*If State and Arkansas should somehow 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. As of now #'s 3 and 5 are both very much in-flux with three games left in SEC season.
*If the Bulldogs are successful in Gainesville, they will score the 7th 20-win season in Coach Rick Stansbury's 10 years in charge at State. The MSU program had six 20-win seasons from 1909-98, though admittedly for many decades the schedules didn't have 20 games.
*State is 4-2 in SEC road games, 1-0 against East teams.
*This game pits the SEC's best shooting team, Florida, against the best shooting-defense team, State.
About the Gators: No, they're not quite the ‘new boss' of the SEC as the greatest rock tune of all time says it. But give these little lizards time and Billy Donovan's next Gator squad will sure look a lot like the old bosses and two-time NCAA champs. The Florida staff certainly planned well for losing the whole darn lineup, bringing in a gifted gaggle of fresh personnel over the past two signing seasons that has gelled quickly enough to be at least in contention for a tournament berth. Not surprisingly these kids read the same playbook as their predecessors, an offensive-minded system that has gotten better through the campaign. For conference play the Gators are best in field-goal shooting, second in scoring, and—perhaps most impressive of all the stats--tops in the turnover/assist ratio. Oh, and Florida puts up the points without relying entirely on perimeter shooting. And if purists question the mediocre defensive stats and modest rebounding, well, that can be taught in time. Talents like Nick Calathes are born. The freshman has stepped right into the spotlight, leading the league in SEC-game assists while putting up 15-plus points and still getting to five boards. SEC Freshman of the Year? He's a fair choice and is about to set the school season-record for assists. Junior Walter Hodge provides what maturity is needed in the backcourt and is right with Calathes in treys-made; while rookie Jai Lucas is an even more efficient gunner at 46% from the arc. A couple of sophs spent a year as frontcourt understudies to current NBA players; now Marreese Speights and Dan Werner are making their own names. Center Speights does it all in the lane at each end; scoring, boarding, blocking; while Werner can work both inside or move out and pop the jumper. The depth is all-new with three frosh forwards taking care of most relief minutes, though one has to think skinny forward Chandler Parsons won't be content as a backup next year. Alex Tyus is a good defensive presence off the bench and Adam Allen will put up the longball as soon as subbed-in. Obviously there are some weaknesses that have kept the Gators on that NCAA bubble going into March, which showed when they lost four-of-five including at home to LSU. And if they do get a bid, no sure thing despite a 10th 20-win season for Donovan, lack of great rebounding and shot-blocking would likely end any run. But then getting back in the Tournament would be a bonus for these babies who already have hallmarks as the once and future bosses of the SEC East. Projected Starting Lineups
FLORIDA: F Dan Werner, SO 6-7 235, 9.3ppg, 6.8rpg, 30 3ptrs; F/C Marreese Speights, SO 6-10 250, 13.7ppg, 7.9rpg, 61.3%fgs, 43 blks; G/F Nick Calathes, FR 6-6 185, 15.5ppg, 5.1rpg, 6.1apg, 44 3ptrs; G Walter Hodge, JR 6-0 170, 10.3ppg, 2.9apg, 42 3ptrs; G Jai Lucas, FR 5-11 150, 9.1ppg, 2.4apg, 30 3ptrs, 46% 3ptgs.
Top Alternates: F Chandler Parsons, FR 6-9 200, 8.2ppg, 3.8rpg, 26 3ptrs; F Alex Tyus, FR 6-8 203, 4.8ppg, 2.6 rpg, 17 blks; F Adam Allen, FR 6-8 206, 4.5ppg, 29 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 16.2ppg, 56.5%fgs, 7.4rpg, 33 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.6ppg, 6.2rpg, 4.8apg, 52 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.4ppg, 64.5% fgs, 8.0rpg, 129 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 12.0ppg, 4.4rpg, 2.8apg, 49 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.0ppg, 3.9rpg, 2.7apg, 46 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: F/C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.2ppg, 2.4rpg; C Elgin Bailey, FR 6-8 265, 2.0ppg, 1.8rpg; G Phil Turner, rFR 6-3 170, 4.7ppg, 3.0rpg, 24 3ptrs.
