*State has three road games left on the slate, all against Eastern Division teams. The Dogs are 1-1 in inter-Division play. The Gamecocks are 3-0 against West teams.
About the Gamecocks: Give Dave Odom credit for removing in mid-season whatever remaining uncertainty that this would be his last year in Carolina. Oh, four of his teams earned post-season bids but only one a NCAA berth and that in 2004. And he just couldn't boost the Gamecocks out of the East bottom-half where they've been stuck since 1999. This team likely won't end that trend either, but they can certainly make things interesting for everyone left on the schedule with a couple of hot-shot guards capable of going off any night. Ask Arkansas and Ole Miss, or that matter Vanderbilt which was extraordinarily lucky to escape upset in Columbia. So did Florida, come to think of it, while Georgia didn't as the Gamecocks are now playing much better at home than the overall record indicates. USC's signature SEC win is still their first, at Arkansas back in mid-January when Devan Downey made a statement with 28 points. The transfer from Cincinnati has been either first or second in SEC scoring all year, though his average did dip under 20 points this week. Maybe it's the cumulative strain of playing 38 minutes per-game on a 5-9 frame and still trying to both shoot, score, and distribute…not to mention lead the league in steals. Or it could be backcourt partner Zam Fredrick taking on more of the shoot/score load; the junior actually has more treys than soph Downey, though it's a pick-the-poison matter here as together they have topped 100 longballs. And Brandis Raley-Ross is always ready to pull the proverbial trigger as soon as he clears the bench as another outside-option. The backcourt doesn't just run this team, they dominate it. The cost is ranking last in SEC rebounding by an amazing margin, more than twice as bad as the 11th-place squad. The best-boarding Gamecock is forward Dominque Archie and he's barely in the top-20 for SEC season. The USC ‘bigs' really aren't with forwards trying to play center with modest results. Though rookie Mike Holmes does bring some muscle and leads in blocks as a sub. There just aren't a lot of categories where Carolina ranks among the SEC's top-half, and only in steals and made-treys do they stand in the top-third. Oh, and one other: four Gamecocks have averaged 30 or more minutes since January. That they still have legs left to run and gun down the season-stretch and keep foes on their toes is another credit due a program that can only improve.
Projected Starting Lineups
SOUTH CAROLINA: F Dominque Archie, SO 6-7 200, 11.0 6.0 23 blks; G/F Dwayne Day, SR 6-5 185, 5.4ppg, 4.0, 22 3ptrs; F Evaldas Baniulis, SO 6-7 209, 5.5ppg, 2.3rpg; G Zam Fredrick, JR 6-0 203, 15.2ppg, 3.2apg, 56 3ptrs; G Devan Downey, SO 5-9 173, 19.7ppg, 5.2apg, 46 3ptrs, 83 stls.
Top Alternates: G Brandis Raley-Ross, SO 6-2 193, 6.6, 33 3ptrs; F Mike Holmes, FR 6-7 220, 6.9ppg, 4.8rpg; F Sam Muldrow, FR 6-9 210, 3.2ppg, 3.8rpg, 36 blks.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 15.2ppg, 54.7%fgs, 7.2rpg, 31 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.8ppg, 6.4rpg, 4.8apg, 47 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.2ppg, 63.5% fgs, 7.8rpg, 120 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 12.2ppg, 4.4rpg, 2.8apg, 45 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.0ppg, 3.5rpg, 2.4apg, 42 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: F/C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.4ppg, 2.5rpg; C Elgin Bailey, FR 6-8 265, 2.2ppg, 2.0rpg; G Ravern Johnson, FR 6-7 175, 2.7ppg, 1.1rpg.
