*For these teams to see each other in a SEC Tourney is nothing new; in fact, they are each other's most commonly-played foe in the event with Vandy holding a 7-4 edge.
*The Bulldogs have also secured the 7th 20-win season in Coach Rick Stansbury's ten years. 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 5-2 in SEC road games, 2-0 against East teams.
*But, Vanderbilt is a perfect 18-0 in home games and 2-0 on neutral courts.
*In his two starts against Vanderbilt, senior F/C Charles Rhodes has scored 42 points with 18 rebounds and four blocks. Meanwhile, Nashville native G/F Jamont Gordon had a ‘triple double' last year at home against Vanderbilt with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists. But as a freshman playing in his hometown he had a career-low five points.
About the Commodores: Sure, there have been other successful stretches for Vanderbilt basketball. But perhaps we ought to be paying more attention to what has happened this decade—the Kevin Stallings era. Since taking over for 1999-2000, the coach has produced six post-season teams in eight years with two NCAA trips; and the Commodores are about to go dancing yet again. And while he hasn't managed to bring a SEC championship to Nashville (which hasn't happened since 1993), this Stallings squad is in pretty good shape for a second-straight, second-place East finish if they take care of the week's business. Which will mean doing what Vandy does best: outscore the other guys. It's a risky approach, especially against State's SEC-best defense, but the ‘Dores make it work. Their calling-card of course is the longball with 120 treys in league play on 36% accuracy. Though, in Vanderbilt's case all offensive stats should be broken down by locale. Nobody shoots better on the home court where as the record shows this bunch has been unbeaten…so far. And has any ‘Dore loved this floor more than Shan Foster, who just became the school's all-time scoring champ? He's also now the SEC scoring leader and has hurled in 113 treys and can hit from any point in Memorial Gym, including the lobby. He's not merely a gunner but can drive for scores and boards alike. Don't let the modest assist stats mislead either because everybody on this club passes the ball around. Jermaine Beal is best at it, averaging more assists in SEC action than the season as a whole and with the best assist/turnover rate of anyone in the league this week. It helps having two sharpshooters ready to catch his passes as senior Alex Gordon complements Foster with 64 treys of his own. What this backcourt doesn't do is take the ball away often. Odd fact: in SEC play Vanderbilt and State both have 71 steals, tying for last place. The ‘Dores don't want to compare other defensive digits though as they are mid-pack in rebounding and blocks. Not that there is no muscle in the middle. Former LSU postman Ross Neltner has enjoyed his years in Nashville and does the dirty work around the goal so freshman A.J. Ogilvy can get the nice numbers. Nice enough that he'll go to Atlanta as the SEC's best freshman post-man, now that Kentucky's kid is out for the year. Stallings does a good job getting the starters just enough breaks by using either old hand Alan Metcalfe or new kid Darshawn McClellan as frontcourt relief. And rookie guard Keegan Bell is willing and able to step in and fire up a few threes when Gordon or Foster need to rest the arm. Do we really need to discuss free throwing? It's a lineup with the right parts to get back to the Sweet 16 round, just like both of Stallings' previous Vanderbilt NCAA squads did. Too bad they can't carry the home floor with them.
Projected Starting Lineups
VANDERBILT: G/F Shan Foster, SR 6-6 205, 19.8ppg, 5.0rpg, 113 3ptrs, 46% 3ptfg; F Ross Neltner, SR 6-9 240, 8.4ppg, 5.6rpg; C A.J. Ogilvy, FR 6-10 250, 16.8ppg, 6.7ppg, 58.7%fgs, 43 blks; G Alex Gordon, SR 6-0 170, 10.7ppg, 3.2apg, 64 3ptrs; G Jermaine Beal, SO 6-3 210, 7.9ppg, 4.7apg, 26 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: F Darshawn McClellan, FR 6-7 220, 2.9ppg, 3.3rpg; G Keegan Bell, FR 6-1 180, 2.9ppg, 2.8apg, 25 3ptrs; C Alan Metcalfe, SR 6-9 265, 5.9ppg, 2.5rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 16.2ppg, 56.0%fgs, 7.4rpg, 33 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.1ppg, 6.2rpg, 4.8apg, 52 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.5ppg, 64.2% fgs, 8.1rpg, 135 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 12.0ppg, 4.5rpg, 2.8apg, 51 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.5ppg, 3.9rpg, 2.7apg, 50 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 72.9, VU 80.4
Scoring Defense: MSU 63.9, VU 73.4
FG Shooting: MSU 46.7%, VU 46.8%
FG Defense: MSU 36.7%, VU 43.1%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.4%, VU 40.8%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 20.9, VU 22.0
Rebounding: MSU 40.9, VU 35.8
Rebound Margin: MSU +5.3, VU -0.1
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.2%, VU 73.0%
Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 21.3, VU 23.0
Assists: MSU 13.5, VU 17.9
Turnover Ratio: MSU -2.7, VU +0.4
The Series: Vanderbilt holds a commanding 70-42 lead in a series dating back to 1922. The difference in Nashville is even more lop-sided at 42-8. Though, the 2002 and ‘04 Bulldogs did win in Memorial Gym, that latter team en route to taking the SEC Championship. Rick Stansbury is 8-4 against Vanderbilt.
