*Mississippi State has won or shared six West titles, most of any team since the league went to a Divisional format for 1991-92. This is the fourth such title in the last six seasons.
*The Bulldogs also have won 20 or more games for the 14th season in program history, and the seventh in Coach Rick Stansbury's 10-year tenure. Stansbury became the winningest Bulldog basketball coach ever in December and now owns a 206-113 record at State.
*Mississippi State placed two Bulldogs on the Coaches All-SEC team, with both G/F Jamont Gordon and F/C Charles Rhodes making the nine-man list. It was Gordon's second first-team recognition by the league coaches, while Rhodes was promoted from two years on the second team to first-team as a senior.
*And soph C Jarvis Varnado was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, though not a first- or second-team Coaches All-Conference.
MSU at the SEC Tournament: Since the SEC renewed a conference tournament for the 1979 season, Mississippi State teams have posted a 16-27 record. They were 4-18 in the original version of the league tourney, from 1933-52.
*In the modern tournament, State has a winning record against only two opponents. The Dogs are 2-1 against Auburn, and 1-0 against Ole Miss. State has played all 11 possible opponents, and ironically the Rebels were last on the list.
*Bulldog teams are 7-7 playing in the Georgia Dome.
*State's most common modern SECT foe is Vanderbilt with eight meetings from 1981-2004, and a 3-5 record in those games.
*Stansbury teams have beaten every SEC member in a tournament game except Arkansas and South Carolina. He is 0-2 against both. Stansbury is 9-8 in all SEC games.
*Mississippi State owns two SEC Tournament titles. In 1996 when Coach Richard Williams' Bulldogs defeated Auburn, Georgia, and Kentucky in New Orleans to take the title. And in 2002 in Atlanta when Stansbury's squad beat Florida, LSU, and Alabama. In each case the Bulldogs defeated the regular-season SEC champion in the title game.
*Mississippi State's first-ever SEC Tournament game, in 1933, was also played in Atlanta…and against Alabama. The Maroons won that one 30-25.
The Last Meeting: Or meetings, as these West rivals clashed twice in the regular season with Mississippi State sweeping the series for the first time since 1999. Back on January 19 the Bulldogs took a 66-56 decision in Tuscaloosa, behind 24 points from Jamont Gordon and 16 from Barry Stewart. State fell behind 14-8 to begin but found an offensive rhythm at the arc and threw in seven treys to lead 33-28 at the break. In the last half the Crimson Tide would fall back a few shots, cut the margin to four, then slide back again. It was consecutive baskets in the lane from Gordon and C Jarvis Varnado in the third-to-last minute that put State in control, with the first double-digit win in Coleman Coliseum since 1990. And they did it with F Charles Rhodes hobbling on a bad ankle, scoring just five points. UA's Richard Hendrix was stout in defeat with 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting but his teammates contributed only two treys all day. Three weeks later the Bulldogs saw a much more balanced ‘Bama attack with five double-digit scorers and better rebounding. But State also spread the work around with 17 points apiece from Gordon and a healthy Rhodes, and 13 more points from Stewart. Both sides were sluggish in the first half and Alabama even led briefly, 27-25. Midway of the next period the home team had surged out in front 56-45…only to relax and let the visiting Tide slash the deficit to 65-63 at 3:31. A rebound basket by Varnado halted the comeback, as did Dog-ged defense that forced Bama into misfires. State got away with a 73-66 decision. G Ben Hansbrough returned from an illness layoff for ten points. Swingman Alonzo Gee had a team-high 16 points with 15 more for guard Mykal Riley and 12 for Hendrix.
*In his two games against Alabama this year, Stewart was a combined 11-of-22 from the field and 6-of-13 at the arc. And off the bench each time, Hansbrough was 6-of-16 all shooting, 5-of-12 on treys.
*Varnado had his fewest blocks (2 total) against Alabama of any West series this year. He stuffed 14 against LSU, 10 against Ole Miss, 10 against Auburn, and 7 against Arkansas.
