog since Darryl Wilson averaged 18.0 in 1996.
*Gordon has scored double-digits in 20 of his 21 games this year, and 77 of his 86 career games.
*The scoring is impressive enough; Gordon's accuracy in January was even more so. After shooting 43% in the preceding 14 games Gordon made good on 47-of-100 shots in the first month of 2008. Though, he's 12-of-28 in February so far.
*But it has been his long-range touch of late that has earned notice. In a five-game stretch that ended in the Georgia contest, Gordon was only 2-of-16 at the arc. In the last five games though the junior is 18-of-39 on trey-tries. That means Gordon has scored 54 of his 105 points in those five games at the arc.
*Gordon has 19 three-pointers in SEC play, one more than the next two-best Bulldogs combined.
*Gordon became the eleventh Bulldog with 100 career three-pointers and now has 109 in three seasons. He needs two more to tie Doug Hartsfield (111, 1988-91) for 10th place.
*Gordon now stands 10th on the MSU career scoring list with 1,349 points. It will take a while to reach 9th place, held now by Cameron Burns (1,460, 1989-91).
*Of those point, 338 have come at the foul-line or one-quarter of his total State scoring.
*But his name is higher on the career-assists chart with an even 406 now, ranking Gordon 5th in program history. He needs 413 to catch Hartsfield again, for 4th place.
*After passing out just one assist at Arkansas, Gordon had six scoring passes in the Tennessee game.
*With 102 career steals he needs 122 to achieve top-ten status.
*And Gordon is 18th in career rebounding with 579, with Terry Kusnierz (592, 1972-74) just ahead.
*Gordon is still the only State starter not to foul out of a game this year, despite averaging 33 minutes a game overall and 34.6 minutes in SEC play.
*Ankle problems slowed F/C Charles Rhodes' pace around the turn of the calendar. But the senior has certainly gotten back up to speed with consecutive ‘double-doubles' last week. He had 11 points, 15 rebounds against Arkansas; then 15 points and ten boards against Tennessee. Before his injury and SEC season Rhodes had posted four double-doubles. His six D-Ds this senior year match his total for the previous three seasons.
*Those 15 rebounds were a season-high, though not near his career mark of 19 against Auburn as a sophomore. And Rhodes just missed matching a career scoring high of 27 (Georgia 2006) when he had 26 points against Ole Miss.
*Saturday, Rhodes took another step on the career scoring chart, into the top-20. With 1,177 points he has just passed the 1,168 of Markell Patterson (1999-02). Next-up is the 1,199 by Mario Austin (2001-03).
*In that Ole Miss game Rhodes was good on 12 of 14 shots, a personal standard. In State's two succeeding losses though he is 8-of-20 from the floor. That has dropped his career accuracy to an even 56% for four seasons, just outside top-ten status. To get there he has to match or better the 56.27% of Robert Jackson (1999-01).
*The game ankle limited Rhodes to six combined rebounds in his first two SEC games of '08. In the four league contests since he has battered the boards for 40 rebounds total. *Through his first three years Rhodes was a 71% free-throw shooter. As a senior he is 46-of-75, or 61.3%. Though, in the last two games Rhodes is 10-of-13 at the line.
*Rhodes is 6th in career blocked shots with 130, eight of them in the last two games.
*Are opponents getting a ‘read' on Jarvis Varnado? Certainly they seem to be taking fewer chances with shots near the basket that the soph center might swat. After blocking 27 balls in the first three SEC games, he has 10 blocks in the last four games.
*Still Varnado remains the runaway league-leader in blocks with 103 for the season. He is only the second Bulldogs with 100 blocks in a year, and now is in striking (swatting?) distance of the season record set in 1996 by Erick Dampier with 106. Last year Varnado broke Dampier's freshman-season mark with 67 blocks.
*Not fully two years into his career, Varnado is closing in on 3rd place in MSU blocks. He has 170, trailing the 183 of Kalpatrick Wells (1980-83). Dampier holds the career record with 249 blocks in three years, a mark Varnado is well on pace to smash by the time he is a MSU senior.
*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 49 of 56 career games and two or more balls in 35 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.
