*If State and Arkansas end up tied atop the Division, the tie-breaks are: 1) head to head record; 2) West record; 3) record vs. the next-leading Division team on down through 6th place; 4) non-Division record; 5) record against the East winner on down through 6th; 6) coin flip.
*Bulldog Jamont Gordon has had a career against Auburn. In five games against Tiger teams he has averaged 16.6 points and 8.4 rebound, with 33 assists.
About the Tigers: They can't win the Division, but these Tigers can have a big say in who does take the loop title by playing both the contenders in these waning weeks of SEC season. In fact Auburn ends the schedule at Arkansas, which might have more meaning than anyone would have expected two weeks ago. The Tigers have snapped out of a five-game skid with a couple of convincing wins (Ole Miss, Alabama) around a respectable scrap with at Tennessee. The way this team is suddenly performing means there isn't a matchup left they can't win to improve seeding in Atlanta and perhaps position themselves for, with a bit more luck, a NIT berth. Which would make for a great SEC story given all Jeff Lebo's fourth Tiger team has gone through. How can anyone not respect an under-strength, under-sized squad where the five starters are all averaging 30 and more minutes, yet still have enough spring left in the collective step down the season-stretch? There's no secret to how Auburn must play the game, with essentially a four-guard set throwing up long jumpers about as soon as someone gets the ball within range. Six Tigers have twenty or more treys and the team is shooting 35% from the arc in SEC action. The problem is that opponents have been able to play the same game, even better much of the time as Auburn has given up more longballs than they make and at a better average. Or worse depending on defensive viewpoint. And the Tigers just don't have the muscle or depth to play normal defense, or to win many battles on the boards. It's worth wondering what this club could have become had not the only ‘post' player, Korvotney Barber, been lost after ten games along with his 14 points and seven boards. Senior Quan Prowell has tried to fill the void, or post, as best he can but even he spends as much time shooting jumpers outside the lane than layups inside it. Soph Matt Heramb provides what few relief minutes are there for the ‘big' men. The firepower of course comes from the gunners, like Rasheem Barrett and DeWayne Reed, but these guys don't just shoot. All are good at getting the ball around (check the assists) to open spots, and since this team throws up a lot of long shots that also produces a lot of long rebounds to chase down. Auburn doesn't get to the foul line often, so cheap points are hard to come by. Still this isn't a club a contender really wants to face down the stretch, or for that matter on opening day in Atlanta. Because if the shots keep falling, Auburn will be a factor in how the league shakes out and finishes up.
Projected Starting Lineups
AUBURN: F Quan Prowell, SR 6-8 215, 15.1ppg, 6.1rpg, 26 3ptrs, 55.6%fgs; G Frank Tolbert, SR 6-4 210, 13.1ppg, 5.3rpg, 2.3apg, 26 3ptrs; G DeWayne Reed, SO 6-1 175, 9.3ppg, 3.8apg, 35 3ptrs, 53 stls; G Rasheem Barrett, JR 6-5 220, 13.6ppg, 4.3rpg, 41 3ptrs; G Quantez Robertson, JR 6-3 193, 7.7ppg, 5.2rpg, 4.3apg, 26 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: G F Lucas Hargrove, SO 6-6 185, 7.6ppg, 4.0 rpg, 20 3ptrs; F Matt Heramb, SO 6-9 225, 3.0ppg, 1.4rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 15.6ppg, 55.3%fgs, 7.3rpg, 31 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.5ppg, 6.3rpg, 4.7apg, 48 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.2ppg, 63.4% fgs, 8.0rpg, 125 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 12.1ppg, 4.4rpg, 2.7apg, 46 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.0ppg, 3.8rpg, 2.5apg, 44 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: F/C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.3ppg, 2.5rpg; C Elgin Bailey, FR 6-8 265, 2.1ppg, 1.9rpg; G Ravern Johnson, FR 6-7 175, 2.6ppg, 1.1rpg.