How They Compare
Scoring: MSU 73.1, FLA 79.1
Scoring Defense: MSU 64.1, FLA 67.2
FG Shooting: MSU 46.8%, FLA 49.4%
FG Defense: MSU 36.7%, FLA 43.8%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.4%, FLA 36.3%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 20.9, FLA 20.9
Rebounding: MSU 41.0, FLA 36.2
Rebound Margin: MSU +5.5, FLA +4.3
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.3%, FLA 70.9%
Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 21.1, FLA 18.9
Assists: MSU 13.5, FLA 17.5
Turnover Ratio: MSU -2.9, FLA +1.1
The Series: Florida owns a 56-45 advantage in a series that began in 1936, 35-12 in Gainesville games. These SEC cousins didn't meet until four years after the league formed, and things stayed even over the first five decades of intermittent meetings. Then the Gators went on a 12-game tear in the mid-80s and have led ever since. They also have won seven of the last ten games and three-straight, with State's last success at home in 2005. Rick Stansbury is 4-7 against Florida teams, while Billy Donovan is 9-4 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 by almost two points over Arkansas; well-ahead of Kentucky in shooting defense; and running away in blocked shots. In fact the Bulldogs have more blocks than any two teams ranked 5th through 12th combined.
*By defending so well, the Bulldogs are 3rd in the SEC in scoring margin…despite being just 6th in scoring.
*State is also third-best in defending the three-point shot.
*Which State team will show up at the stripe this weekend? The one that for a six-game SEC stretch was hitting on just under 80%; the one that went 11-of-21 at Ole Miss and 10-of-15 at South Carolina; or the one that bounced back with 12-of-16 accuracy Wednesday night?
*But the Bulldogs are last in the SEC in turnover margin, and 11th in steals.
*Charles Rhodes used his next-to-last home game to score a career-high 30 points, topping the 27 he scored against Georgia as a sophomore. It was State's first 30-point SEC performance since Mario Austin against Arkansas in 2003.
*Rhodes is ending his regular-season on a tear with 91 points in the last four games. He has scored double-digits in the last nine games, since getting over ankle problems, and has averaged 19.7 points. He's shot 58% in this stretch, too.
*In the process Rhodes has raised his senior-season scoring rate to 16.2, easily the best year of his Bulldog career.
*Rhodes has been a rebound away from notching two more double-doubles, when he had nine boards against both South Carolina and Auburn. He's had three DD's in SEC play this year and seven for the season; compared to six in the previous three seasons.
*With a 11-of-14 night against Auburn, Rhodes is up to 56.4% shooting for the senior year and an even more impressive 57.7% in SEC play.
*So for his four seasons Rhodes is now shooting 56.17%, making him 11th on the MSU career accuracy list behind Robert Jackson (56.27%, 1999-01). They've been ‘swapping' tenth place for the last two seasons.
*Think Rhodes enjoys playing for and playing to the home crowd? This year he has shot 61% in Humphrey Coliseum, compared to 51% in road games. But the SEC-game differential is even greater at 65% to 47%!
*And Rhodes is back on track shooting free throws, too. In the last six games he is 30-of-37 at the stripe.
*That three-pointer Rhodes tossed in to reach the 30-mark Wednesday was his second of the season, both in SEC play (the other was at home against Arkansas). Rhodes has made nine longballs in his career.
*His February scoring tear has pushed Rhodes over 1,300 points, into 13th place on the MSU list with 1,302 now. He just passed Timmy Bowers (1,300) and by halftime tomorrow should have caught both Rich Knarr (1,305) and Tang Hamilton (1,307) for 11th place. Making the top-ten will require a long tournament run for State though, as Rhodes will need 1,461 points to get there.
*Rhodes just broke his tie with G/F Jamont Gordon for career rebounds; the senior has 626 to rank 15th on the MSU chart by himself, two behind Larry Fry.
