M&F Bank Basketball Scouting Report

The Game: Western Division-leading Mississippi State (17-7, 8-2 SEC) starts a week on the conference road with round-two of the season rivalry series with Ole Miss (17-7, 3-7 SEC). Game time from Tad Smith Coliseum is 7:00 Wednesday with a tape-delay broadcast by CSS. The live radio broadcast is also available on the MSU Network, and on XM satellite radio channel 200.

*This is the last regular-season shot at the rivals for senior Charles Rhodes, who has been a Rebel-rouser for three years now. As a starter for the last five games Rhodes has averaged 21.2 points and 6.2 rebounds against Ole Miss. More impressive maybe is his 69.4% shooting in these games. And he has been 20-of-30 at the free throw line in these rivalry games.

*But Jamont Gordon hasn't exactly taken the evening-off in those games. In his five games against Ole Miss the junior has averaged 13.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, and issued 18 assists.

About the Rebels: How quickly things can change in this business. In mid-January Ole Miss was arguably The Story in conference circles overall and certainly in the West, coming off a well-fought home win over Florida and sitting 3-1 SEC, 15-1 for the year. It's a different mid-February tale with six-straight league losses removing the Rebels from SEC contention and putting them in perilous post-season position. The latest setback, at home to Auburn, was particularly damaging and cost OM dearly in RPI terms. Yet this team didn't get off to that great start on smoke-and-mirrors and the personnel is still there to make a run for March…if some apparent internal issues get ironed out in time. Certainly rookie sensation Chris Warren is capable of going-off on anyone, any game. Maybe his slight stature and 33.5 SEC-minutes is taking a physical toll now as his outside shooting his slipped, but give him a half-step and the kid will burn defenses end-to-end. Who he's pitching to is the question now. Husky soph guard Eniel Polynice can manufacture shorter shots in traffic and get to the glass, and isn't shy about demanding the ball. A trio of other guards have taken starting turns too, and who takes tipoff this week is a fair question. Early in the year it was soph shooter David Huertas; of late it's been either of a couple of fellow frosh being developed for the long haul. Zach Graham brings more size while Trevor Gaskins has the better outside eye with 43% trey-making in league play. Thus the backcourt lineup below is a guess, though based on average minutes it doesn't much matter which starts. What should matter to OM is getting the ball more to Dwayne Curtis, or more often where he can score. The senior center is still getting almost 15 points-per and is the SEC's most accurate shooter (conference games only), yet he's only getting off eight shots a game. Something isn't right about that. Fellow senior Kenny Williams rounds out a physical pairing in the paint, and is the top shot-blocker on a team that doesn't do that a lot. In fact the Rebels have just 33 blocks in 10 SEC games; State's Jarvis Varnado has 48 by himself in the same situation. An ankle sprain has hampered Jeremy Parnell since SEC season opened but he's getting back into the rotation more; in his absence another new kid, Malcolm White, has gotten increased SEC minutes. This is a sound rebounding team and can certainly put up the points, but must take a lot of shots to get them. And they struggle along as the SEC's last-place scoring defense. Especially in the month-past which has taken some of the bloom off the Rebs. It's not too late to get back on the winning track, but there isn't much margin left for losing either.

Projected Starting Lineups

OLE MISS: F Kenny Williams, SR 6-8 240, 8.0ppg, 7.1rpg, 22 blocks; C Dwayne Curtis, SR 6-8 262, 14.5ppg, 9.0rpg, 66.7%fgs; G/F Zach Graham, FR 6-5 225, 6.5ppg, 3.0rpg, 13 3ptrs; G Chris Warren, FR 5-10 170, 15.3ppg, 4.8apg, 68 3ptrs; G Eniel Polynice, SO 6-5 215, 11.8ppg, 5.3rpg, 19 3ptrs.

