*Mississippi State will also hold a halftime ceremony honoring the 1962-63 team, SEC champions and the first Bulldog squad ever to play in the NCAA Tournament. A dozen members of that team are expected to return to campus for the event.
*Having wrapped up the Western Division last weekend, the Bulldogs know they will play the 7:30et game next Friday in the SEC Tournament against the winner of East #4 and West #5. Florida is already locked into that game, with either Alabama or Auburn as the first-round opponent. State is 5-0 against these three teams.
*Rhodes gets his only senior-shot at LSU this weekend; he missed the Baton Rouge game with a bad ankle. In four previous starts against the Tigers he has scored 14, 14, 13 and 15 points. Oddly, in his five starts against LSU junior Jamont Gordon has averaged…14.0 points. And, 7.4 rebounds, better than Rhodes.
*After ten seasons with former MSU aide John Brady bringing the Tigers to The Hump, this time LSU will be under the direction of a former Bulldog player as Butch Pierre (1981-84) took over in mid-season. Pierre's State teams were 1-7 against LSU.
About the Tigers: Changing coaches mid-year is rarely pleasant but occasionally productive. That's certainly been the case since Pierre was put in charge, though LSU's improvement in fortunes also came as the roster got healthier. Whatever the reasons, tangible or otherwise, the Tigers can't be taken for granted with a four-win streak (three at home) here at the end of the schedule. Due to the essentially ‘split' seasons LSU has gone through with differing lineups it's not easy to get a good read on what the Tigers are, beyond scrappy…which is a good start. In fact even in the rougher times LSU gave good teams a tussle only to come up short by a rebound here, a turnover there. Both are still problem areas, though the board-work has improved since juco Chris Johnson returned to the lineup after a December hand injury. Without him the Tigers were that much more vulnerable in the middle; now they can put two tall (if not exactly stout) bodies around the basket. Johnson and rookie Anthony Randolph provide double-digit scoring on decent, not great, shooting accuracy. They also mean shots can be blocked on either side which has certainly been a boon for the defense the last month. Without an active senior on the roster, Garrett Temple is the ‘old' hand on this team, a swingman who does something of everything at each end to hold the lineup together. Brady went for more juco help in the backcourt last year and got it in shooter Marcus Thornton who has popped 81 treys. He's the least-known top-five scorer in the conference, and a 41% arc-shooter in SEC play. Junior veteran Terry Martin puts some balance on the perimeter with his longballs, with frosh Bo Spencer another gunner off the bench. Pierre has shuffled the guard lineup some but basically counts on four guys to carry most of the minutes-load. They are still vulnerable on the glass, and if the long shots aren't falling the Tigers will struggle. But let LSU stay close down the stretch and this team can make you pay an unexpected price. Oh, and if it comes down to making free throws, four of the every-game starters average around 75% there.
Projected Starting Lineups
LOUISIANA STATE: F Anthony Randolph, FR 6-10 190, 15.4ppg, 8.4rpg, 69 blks; C Chris Johnson, JR 6-11 185, 11.3ppg, 53%fgs, 6.3rpg, 64 blks; G Garrett Temple, JR 6-6 185, 6.8ppg, 4.2rpg, 22 3ptrs; G Terry Martin, JR 6-6 200, 8.4ppg, 2.5rpg, 41 3ptrs; G Marcus Thornton, JR 6-4 190, 19.1ppg, 5.7rpg, 81 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: G Alex Farrer, SO 6-5 190, 2.8ppg, 1.6 rpg; G Bo Spencer, FR 6-1 175, 3.6ppg, 20 3ptrs; F Quinton Thornton, JR 6-8 225, 1.3ppg, 1.5rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 16.4ppg, 56.2%fgs, 7.7rpg, 34 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.3ppg, 6.2rpg, 4.8apg, 52 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.8ppg, 65.1% fgs, 8.0rpg, 137 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 11.9ppg, 4.6rpg, 2.7apg, 53 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.3ppg, 3.8rpg, 2.6apg, 52 3ptrs.
Top Alternates: F/C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.2ppg, 2.4rpg; C Elgin Bailey, FR 6-8 265, 1.9ppg, 1.7rpg; G Ravern Johnson, FR, 2.8ppg, 1.1rpg, 6 3ptrs.