How They Compare
Scoring: MSU 72.5, AUB 72.0
Scoring Defense: MSU 63.6, AUB 71.8
FG Shooting: MSU 46.3%, AUB 46.8%
FG Defense: MSU 36.6%, AUB 46.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 33.8%, AUB 34.8%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 20.8, AUB 21.5
Rebounding: MSU 41.2, AUB 33.0
Rebound Margin: MSU +5.5, AUB -0.5
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.0%, AUB 66.6%
Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 21.3, AUB 18.7
Assists: MSU 13.2, AUB 15.3
Turnover Ratio: MSU -2.7, AUB +1.0
The Series: With a win in Auburn earlier this month, Mississippi State has narrowed its deficit in the rivalry to 67-61. The Bulldogs also have a three-win streak going after sweeping the 2007 series. State is 36-24 in home games against Auburn, 21-11 in Humphrey Coliseum. Rick Stansbury is 12-7 against Auburn, while Jeff Lebo is 2-5 against State.
Bulldog Notes: Mississippi State continues to set the defensive pace in the SEC in most major categories, both all-season and league-play. The Bulldogs are first in scoring defense (63.6ppg allowed) by almost two points over Arkansas; well-ahead of Kentucky in shooting defense, 36.6% to 39.4%; and running away in blocked shots with 214 compared to LSU's 159. In fact the Bulldogs have more blocks than any two teams ranked 5th through 12th combined.
*State also tops the league in defensive rebounding by nearly three boards per-game, and is only a tenth behind Ole Miss in rebound margin for the season as a whole, too.
*And while MSU fans bemoan the way State ‘always' gives up too many treys, actually the Dogs are third-best in three-point defense.
*Weaknesses? Yes, there are two. For a six-game stretch State was shooting almost 80% on free throws. Then came an 11-of-21 night at the stripe against Ole Miss; and despite the end-of-regulation heroics by G Ben Hansbrough, the Dogs were just 10-of-15 at South Carolina. That has MSU back in 11th in SEC foul-shooting.
*And State is last in turnover margin, though just a tick worse than Kentucky. But this is largely because the Bulldogs don't go for steals often or well compared to more aggressive and risk-taking peers.
*Charles Rhodes was a rebound shy of notching yet another double-double at South Carolina, with 24 points and nine boards for his 42 minutes of work. He has three SEC double-doubles and seven for the whole senior season; where in the previous three years Rhodes had six DDs total.
*Rhodes has scored double-digits in his last eight SEC games since coming back from ankle problems. In this stretch he has averaged 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds.
*Rhodes is having a consistent senior season. For the year as a whole he is averaging 15.6 points, 7.3 rebounds; in SEC action his averages are 15.6 points, 7.3 rebounds!
*Rhodes shot 11-of-17 at South Carolina, his most efficient outing since going 12-of-14 at home against Ole Miss. His season accuracy is 55.3% now, and his career shooting at 55.81%. Which leaves him still 11th in career accuracy behind Robert Jackson (56.27%, 1999-01). They've been ‘swapping' tenth place for the last two seasons.
*Likely no Dog has ever enjoyed playing for and playing to the home crowd than Rhodes. He is a 59% shooter at The Hump this year, just over 50% in road/neutral games. But look at the comparison in SEC play in Rhodes's accuracy, which is 62% home and 47% away.
*He still is off his career pace, but Rhodes is getting his touch back at the foul line too. In the last five games he is 23-of-29 at the stripe.
*It took three months 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 now stands 14th in MSU scoring with 1,272 points. Before the regular-season ends he ought to catch a trio of predecessors; Timmy Bowers (1,300), Rich Knarr (1,305) and Tang Hamilton (1,307) for 11th place. Making the top-ten is probably out of reach though as he'll need 1,461 to get there.
*Rhodes just moved into the career top-15 in rebounds with 617…and is flat-tied with G Jamont Gordon there going into this game.
*Rhodes is 6th in career blocked shots with 133. But he hasn't swatted a shot in three games.
*G/F Jamont Gordon had a 13-game streak of double-figure scoring snapped at home against Arkansas. Now he's failed to reach ten points twice in three games, with nine at South Carolina before fouling out. The junior still has 80 double-digit efforts in 91 college games, and eleven 20-point outings this season.
*Still Gordon is averaging 17.5 points for the season, 17.4 in SEC games. But, in State's SEC wins he has scored 16.4 points compared to 20.3 in league losses.