*Rhodes had gone three games without blocking a ball; he got three against Auburn and now has 136 in four years to rank 6th on the career list.
*G/F Jamont Gordon had an unprecedented ‘scoring slump' a week ago when twice in three games he failed to score at least 10 points. He's never gone consecutive games without a double-digit production. But after being held to nine at South Carolina he put up 20 against Auburn, his 12th 20-point output of the season and 23rd of his career.
*Gordon has scored double-digits in 81 of 92 career games.
*His season average is now up to 17.6 points, best by a Bulldog since Darryl Wilson scored 18.0 as a 1996 junior.
*Talk about consistency, Gordon is scoring the same 17.6-rate in SEC play as for the year as a whole.
*A 8-of-14 outing against Auburn was Gordon's best shooting game of February. For the month he was 32-of-86 (37.2%) and 16-of-48 (33.3%) at the arc.
*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.
*Gordon is easily pacing State in assists, despite sharing more of those duties with a maturing backcourt. But, in the last two weeks the junior has gotten a bit careless with the ball, with 31 turnovers in the past five games.
*Gordon is closing in on 9th place for career scoring. He has 1,448 points in three seasons, a dozen behind Cameron Burns' 1,460. He's on a pace to become only the eighth Bulldogs with 1,500 career points. He has also taken the tenth-most shots ever by a Dog.
*He is 10th in career treys with 121, one behind Reginald Delk and three back of Antonio Jackson on the list.
*Gordon has 52 treys for the year, leading teammates G Barry Stewart with 49 and G Ben Hansbrough at 46.
*With 443 career assists Gordon is closing in on Chuck Evans (454, 1992-93) for third place on the career chart. In the last seven games he has handed out 45 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 24 balls in the last five games.
*This keeps the second-year center comfortably ahead in the SEC with 129 for the season, twice as many as his nearest competitor.
*And Varnado now owns the 4th-best shot-blocking season in SEC history, having just surpassed the 126 of Auburn's 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 March games MSU plays.
*Varnado thus also owns the MSU season record for swats, topping the 106 by Erick Dampier in 1996.
*Not only is Varnado 3rd already on the career blocks list, with 196, he needs just two more to match Tyrone Washington's 198 for second place. So if not this year then early next season he will shatter 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 55 of 62 career games and two or more balls in 40 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 was a rebound short of getting another with a 14-point, nine-board outing against Auburn.
*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 25-of-32 from the floor in these last seven games. For all SEC season Varnado is a 68.8% shooter, and 64.6% for the year as a whole. That is the best shooting in the SEC as of now…except Varnado doesn't meet the 5.0 shots-taken-per game minimum. He's only taking 4.8 per contest. After going 6-of-7 against Auburn, though, he might want to take a few more attempts.
*Only four times this season has Varnado 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 46% shooter this year. But he has made 12 of his last 17 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 (away) for 20 points on 6-of-9 marksmanship; but Hansbrough's only taken 26 shots in the three games since and made 11.
*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. In the last six games he is 13-of-14 at the stripe. This after an uncharacteristic seven game stretch of 7-of-14, around both illness and injury.
*For the year Hansbrough is a 79.6% foul-shooter; better than his freshman rate of 78.4%.
*Hansbrough now has 93 treys in 58 career games and is on track to become the next Bulldog to reach the 100-threes mark.
*G Barry Stewart also knows that up-and-down feeling. For the first four February games he was 14-of-25 at the arc; then he went 1-of-12 in the next two games. Fortunately against Auburn he was 3-of-5 to end the month shooting 43%. That compared to a 4-of-25 January.
*Stewart scored 13.1 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 38.0% of his trey-tries in home games, 31.2% away from home.
*Stewart now has 117 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 four contests.
*Junior C Brian Johnson has not attempted a shot in five of his last six games, around a 1-of-1 night at Ole Miss. He is 6-of-10 from the floor in SEC 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. And he came off the bench to nail a trey that stopped a first-half Auburn run.
*Turner is shooting just under 33% at the arc this season.
*In the Auburn game, State's five starters all put in over 30 minutes.