*Looking at the stats might seem to say Varnado should shoot more often. Actually the soph center has thrived on offense by picking his shots and spots wisely. He is 21-of-34 in SEC play, 61.8% accuracy. For the whole season, only four times has Varnado been under break-even from the field.
*However, because Varnado has taken under five-shots per game he doesn't quite meet the SEC minimum of 5.0-per to qualify for ranking in shooting average. He would rank 4th in the league in shooting otherwise.
*During his team's nine-game winning streak Varnado 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.
*Where Varnado has really upped his production as a starter is on the backboards. His 8.3 rebound average so far this year is almost double the 4.2 boards he notched as a freshman off the bench. And he's been even better since SEC season began with a 8.9 average.
*Of course Varnado's struggles at the charity-stripe are well-known, and he's a better marksman from the floor than the line where he has shot 42.4% for the season (44.4% SEC). But he has made five of his last six tries so maybe Varnado is finding that range, too.
*January was not fun for G Barry Stewart. The sophomore slumped to shooting just 4-of-25 at the arc in the first month of SEC action, after hitting 38% prior to league season. But Saturday might have been Stewart's break-out as he hit 6-of-8 on treys against Tennessee.
*Certainly Stewart showed he can shoot in the SEC as a rookie when he hit 41.2% in league play; better even than his all-season rate.
*Those six longballs pushed Stewart over 100 career treys, only the 12th Bulldog to reach the mark. He now has 105 in two seasons, right behind Gordon on the active-list.
*A six-of-eight day at The Hump has closed up Stewart's accuracy disparity. He now has been good on 34.4% of trey-tries on the home court, compared to 36.4% on the road or neutral floors. Before Saturday, Stewart had not hit a three-ball at home in SEC action.
*G Ben Hansbrough is expected to still be sidelined Wednesday, by aftereffects of mononucleosis. He has missed the last three games, and his status for Saturday is also uncertain.
*Hansbrough's last action was at Alabama, coming off another game-missed due to a broken finger. The soph came off the bench for nine points, all on treys.
*Hansbrough has also seen his outside accuracy slip since going from freshman sub to sophomore starter. Last year he was a 41.2% outside marksman for the year, 42.0% in SEC games. This year he's been good on 34.7% of trey-tries for the year. But, before his injury Hansbrough had shot 45.6% on all attempts during State's winning streak.
*Like his classmate Stewart, Hansbrough has his own disparities for the season. In his case though they directly reflect the game's outcome. Hansbrough has shot almost 48% overall and 42% at the arc in Bulldog wins; in losses he's been good on only 23% of all shots.
*When he does get healthy, Hansbrough will resume his quest to become the next Bulldog with 100 treys. He has 80 in 52 career games.
*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.
*Junior C Brian Johnson makes Varnado look like a reckless shooter. Off the bench, Johnson has taken just eight shots in SEC games…and made half of them.
*Johnson has established himself as a reliable rebounder in relief, too, with 13 boards in the last five games.
*And while it's not saying much in the current MSU context, Johnson is the best big Dog at the free throw line at 78.6%. Both he and freshman C Elgin Bailey have made 11 charity chips, but Bailey did it in 14 tries where Bailey has had 33 attempts.
*When State was running a four-guard offense, redshirt freshman Phil Turner thrived with 22 points in the first three games. Since State went back to a two-post lineup, though, Turner isn't getting such exploitable matchups and he's managed just 12 points in the last four games. That on 4-of-21 shooting, 3-of-13 at the arc.
*His rebounding has also taken a hit by moving farther from the basket. Turner had 16 boards in the first three SEC games, 14 in the last four.
*As active as he is, Turner somehow doesn't draw close enough attention to be fouled. He has attempted only three free throws in seven SEC games.
*Freshman G Riley Benock hasn't tried to assert himself in a SEC supporting role much. Except once, and he did it in style by going 4-of-5 against Ole Miss, all from the arc for a season-best 12 points.
*State has tried to develop more depth in the last month, and injuries have sidelined a couple of starters at times. Yet still four of the six Dogs who have started a SEC game are averaging over 30 minutes of action.