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 well-ahead of #2 Kentucky in both scoring and shooting defense, and are almost 60 blocked shots ahead of LSU.
*Remember Coach Rick Stansbury's mantra of ‘defense and rebounding'? This team is less than half-a-board from leading the conference in both, only four percentage points behind Ole Miss for all-season margin. This decade the Dogs became the first team on SEC record to pace the league in rebounding for four-straight years.
*But the most under-appreciated stat in the SEC is that Mississippi State is the best-shooting squad (league play only) at 46.8%. That's better than Florida's 46.4%.
*And while the Bulldogs are back to their inconsistent free-throw ways, they at least aren't last in the SEC this week. Specifically, 10th place ahead of Ole Miss and Alabama.
*Yet the Bulldogs are still last in the SEC in turnover margin.
*Saturday will end the home career of a Bulldog who perhaps more than any thrives on playing for home folk…especially this senior season. F/C Charles Rhodes has been a 61% shooter at Humphrey Coliseum this year, 50% on the road. And the SEC-game difference is all the greater at 65% to 47%!
*Rhodes was coming off a career-high 30 points in the Auburn game, and got just half that total at Florida. Still that scarcely slows the beastly pace of this big Dog down the closing stretch of his State career. He has scored 106 points in the last five games, a 21.2 average, and raised his season rate to 16.2; a career-best.
*Since shaking off ankle issues Rhodes has scored double-digits in ten games and averaged 19.2 points, the best SEC scoring stretch by a Bulldog in many seasons. He's shot 57% in this brilliant run…and hit both his three-point attempts!
*With just one or two more rebounds each time, Rhodes would have notched double-doubles in the last three games. Still he has put up three DDs in SEC season and seven for the season; compared to the six DDs in his previous three years.
*His two-year battle to get in and stay in the career top-ten Bulldog shooters continues, as a 6-of-13 outing at Florida leaves him 11th at 56.02%; behind the 56.27% of Robert Jackson (1999-01).
*Rhodes had been on another run of late, making 30-of-37 free throws in a six-game stretch. Then he went 3-of-6 at Florida. Still his pace of 67.3% this year is close to the 71% of the previous two years as Rhodes has come back from a tough fall semester at the stripe.
*His scoring tear this semester has pushed Rhodes over halfway up the MSU career list. In fact Saturday he passed two former Dog greats to claim 11th place by himself. Rhodes now has 1,317 points and just went by both Rich Knarr (1,305) and Tang Hamilton (1,307). Making the top-ten will require a long tournament run for State though, as Rhodes will need 1,460 points to get there.
*He also improved a slot on the career rebounds list with 634, to 14th. Next up is former teammate Lawrence Roberts (2004-05) at 654.
*Rhodes still stands 6th in career blocks with 136, and in four of the last five games he hasn't been able to swat a shot…not surprising given the presence of a league-leading teammate in the lane.
*G/F Jamont Gordon has certainly had his ups and downs in the last three weeks. He has had three 20-point outings in the past six games, and the other three failed to reach double-digits. And at Florida he was held to a career-low 4 points on 1-of-8 shooting.
*Still Gordon has never gone consecutive games without scoring double-digits. He has ten or more points in 81 of 93 college games. And he has had 23 20-point games, a dozen of those this year.
*It's not hard to figure why such inconsistencies. In those three 20-point games Gordon shot 19-of-42; in the other three he was a combined 5-of-27 from the field and 1-of-12 at the arc.
*Yet whether scoring or not, in this same six-game stretch he has passed out 34 assists. Though he also a matching 34 turnovers in the same span.
*Gordon is still scoring 17.1 points for the season and 16.6 in SEC play. His season pace is the best by a Bulldog since Darryl Wilson averaged 18.0 in 1996.
*The junior already ranks 10th in MSU scoring with 1,452 points and needs just a decent half to catch Cameron Burns (1,460, 1989-91) for 9th. Only eight Dogs have ever scored 1,500 career points.
*Gordon is about to become the #3 assist man in MSU annals, too. He has 448 in three seasons and is closing in on the 454 by Chuck Evans (1992-93).
*When Gordon had his big game last year at home against Vanderbilt, he produced only the second triple-double in MSU history.
*Gordon is holding on to his team-lead in treys this year with 52, ahead of G Barry Stewart's 51 and G Ben Hansbrough's 50. Gordon is 10th in career treys with 121, one behind Reginald Delk.