How They Compare
Scoring: MSU 72.9, SC 74.0
Scoring Defense: MSU 63.9, SC 70.7
FG Shooting: MSU 46.4%, SC 45.2%
FG Defense: MSU 36.9%, SC 44.4%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.0%, SC 39.4%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 20.9, SC 21.3
Rebounding: MSU 41.1, SC 33.7
Rebound Margin: MSU +5.4, SC -4.4
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 62.9%, SC 70.8%
Free Throw Attempts PGame: 21.6, SC 13.3
Assists: MSU 13.2, SC 13.4
Turnover Ratio: MSU -2-5, SC +3.5
The Series: The programs somehow managed to avoid meeting until 1992 when South Carolina came into the SEC. It's been a balanced series too with State holding a 10-8 lead despite losing the last three meetings. The teams have split eight trips to Columbia, where the Dogs last won in 2004. But South Carolina has won both SEC Tournament games, in 2001 and 2006. Rick Stansbury is 6-5 against South Carolina, while Dave Odom is 3-4 against State.
Bulldog Notes: Despite being out-scored, the Dog defense still made Ole Miss work for points with under 44% shooting. In their previous three wins State's defense had allowed combined 39% shooting.
*So going into the weekend MSU still ranks as the SEC's top defensive team in: scoring at 63.9 ppg, at 36.9% field goal shooting, and 8.36 blocks per-game. The Bulldogs also top the conference in those categories in league-only play.
*Wednesday spoiled an encouraging trend where MSU had shot just under 80% on free throws for a six-game stretch. The Dogs were just 11-of-21 at Oxford, looking like the club that for most of three months ranked at the bottom of the SEC in free-shot accuracy.
*It was a tale of two halves at Oxford for Charles Rhodes. The senior forward had nine first-half points, making four of seven shots. In the second period he rarely touched the ball, took just four shots and made one to finish with 13 points.
*Still Rhodes posted double-digit scoring for a seventh-straight game, a stretch in which he's averaged 17.5 points and 7.1 rebounds.
*Rhodes has had three double-doubles in SEC play and seven for the whole season. This after he had six double-doubles in the previous three seasons.
*Give Rhodes credit for consistency. For the whole season he is averaging 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds; in SEC play he is averaging 14.9 points, 7.2 boards, though of course the league-stats took a hit with January ankle problems.
*Rhodes' scoring has gone up the last few weeks while has accuracy has slipped somewhat. He is ‘down' to 54.7% 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 55.64%; 10th place belongs to Robert Jackson (56.27%, 1999-01). They've been ‘swapping' tenth place for the last two seasons.
*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 46% in road/neutral games. The difference in home SEC games is even greater as Rhodes has shot 62% in The Hump against league foes; 40% in five SEC road games.
*He still is off his career pace, but Rhodes is getting his touch back at the foul line too. In the last four games he is 21-of-26 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.
*As his senior season winds down Rhodes keeps climbing the career lists. He just broke into the MSU to-15 scorers with 1,248 points; surpassing the 1,245 of Jerry Graves (1959-61) for #15. Next-up is the 1,257 of Jack Bouldin (1970-72) for 14th. Making the top-ten is probably out of reach though as he'll need 1,461 to get there.
*Rhodes is 16th in career rebounds with 608 and needs 612 to make the top-15.
*Rhodes is 6th in career blocked shots with 133.
*G/F Jamont Gordon had his double-digit scoring string ended at 13 games with just nine points against Arkansas. He came back for a team-best 20 at Oxford, his 11th 20-point output of the year. Gordon has scored ten or more points in 80 of his 90 college games.
*Even with the blip last Saturday, Gordon has averaged 18.2 points in SEC games; 17.8 for the season as a whole. That season-rate is the best by a Bulldog since Darryl Wilson's 18.0 average in 1996.
*But while putting up the points, Gordon is taking a whole lot of shots to do it with his accuracy slipping. In the last five games the junior is making 34% from the floor; 31% at the arc, 11-of-36.
*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 367 free throws made are 5th-most in MSU history. Gordon is a 69% career shooter at the charity stripe.
*Gordon has taken 1,116 shots in his three State seasons and is closing in on top-ten ranking. He has 481 made field goals and Rhodes 475; top-ten status for makes is 511.