Top Alternates: G Trevor Gaskins, FR 6-2 203, 7.9ppg, 43 3ptrs; G David Huertas, SO 6-5 197, 9.3ppg, 3.1rpg, 39 3ptrs; F Malcolm White, FR 6-9 220, 2.7ppg, 1.6 rpg.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 15.3ppg, 55.1%fgs, 7.3rpg, 31 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.7ppg, 6.4rpg, 4.8apg, 43 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.2ppg, 63.7% fgs, 7.9rpg, 114 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 12.3ppg, 4.3rpg, 2.8apg, 45 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.2ppg, 3.5rpg, 2.5apg, 40 3ptrs.

Top Alternates: F/C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.4ppg, 2.5rpg; C Elgin Bailey, FR , 2.1ppg, 2.0rpg; G Ravern Johnson, FR 6-7 175, 2.9ppg, 1.0 rpg.

How They Compare

Scoring: MSU 73.3, OM 81.0

Scoring Defense: MSU 63.5, OM 72.8

FG Shooting: MSU 46.8%, OM 46.4%

FG Defense: MSU 36.6%, OM 43.7%

3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.4%, OM 36.0%

3-Point Attempts: MSU 20.8pg, OM 22.3pg

Rebounding: MSU 41.1, OM 41.0

Rebound Margin: MSU +5.7, OM +6.3

Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.3%, OM 63.8%

Free Throw Attempts: MSU 21.6, OM 18.3

Assists: MSU 13.3, OM 16.3

Turnover Ratio: MSU -2.5, OM +1.8

The Series: Naturally this is Mississippi State's most-played rivalry, and has provided more Bulldog victories as well with a 133-103 scoresheet since 1914. Only 40 of those wins have come in Oxford, though this decade has seen some State success in Smith Coliseum as recently as 2005. Rick Stansbury has thrived in the series with a 15-5 record, while Andy Kennedy is 1-2 against State in his brief Rebel tenure.

Bulldog Notes: After a one-week hiccup, hopefully, at the turn of the month Mississippi State is back to playing trademark tough defense. In the three wins since the Dogs have allowed combined 38.5% shooting by a trio of ‘A' teams.

*Which is how the Bulldog remain the league's leading defensive team in scoring, shooting, and blocked shots, for the overall season. But the numbers are even more impressive in SEC-only games, where normally stats are tougher to earn. Through ten SEC games State is allowing 35.6% shooting, 63.4 points, and has blocked 91 balls, all of course bests for the conference.

*For most of three months they were the foulest foul-shooting squad in the league. No longer. Mississippi State has picked up the stripe-pace in recent weeks, going 23-of-26 at Auburn and 23-of-29 against Arkansas. In their last six games State is just under 80% on free tosses, an unimaginable upgrade since December.

*Charles Rhodes is giving Mississippi State a senior SEC season to remember, and making up for lost (playing) time in January. In the eight games since returning to the starting lineup Rhodes has averaged 15.9 points and 8.0 rebounds.

*Before being limited to one rebound in the Arkansas game, Rhodes had notched three double-doubles in a four-game stretch. He has eight DDs for this season; compared to six in his first three college years.

*Give Rhodes credit for consistency. For the whole season he is averaging 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds; in SEC play he is averaging 15.0 points, 7.3 boards, though of course the league-stats took a hit with his ankle issues.

*Rhodes' scoring has gone up the last few weeks while has accuracy has slipped somewhat, a fair trade-off of course. He is ‘down' to 55.1% for the whole season, still solidly among the SEC's most reliable shooters around the rim. Where it matters is Rhodes' ongoing attempt to end his college career among the top-ten marksmen in MSU history. He now stands 11th at 55.77%; 10th place belongs to Robert Jackson (56.27%, 1999-01). They've been ‘swapping' tenth place for the last two seasons.

*It helps of course that one-third of Rhodes' career baskets have been of the highest-percentage shot possible. He has dunked 156 times, most-ever by a Bulldog.

*Rhodes has now played 100 career games.

*Maybe no Bulldog ever has more enjoyed playing for, and to, the home crowd. It shows in his senior stats because Rhodes is a 59% shooter in all games in Humphrey Coliseum compared to 47% in road/neutral games. The difference in home SEC games is even greater as Rhodes has shot 62% in The Hump against league foes; 38% in four SEC road games!