*And contrasting his teammate, Gordon averages four more points per-SEC game on the road, compared to home games.
*Gordon has gone into something of a shooting slump. In the last six games he is 29-of-72 overall and 12-of-40 on three-pointers.
*After going 25 games without fouling-out, Gordon finally earned a fifth personal in the South Carolina game. Though, it required going to overtime before the junior fouled out.
*Of his 1,428 career points, Gordon has scored 369 on free throws, just over 25%. He is 5th in MSU-made free throws for a career, and in attempts.
*With 14 more shots Gordon will move into the MSU career top-ten.
*He is already a top-ten scorer though, and needs 32 points to catch Cameron Burns (1,460) for 9th place.
*Gordon is 10th in career treys with 117. He has 48 for this year, tops on the team ahead of G Barry Stewart with 46 and G Ben Hansbrough at 44.
*With 437 career assists Gordon is closing in on Chuck Evans (454, 1992-93) for third place on the career chart. In the last six games he has handed out 39 scoring passes.
*C Jarvis Varnado is certainly back on his record-setting pace swatting shots. After getting ‘just' 12 rejections in a five-game span, the soph has blocked 20 balls in the last four games.
*This keeps the second-year center comfortably ahead in the SEC with 125 for the season, twice as many as his nearest competitor.
*And Varnado now owns the 5th-best shot-blocking season in SEC history, having just surpassed the 121 of Robert Horry in 1992. His next block will match the 126 of Kyle Davis in 2003. The SEC season record is 157 by a certain LSU center of the early 1990s which at one time appeared unbreakable. Now? It will come down to how many more games MSU plays…this year.
*Varnado thus also owns the MSU season record for swats, topping the 106 by Erick Dampier in 1996.
*And Varnado is now up to 3rd already on the CAREER blocks list, with 192. Which means he's a single good game 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.
*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 54 of 61 career games and two or more balls in 39 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 posted his fourth double-double of the year with 10 points and 10 rebounds against Arkansas.
*He had a dozen boards (and seven points) at South Carolina, his eighth DD-rebound effort of the season. After averaging 4.2 rebounds as a freshman sub, Varnado is getting 8.0 as a soph starter.
*But the real story is his accuracy, as Varnado is 19-of-27 in these last six games. For all SEC season Varnado is a 64.4% shooter. 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. 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 45% shooter this year. But he has made ten of his last 13 tries there clearly has been progress.
*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 19 shots in the three games since and made 8.
*But there was no better Dog to go to the line at South Carolina needing to knock down three free throws to send the game into overtime. The soph swished them all of course, so in the last five games he is 10-of-11 at the stripe. This after an uncharacteristic seven game stretch of 7-of-14, around both illness and injury.
*And before being put in that all-or-nothing situation, Hansbrough had only attempted 12 free throws in all SEC season!
*For the year Hansbrough is a 78.3% foul-shooter; only a tenth behind his freshman average.
*Hansbrough now has 91 treys in 57 career games and is on track to become the next Bulldog to reach the 100-threes mark.
*In conference wins Hansbrough has shot 44.9%; in league losses he is 37.5%.
*G Barry Stewart was on a February shooting streak making 14-of-25 trey-tries in a four-game stretch. But in the last two league games he is 1-of-12 at the arc, reminiscent of his rough January when he was 4-of-25.
*Still Stewart is scoring 13.2 points for February after notching 10.0 the previous month.
*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, 31.2% away from home.
*Stewart now has 114 longballs for his college career, just behind Gordon on the active-list and all-time chart alike.
*After a six-game stretch of making just 6-of-12 at the stripe, Stewart is 10-of-13 the last three contests.
*Junior C Brian Johnson has not attempted a shot in four of his last five games, around a 1-of-1 night at Ole Miss. He is 6-of-10 from the floor in SEC games.
*Not that the junior has a lot of opportunity lately, with six total minutes played the last two games. His minutes are going to freshman C Elgin Bailey who has 27 minutes the last three games.
*After not scoring in the Arkansas home game, and not playing at Ole Miss, G Phil Turner made the most of his overtime appearance at South Carolina. His three-pointer was the turning-point in State's win in the extra period.