Projected Starting Lineups
ALABAMA: F Demetrius Jemison, SO 6-7 225, 4.6ppg, 5.4rpg; F/C Richard Hendrix, JR 6-9 250, 17.8ppg, 10.0rpg, 61 blks; G/F Alonzo Gee, JR 6-6 215, 14.5ppg, 6.8rpg, 34 3ptrs; G Mykal Riley, SR 6-6 185, 14.8ppg, 5.2rpg, 99 3ptrs; G Rico Pickett, FR 6-4 175, 5.9ppg, 3.4apg, 19 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 16.8ppg, 56.0%fgs, 7.7rpg, 36 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.5ppg, 6.3rpg, 4.8apg, 55 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.8ppg, 63.6% fgs, 7.9rpg, 144 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 11.7ppg, 4.5rpg, 2.6apg, 54 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.4ppg, 3.9rpg, 55 3ptrs.
How They Compare (all-season stats):
Scoring: MSU 73.7, ALA 75.5ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.0, ALA 73.0ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 46.8%, ALA 46.1%
FG Defense: MSU 36.9%, ALA 43.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.1%, ALA 36.3%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 20.8, ALA 19.1
Rebounding: MSU 40.9, ALA 38.1
Rebound Margin: MSU +5.0, ALA +3.3
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 63.5%, ALA 60.%
Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 21.6, ALA 20.5
Assists: MSU 13.2, ALA 15.8
Turnovers: MSU 15.5, ALA 13.1
The Series: Mississippi State swept the season set, but Alabama still owns a 110-69 lead in a series that dates back to 1913. And the Crimson Tide is 6-2 in games played on neutral courts, all in SEC Tournaments. It's a 5-1 bulge in the ‘modern' event though the Bulldogs took the last meeting, in 2002 to claim the Tournament championship by a 61-58 score. Rick Stansbury is 12-9 against Alabama; Mark Gottfried is 9-12 against State.
Bulldog Notes: Mississippi State arrives in Atlanta as the SEC's premier defensive ballclub. For all-season stats, the Bulldogs are first in scoring defense, shooting defense, and blocked shots. For SEC-only stats, the Dogs do slide a spot in scoring defense to second behind Kentucky by 7/10ths of a point. But they are still first in shooting defense and blocked balls.
*If they hold this pace, State will have the best shooting defense by a SEC team since Tennessee in 1964.
*Speaking of blocks, the 2008 Bulldogs have already surpassed the SEC season record for blocks with 243, topping the 240 by Kentucky ten seasons ago. And they are pace to also own the season-average record; State currently gets 8.1 rejections per-game, compared to 7.1 by LSU in 1990.
*In NCAA stats, this week State ranks second only to Connecticut (8.8) in blocks average; and to Georgetown in field-goal defense, 36.9% to 36.4%.
*No SEC team shot 50% or better against State this regular season.
*But overlooked is just how proficient the Bulldogs have become around the other goal. Going into the Tournament, State is second in SEC-game field goal shooting by only a point to Florida, 47.2% to 47.1%. *Remember how Rick Stansbury preaches "defense and rebounding" as keys to success? The Bulldogs have moved in front of the SEC's rebound average list at 40.9 per game, and are second only to Ole Miss in rebound margin. State set a conference record by leading the league in rebound margin five-straight years, 2001-05.
*For all the grief they've taken about free throwing, the Bulldogs aren't the worst in the SEC at the stripe. At 64.6% in SEC games they are actually a bit better than both Alabama (62.5%) and South Carolina (63.0%).
*The team's three-point race remains tight going into tournament time. G/F Jamont Gordon and G Ben Hansbrough are now tied for first with 55 made-treys each, one ahead of G Barry Stewart.
*Twelve Bulldogs have made 100 or more career treys. Three of them are on this team, all underclassmen. Gordon has 124 in three years (8th most), Stewart 122 (tied 10th) and Hansbrough 102 (12th).
*The rest of his college games will be played on neutral floors. But F/C Charles Rhodes certainly ended his home-court career in style by scoring a double-double (27 points, 10 rebounds) against LSU on Senior Day.
*Nobody played better for and to the home crowd than Rhodes. He was a 60.4% shooter in all Hump games this senior season, and 62.9% in SEC home games. Compare that to 51% in all away-games, 49% on hostile SEC courts.