*He still is well-off his career pace, but Rhodes is getting his touch back at the foul line too. In the last four games he is 18-of-22 at the stripe.

*It took 21 games but Rhodes got a senior-year three-pointer at last, hitting a trey in the first half against Arkansas. He'd missed three previous tries. Rhodes hit six treys as a junior but only one in SEC action, of eight tries. He has eight three-balls for his career.

*With 24 points Saturday, Rhodes just hurdled three men on the all-time scoring list to take over 16th place at 1,235. He surpassed both Leland Mitchell (1961-3) and Dave Williams (1966-8) at 1,219; and Erick Dampier (1,231, 1994-6) on the same day. Top-15 status is just ten points away as the slot now shows 1,245 by Jerry Graves (1,59-61).

*Rhodes is now 16th in career rebounds with 603, and needs eight more to catch Greg Carter (611, 1988-91) to break into the top-15.

*Rhodes is 6th in career blocked shots with 133.

*He had his worst shooting day of SEC season, and still G/F Jamont Gordon was close to a triple-double in the Arkansas game with nine points (on 1-of-9 shooting), eight rebounds, and eight assists. The junior just missed a TD in his previous contest with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and eight assists at Auburn. Gordon has one of the three TDs ever by a Bulldog, when as a sophomore he had 15-12-10 at Vanderbilt.

*Arkansas was only the second game this season Gordon did not score double-digits. He got just seven points at South Alabama. Gordon has scored ten or more points in 79 of 89 career games.

*Saturday's showing snapped a brilliant run for Gordon as in the previous seven games he was averaging 20.4 points on 47% shooting.

*Despite that, Gordon is still averaging a career-best 18.0 points for SEC season; and 17.7 for the whole season. That's the best scoring since Darryl Wilson averaged 18.0 in 1996.

*Gordon is still the only State starter not to foul out of a game this year.

*Seven of his nine points against Arkansas were on free throws. That's no surprise because over one-quarter of Gordon's scoring in three years have come at the stripe. His 363 free throws made are 5th-most in MSU history. Gordon is a 69% career shooter at the charity stripe.

*Gordon has taken 1,099 shots in his three State seasons and is closing in on top-ten ranking. He has 475 made field goals and Rhodes 470; top-ten status for makes is 511.

*But Gordon is already top-ten in State scoring with 1,399 points. It will take a couple more weeks' work to reach 9th place, held now by Cameron Burns (1,460, 1989-91).

*Gordon was the 11th Bulldog to score 100 career three-pointers, and now ranks 10th with 112 made-treys. Though, he's not the active-roster leader as G Barry Stewart just passed him with 113 longballs.

*Those eight Saturday assists moved Gordon closer to catching Chuck Evans (454, 1992-93) for third place on the career chart. Gordon has 430 to-date. In the last four games he has handed out 32 scoring passes.

*With a 24-point, 13-rebound day at Auburn Gordon scored his second double-double of the season. He had five as a sophomore.

*Gordon and Rhodes are in a tight race for career rebounds. Gordon now has 606 to rank 16th in MSU history; Rhodes has 603 and is right behind on the chart.

*Two years into his college career and C Jarvis Varnado owns a pair of season records. After setting the freshman-year mark with 67 blocks as a rookie, Varnado just surpassed the single-season standard set by Erick Dampier with 106 in 1996. The soph now has 114 for the year, and counting. Varnado and Dampier are the only Dogs ever to block 100 shots in a season.

*Varnado is the runaway SEC leader in blocks. And with one more swat he will match the 115 by LSU's Shaquille O'Neal (in 1990) for the 6th-best year ever in the league. O'Neal does hold the season standard though with his 157 blocks in 1992. But with enough games this year, it's not a mark beyond Varnado's reach.

*With 181 blocks already, Varnado is closing in on 3rd place in the MSU record book. In fact he could catch the 183 of Kalpatrick Wells (1980-83) not long after tip-off Wednesday. 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 52 of 59 career games and two or more balls in 37 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.

*Varnado just posted his fourth double-double of the year with 10 points and 10 rebounds against Arkansas.