How They Compare
Scoring: MSU 73.3, LSU 68.4
Scoring Defense: MSU 64.7, LSU 68.4
FG Shooting: MSU 46.8%, LSU 42.8%
FG Defense: MSU 36.8%, LSU 41.9%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 33.9%, LSU 32.2%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 20.8, LSU 19.9
Rebounding: MSU 41.0, LSU 35.3
Rebound Margin: MSU +5.3, LSU -2.5
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 62.8%, LSU 74.1%
Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 21.5, LSU 16.9
Assists: MSU 13.3, LSU 11.9
Turnover Ratio: MSU -2.7, LSU -0.1
The Series: This is Mississippi State's oldest existing rivalry, going back to the first year of the program with 192 games played so far (second only to the Ole Miss series). Both sides have dominated decades but after 99 years the Tigers own a 101-91 edge. But the Bulldogs have won the last three meetings, and are 55-35 in Starkville games, 20-12 in Humphrey Coliseum. Rick Stansbury is 12-9 against LSU. Bulldog Notes: Despite giving up 86 points at Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs remain the league leader in all the major defensive categories for the season as a whole. They are best in scoring defense, shooting defense, and are 40 blocked shots ahead of #2 LSU going into the weekend.
*But the Bulldogs have slipped to second in SEC-game scoring defense now, .4 points behind leader Kentucky. The lead in shooting defense is safe.
*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 three 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 47.1%. That's better than Florida's 47.1%.
*And while the Bulldogs are back to their inconsistent free-throw ways, they at least aren't last in the SEC this week. Specifically, 11th place ahead of Alabama.
*The Dogs have also upgraded their ball-handling and are up to 10th (!) in assist/turnover rate for SEC games only. You take improvement however it comes.
*How's this for balanced offense? Three Dogs are separated by a single made-treys for the team lead going into the weekend. G Barry Stewart just took over first place with 53 longballs, while G/F Jamont Gordon and G Ben Hansbrough each have made 52.
*This weekend ends the home-court career of a Bulldog who maybe more than any other has thrived playing for the home-folk this season. F/C Charles Rhodes has made Humphrey Coliseum his home-sweet-home, shooting 61% in home games this year compared to 51% on the road. In SEC play the differential is even more obvious, 65% at The Hump to 49% away.
*Even in defeat Wednesday Rhodes was a beast, with 22 points and 14 rebounds. It was his fourth SEC double-double this year and eighth for the entire season. Rhodes had six DDs in the preceding three varsity years.
*Rhodes is roaring down his senior-season stretch. In the last six games he has scored 128 points, a 21.3 average, and raised his season rate to a career-best 16.4. That's nearly three points more than Rhodes averaged as a all-SEC junior.
*Since shaking off ankle issues Rhodes has scored double-digits in 11 games and averaged 19.5 points, the best SEC scoring stretch by a Bulldog in many seasons.
*He has grabbed 40 rebounds in the last four games.
*Rhodes has shot 60.5% in State's SEC wins; 47.8% in league losses.
*His two-year battle to get in and stay in the career top-ten Bulldog shooters continues, as a 9-of-15 outing at Vanderbilt leaves him 11th at 56.15%; behind the 56.27% of Robert Jackson (1999-01).
*Rhodes has come back from a rough fall semester at the free-throw stripe to shoot 67% in SEC season.
*His scoring tear this semester has pushed Rhodes over halfway up the MSU career list. He is now solidly in 11th place at 1,339 points. Making the top-ten will require a long tournament run for State though, as Rhodes will need 1,460 points to get there.
*Rhodes is also 14th in career rebounding with 648 boards, not far from catching former teammate Lawrence Roberts (2004-05) at 654.
*Rhodes still stands 6th in career blocks with 135, and in four of the last six 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 bounced back from a career-low four points at Florida to score a team-best 24 at Vanderbilt. It was his fourth 20-point production in the last seven contests, yet in two of those he was in single-digits. Gordon has 24 games with 20 or more points for his three seasons.
*And he has scored double-digits in 82 of 94 college games. Gordon has never gone consecutive games scoring single-digits.
*But the junior is having to put up quite a few shots to get his points lately. He has averaged almost 14 attempts in the last five games.
*And in the last four games Gordon has shot 21-of-41 from the field, and 5-of-20 at the arc.
*Interestingly, Gordon is a 34% arc-shooter in State's SEC wins; a 33% shooter in the four losses.