*Rhodes posted his fifth SEC double-double of the season last Saturday, and his ninth of the senior year. By contrast he had just six DDs in his previous three years.
*The ‘Beast' roared down the senior-season stretch. In the last five games he averaged 23.6 points, the best stretch of his whole college career. And he got those points on 59.2% shooting against defenses focused on containing the big Dog.
*This gave Rhodes a regular-season scoring average of 16.8 points, over three points better than what he scored as a all-SEC junior.
*After shaking off ankle problems Rhodes ran through the last 12 games of the schedule scoring double-digits every time.
*He has grabbed 50 rebounds in the last five games.
*Rhodes has shot 60%% in State's SEC wins; 48% in league losses.
*And his two-year battle for tenth place on the Bulldog career shooting list continues. As of now Rhodes is at 56% even through four years; %; behind the 56.27% of Robert Jackson (1999-01) for the 10th spot.
*With every slam, Rhodes extends his school record for dunks which now stands at 170 (55 this season). Almost one of every three goals Rhodes has made has been a dunk.
*If the Bulldogs can go on a post-season run, Rhodes has a shot at reaching top-ten status in scoring. He is solidly in 11th already with 1,366 points; it will take 1,460 to match Cameron Burns (1989-91) for 10th place.
*He is now 10th in career field goals with 534.
*Rhodes is now 13th in career rebounding with 658 boards, having just passed former teammate Lawrence Roberts (2004-05) at 654. He needs three more to match Charles Hull (661, 1958-60) for 12th place, and top-ten status will require 705 boards.
*Rhodes is still 6th in career blocks with 137.
*For a while it was feast-or-famine for G/F Jamont Gordon. In three of four games he scored single digits, or reached 20 points. Now the junior seems settled on sticking to the latter track as he's tallied 24 and 23 in the last two games, and topped 20 in four of the last seven contests.
*Gordon has scored 20 or more points 25 times in his career. And he has scored double-digits in 83 of 95 college games. Gordon has never gone consecutive games scoring single-digits.
*A finalist for both the Wooden and Cousy awards, Gordon just became the #3 assist man in MSU history. He has 459 scoring passes and just surpassed Chuck Evans (454, 1992-93). The record is 514 by Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03) with Al Perry (1975-78) right behind at 510.
*All those 20-point productions have Gordon 5th in SEC scoring going into the post-season at 17.5 points. That's the best average by a Bulldog since Darryl Wilson netted 18.0-per as a senior in 1996. Gordon's SEC-game average is also up to 17.5, though that's a bit behind Rhodes' rate of 17.7 in league play.
*Getting all those points has taken quite a few shots in the last month. In the last seven games Gordon has shot 34-of-92 from the field (37%) and 12-of-42 at the arc (29%). Of course take away all the long-ball attempts and Gordon is making 42% of his shorter shots, with nobody yet knowing how to prevent his attacks of the basket.
*Yet his outside accuracy hasn't really shown on the SEC record; Gordon has made 35% of trey-tries in wins, 33% in losses. So give him credit for consistency.
*And talk about balance; in the last eight games Gordon has 43 assists…and 43 turnovers. At least he's breaking even there!
*Accuracy aside, Gordon just climbed another notch on the career scoring list; to 8th with 1,499 points having passed Tony Watts (1,491, 1989-92). He needs four points to catch Jerry Jenkins (1,503, 1973-75). And, obviously, become just the eighth Bulldog with 1,500 career points.
*Gordon has scored consecutive 500-point college seasons. Only Bailey Howell and Jim Ashmore had three years of 500 or more points…and Bulldog faithful would love to see Gordon come back for a shot at matching that mark.
*Gordon's rebounding rate of 6.3 is the lowest year of his career and down from 7.1 as a sophomore. Still the junior ranks 15th in all-time boardwork with 643.
*And Gordon has the fifth-most made free throws, on the fourth-most attempts, ever at MSU as he is 263-of-385 at the stripe.