*But Gordon is already top-ten in State scoring with 1,419 points. It will take just a couple more big games to catch 9th place, held now by Cameron Burns (1,460, 1989-91).
*Gordon is back in front of the team three-pointer race with 47 treys. G Barry Stewart has 45 and G Ben Hansbrough 42.
*Gordon was the 11th Bulldog to score 100 career three-pointers, and now ranks 9th with 116 made-treys.
*With 433 career assists Gordon is closing in on Chuck Evans (454, 1992-93) for third place on the career chart. In the last five games he has handed out 35 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, including a triple-double against Vanderbilt which was at the time only the second T-D in MSU history.
*Gordon and Rhodes are in a tight race for career rebounds. Gordon now has 612 to rank 16th in MSU history; Rhodes has 608 and is right behind on the chart.
*C Jarvis Varnado has picked up the shot-blocking pace again, with 15 in the last three games. In the previous five contests foes avoided the soph swatter and he managed ‘just' 12 blocks.
*Varnado is the runaway league-leader in blocks with 120, twice as many as #2 Anthony Randolp of LSU with 60.
*Two years into his college career, Varnado already has set two MSU season records. He rewrote the freshman mark with 67 last winter; and two weeks ago he surpassed Erick Dampier's season record of 106 (1996). Varnado and Dampier are the only Dogs ever with 100 blocks in a year.
*And Varnado is now up to 3rd already on the CAREER blocks list, with 187. He just passed the 183 of Kalpatrick Wells (1980-83) for the third slot. He's not far from catching the 198 of Tyrone Washington (1996-99) for second place, and if not this year then early next season he will break Dampier's standard of 249.
*Varnado needs one more block to tie for a 5th-best blocks season in SEC history, matching the 121 of Alabama's Robert Horry in 1992. The league season record is 157 by, surprise, Shaquille O'Neal with LSU in 1992.
*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 53 of 60 career games and two or more balls in 38 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.
*After averaging 4.2 rebounds as a freshman sub, Varnado is getting 7.8 as a soph starter.
*But the real story is his accuracy, as Varnado is 16-of-22 in these last five games. That's 73% shooting. And for all SEC season Varnado is 35-of-52, or 67%.
*But you won't find his name on SEC accuracy lists because at 4.7 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 perhaps he is finding the range now.
*G Barry Stewart had been on a February shooting streak, making 14-of-25 attempts on treys. But at Oxford nothing would fall the right way as the soph went 0-of-6 on longballs and 4-of-13 overall. It was a scary replay of his January struggles when Stewart was 4-of-25 at the arc.
*Stewart still managed a double-digit output with 11 points at Ole Miss, his 7th game since New Years of ten or more points. His February scoring average is still 14.2 points, compared to 10.0 in January.
*A twist to Stewart's shooting ever since his first freshman month was better long-accuracy on the road or neutral courts than at home. That's not the case as of now; his off-night at Oxford means Stewart has been good 36.5% of his trey-tries in home games, 33.3% away from home.
*Stewart now has 113 longballs for his college career, just behind Gordon on the active-list and all-time alike.
*After a six-game stretch of making just 6-of-12 at the stripe, Stewart went 6-of-6 in the Arkansas game and 3-of-5 at Ole Miss.
*G Ben Hansbrough's output has run hot and cold since his return from illness, mostly depending on how many shot opportunities have come his way. He lit up Auburn for 20 points on 6-of-9 marksmanship; but Hansbrough's only taken 12 shots in the two games since and made half.
*Ironically, Hansbrough has been more accurate since breaking a finger in the Georgia game. In his first two SEC outings he was 2-of-8 at the arc; then after the injury he is 12-of-26 there.
*Hansbrough now has 89 treys in 56 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; 25% in State losses.
*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 four 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 went three games without taking a shot, before trying one at Ole Miss and making it. He is 5-of-9 from the floor in SEC 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. Bailey was 1-of-3 at Ole Miss.
*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. Turner didn't play at Oxford.