*And talk about ‘balance', in the last seven games Gordon has issued 39 assists…and 38 turnovers.
*Gordon is scoring 17.3 points for the season, best by a Bulldog since Darryl Wilson's 18.0 rate of 1996. His SEC average is up to 17.1.
*Gordon just posted his second 500-point college season. Only Bailey Howell had three years of 500 or more points.
*Gordon just took over 9th place on the MSU scoring list with 1,476 points, passing Cameron Burns (1,460) Wednesday night. He's just 15 points behind Tony Watts (1,491) and should shortly become the eighth Bulldog with 1,500 career points.
*With 453 assists he is one away from catching Chuck Evans for third place in MSU history.
*C Javis Varnado has his brilliant run of blocking shots halted at Vanderbilt, when he collected just one swat in 33 minutes before fouling out. In the preceding four games he had rejected 22 balls.
*But his league-lead is secure as Varnado now has 137 for the season, almost twice his nearest SEC competitor. That is also the MSU season record which had been 106 by Erick Dampier in 1996.
*He's only the second Bulldog with 200 career blocks (204 now). Now Varnado has his sights set on the MSU career record of 249 rejections by Dampier (1994-96).
*Varnado is also closing in on the best shot-blocking season in SEC history. Shaquille O'Neal blocked 157 balls in the 1992 campaign, a mark once thought unbreakable. Now Varnado has a legit shot depending of course on how many post-season games the Dogs can play. His 137 is already the 4th-best season total by a SEC player.
*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 57 of 64 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 four of the last six games and shot 26-of-37 from the floor.
*Wednesday night Varnado matched his career-high scoring game with 16 points, same as he got against Lafayette in January. It was of course his best SEC output as a collegian.
*In the last six games Varnado has made himself a scorer, averaging 10.7 points. His rebound rate in the same span is 8.5.
*His soph-season averages are up to 8.2 and 8.0 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 now a 68.8% marksman, best in the league. And by taking 17 shots in the last two games combined, Varnado now meets the league minimum for ranking at 5.0 per-game. *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 5-of-13 in the last two road games. He's 45% at the line this year, actually a drop from his freshman rate of 53%
*G Barry Stewart is the unexpected ‘iron man' of the MSU lineup. The 170-pound soph is averaging 35.2 minutes this season, and 36.5 minutes in SEC games!
*Stewart has thrown in seven treys in the last three games to take over the team lead, from Gordon. But taken 20 attempts to do it. In fact the soph has been slumping again of late. For the first four February games he was 14-of-25 at the arc; since then he is 8-of-32 in five games.
*Where Stewart has clearly upgraded his game though is another unexpected area. He's suddenly a surprising rebounder, with 18 boards in the last three games. In fact he has averaged 5.8 rebounds in the last eight games, almost as many as Gordon.
*And Stewart should soon double his assist total of 2007 when he had 43. He's up to 79 now by assuming more of the play-making duties and freeing teammates to take and make open shots.
*Stewart now has 121 career longballs, and is tied with Gordon for 10th 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 from home court.
*After a six-game stretch of making just 6-of-12 at the stripe, Stewart is 12-of-15 the last six contests.
*G Ben Hansbrough has had his hot-and-cold weeks as well. In a three-game stretch last month he had 25 points, then 31 points in the next two contests including 20 at Florida. Then Wednesday he left Nashville with seven points.
*His career-high is 23 points as a freshman against Texas A&M-CC
*Hansbrough is doing exactly what he was given the starting job to do: shoot from the arc. Of his 86 field goal attempts in SEC season, 63 have been three-point tries.
*Hansbrough has 99 career threes and is about to become the 12th Bulldogs with 100.
*The most surprising aspect to Wednesday's loss was Hansbrough not making both free throws at the end of the game. Because it was his three-for-three swishes at the end of regulation at South Carolina that allowed the Dogs to win in overtime. In the previous seven games Hansbrough had made 16 of 17 free throws.
*For the year Hansbrough is a 80.0% 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 put in the longest night's work in Nashville with 44 minutes. He'd played 38 in each of the previous three games and has not seen less than 35 minutes' duty since a home game with Alabama when he was coming off mono.
*If you think Varnado is selective in his shooting, look at C Brian Johnson. He has only taken two shots in the last eight games and made both! Johnson is 7-of-11 shooting in SEC season.