*For a stretch Varnado was yielding to Rhodes in the rebound department. But against Arkansas he grabbed ten boards, as many as in the previous three games combined. After averaging 4.2 rebounds as a freshman sub, Varnado is getting 7.9 as a soph starter.

*Those ten Saturday points continued Varnado's trend of upgraded offense. In the last four games he has averaged 7.8 points. *But the real story is his accuracy, as Varnado is 13-of-17 in these four games. That's almost 77% shooting. And for all SEC season Varnado is 32-of-44, or 68%.

*But you won't find his name on SEC accuracy lists because at 4.6 shots per-game he doesn't meet the league minimum of 5.0. Varnado would rank 4th this week if he qualified. Only four times this season has he been less than break-even from the floor.

*Varnado is still a better bet to make the shot from the floor than the stripe, where he is a 44.6% shooter this year. But he has made nine of his last 12 tries there so maybe he is finding the range now.

*G Barry Stewart's January slump is ancient history now. After making just 4-of-25 at the arc in the first month of SEC season, the soph has connected on 14-of-25 trey-tries in February.

*This month Stewart is averaging 15.0 points; in January he was scoring 10.0 points.

*Stewart is evening-up his accuracy by site, too. While he's still been a better three-point marksman on the road or neutral floors again this year, the difference is now down to 37.5% to 36.5%.

*Stewart now has 113 longballs for his college career, just ahead of Gordon on the active-list and 10th all-time.

*Compared to his 113 career treys, Stewart has made 136 free throws. And after a six-game stretch of making just 6-of-12 at the stripe, Stewart went 6-of-6 in the Arkansas game.

*He's healthy and the team happy to have G Ben Hansbrough back at full-strength. In his first start after missing three games with illness, and playing off the bench against Alabama, Hansbrough was 6-of-9 shooting and 4-of-7 at the arc against Auburn to match his season-high of 20 points. With others having big days Hansbrough settled for four shots and made three against Arkansas with one trey.

*Not that Hansbrough was ‘off' his game when injured or ill. He was 6-of-16 shooting in relief appearances and 5-of-12 at the arc. In fact he's been a better SEC marksman since breaking the finger on the left hand, as he was 2-of-8 on trey-tries in the LSU and Georgia games. Since then he is 10-of-21.

*Hansbrough now has 87 treys in 55 career games and is on track to become the next Bulldog to reach the 100-threes mark.

*Like his classmate Stewart, Hansbrough has his own disparities for the season. In his case though they directly reflect the game's outcome. At the arc he has been good on 43% of shots in Bulldog wins; 23% in State losses.

*As for his SEC shooting, Hansbrough hasn't played in a MSU league-loss. He's a 41% perimeter-marksman in the eight victories though.

*And his mid-season slump at the free throw line has changed. In a seven game (played) stretch Hansbrough was an uncharacteristic 7-of-14 at the stripe. But in the last three contests he's a more familiar 7-of-8. That's raised his season rate back to 76.7%, not far off his freshman rate of 78.4%.

*Junior C Brian Johnson has not taken a shot in the last three games. This, after he was 3-of-4 from the floor in the preceding three games.

*The ‘big' reason is the emergence of freshman Elgin Bailey as an alternate sub-center. The rookie is getting minutes now and not just in mop-up duty. He played 11 minutes in the Arkansas win and went 4-of-5 from the floor, all makes in the first half.

*Those eight points were more than Bailey totaled in the previous four games.

*He's still not the surest-stripe-shooter on the squad, but Bailey too is improving as SEC season plays out. He's up to 50% for league play, after going 5-of-20 in non-conference games.

*Freshman G Ravern Johnson is also getting worked-in more often of late, usually in first halves. His fresh legs have resulted in some impressive dunks and blocks against tiring foes. His minutes have come at the expense of redshirt freshman G Phil Turner, who when Rhodes or Hansbrough were hurting was the starter in a four-guard set.

*Turner got one minute in the Arkansas game. Before that, he had 15 minutes at Auburn and 14 against Alabama as a starter.

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