*Meet the #2 shot-blocker in Bulldog history. C Jarvis Varnado's seven swats at Gainesville pushed the sophomore into second place with 203 rejections in less than two seasons. He's only the second Bulldog with 200 blocks for a tenure, trailing only the 249 of Erick Dampier in 1994-96.
*Maybe his single-season rate is even more impressive. Varnado is the runaway league-leader with 136 blocks this year, easily the MSU season record, and only twice has failed to get to at least one block in a game. Right now he has the 4th-best swat season in SEC history. The single-year record is 157 by LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in 1992, once thought unbreakable but now a mark obviously within reach given enough tournament-games.
*Varnado has blocked 31 balls in the last six games.
*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 56 of 63 career games and two or more balls in 41 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.
*Blocking shots has never been a problem for Varnado. Now he's asserting himself on offense by scoring shots. Varnado has scored double-digits in three of the last five games and shot 19-of-28 from the floor.
*With one more board against Auburn last week, Varnado would have notched four double-doubles in the last three weeks. He matched his 11 points at Florida with 11 rebounds.
*So for a five-game stretch Varnado has averaged 9.6 for both points and rebounds. His soph-season rates are up to 7.5 and 8.1 rebounds, compared to 5.0 points and 4.2 boards as a freshman.
*Varnado doesn't waste his chances to put up points, but his shot selection is certainly careful. For SEC season he is a 67.6% marksman, and 64.2% for the entire year. That is the best shooting in the SEC as of now…except Varnado doesn't quite meet the 5.0 shots-taken-per game minimum. He's only taking 4.9 per contest.
*Only four times this season has Varnado been less than break-even from the floor.
*So opponents would rather Varnado go to the stripe than get an open layup or dunk. He foiled this tactic for a while by making 12-of-17 free throws, then went 3-of-8 at Florida. He's 45% at the line this year, actually a drop from his freshman rate of 53%
*G Ben Hansbrough had taken a back-seat to scoring teammates for a couple of weeks. But at Florida the soph took charge and rang up 20 points to match his season-high. Hansbrough had 20 points against both Auburn (away) and UT-Martin.
*His career-high is 23 points as a freshman against Texas A&M-CC
*Hansbrough knocked down four more treys in Saturday's win, giving him 50 for the year and 97 for a career. It was his fifth game of the year with four or more longballs.
*This is the Dog no foe wants at the foul-line. It was Hansbrough swishing all three tries to send the South Carolina game into a successful overtime, which started a streak where the soph has hit his last ten attempts over three games. In the last seven games he is 16-of-17, this after a most uncharacteristic 7-of-14 stretch when he was dealing with injury and illness.
*For the year Hansbrough is a 80.8% foul-shooter; better than his freshman rate of 78.4%. But just like last year he doesn't have enough attempts to be listed in the SEC rankings.
*Hansbrough has played 38 minutes in each of the last three games. He hasn't had less than 35 minutes on-court since the home date with Alabama, when he was coming off mono. Only Gordon and Stewart have averaged more SEC minutes.
*In fact, soph G Barry Stewart gets more SEC-work than any Dog. He was off the court only one minute at Gainesville, and his average is just a tenth under 36 minutes this league season. By contrast the bigger, older Gordon is at 35.1 minutes.
*Stewart's shooting has been a hot-and-cold matter, maybe at least partly due to extended court-duties. For the first four February games he was 14-of-25 at the arc; since then he is 6-of-25 in four games. Stewart scored 13.1 points for February after notching 10.0 the previous month.
*But the slender soph is having an impact elsewhere. He's suddenly one of the more productive rebounders on the roster with 13 boards in the last two games. In fact he's averaged almost six rebounds in the last seven contests. He already has more boards in 28 games than he had all 35 freshman-year games.
*And Stewart should soon double his assist total of 2007 when he had 43. He's up to 78 now by assuming more of the play-making duties and freeing teammates to take and make open shots.
*Stewart now has 119 career longballs, just behind Gordon on the MSU list.
*As a freshman Stewart was a better perimeter shooter in away or neutral games than at home. That was still true into January. No more; Stewart has been a 38% marksman on trey-tries at Humphrey Coliseum this season, 31% away.
*And the game's outcome has not been reflected in his shooting; Stewart is 35% in MSU wins, 36% in losses.
*After a six-game stretch of making just 6-of-12 at the stripe, Stewart is 12-of-15 the last five contests.
*If you think Varnado is selective in his shooting, look at C Brian Johnson. He has only taken two shots in the last seven games and made both! Johnson is 7-of-11 shooting in SEC season.
*Not that Johnson or any other Bulldog backup gets many opportunities to impact the stat sheet. In the last two games the five starters have all put in 30 or more minutes.