*After having a brilliant stretch of shot-blocking halted at Vanderbilt, with ‘just' one swat in 33 minutes before fouling out, C Jarvis Varnado got to seven shots in the LSU game. That gave him 144 blocks for the regular season.
*Going into ‘tourney week' Varnado is the nation's leading shot-swatter at 4.8 per-game.
*His '08 total not only leads the SEC by nearly a two-to-one margin, but Varnado is having the (for now) third-best season ever by a league shot-blocker. He needs a dozen more swats for the second-best mark (156, Roy Rogers of Alabama 1996).
*And the league record of 157 by LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in 1992, once believe unbreakable, is very much in reach with any sort of extended post-season. Though O'Neal got his in 30 games, the same as Varnado has already played this year.
*For that matter a really long tournament time would put State's career record (249, Erick Dampier 1994-96) in some danger. Varnado, only the second Dog with 200 blocks, has 211 now. And he's done it in just 65 games, a 3.2 average.
*Varnado has blocked a shot in 58 of 65 games, two or more balls in 42 games, and three times this year has rejected an even ten—Miami Fla., Georgia, Kentucky. Ten is of course the school's game-record.
*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.
*The SEC acknowledged how Varnado changes the game by unanimously naming him Defensive POTY. But other defenses now have to take State's soph into their own planning, because Varnado is asserting himself on offense. He scored double-digits in three of the last four regular-season games and averaging 12.0 for that stretch, along with 7.3 rebounds.
*In these four games Varndo has shot 20-of-31 from the floor…and 1-of-1 at the three-point line by making a trey against LSU, his first as a collegian. His 16 points at Vanderbilt were a SEC-career high.
*For the season Varnado is netting 7.8 points and 7.9 rebounds; compared to 5.0 and 4.2 as a freshman. Though his board-work has tailed off a bit lately with nine total rebounds in the last two games; before that he had 32 rebounds in the previous three games.
*That lone longball aside, Varnado is a selective shooter. He is one make from 66% accuracy in SEC games this year, which would rank as best in the league…if he met the 5.0 attempts per-game standards. Nor does he meet the all-season minimum for shots taken; his 63.6% would rank second otherwise.
*Only four times this season has Varnado been less than break-even from the floor.
*So naturally the other team is willing to send Varnado to the stripe rather than let him take a floor-shot. He's just 44.6% on free throws this year, down even from his freshman rate of 53%. He's 5-of-13 in the last three games.
*G Barry Stewart is the unexpected ‘iron man' of the MSU lineup. The 170-pound soph is averaging 35.3 minutes this season, and 36.7 minutes in SEC games; compared to 34.0/35.6 for the older, bigger, stronger Gordon.
*After heating up in February, Stewart's outside shooting has cooled in recent weeks. He is 9-of-38 at the arc in the last six games. Before that he was 14-of-25 in a four-game run.
*But the off-guard has turned it on elsewhere. Stewart is the sneakiest rebounder on the squad, with 22 boards in the last four games. In fact he's averaged almost as many rebound as Gordon in the past five weeks.
*As a rookie Stewart was actually more efficient shooting longballs away from home, on either road or neutral floors. Not this year; he made good on 36.5% of trey-tries at Humphrey Coliseum as a sophomore, compared to 31% this year away.
*Stewart has not attempted a free throw in three of the last four games.
*G Ben Hansbrough has had offensive his ups and downs this year, since coming off both injury and illness. In the last regular-season game he had a dozen points, though, his fifth double-digit SEC day.
*But he bounced back from a 2-of-10 shooting night (2-8 arc) at Vanderbilt to make 4-of-7 total and have his six trey-tries against LSU. And Hansbrough did not fail to make at least one trey in every SEC game he played this soph-season.
*Hansbrough is doing exactly what he was given the starting job to do: shoot from the arc. Of his 93 field goal attempts in SEC season, 69 have been three-point tries.
*In a five-game span Hansbrough was 11-of-11 on free throws. In the last two he is 2-of-4.
*But his 78.9% accuracy this year is still a half-point better than his rookie rate of 78.4%. Still, in neither year does Hansbrough attempt enough freebies to be ranked by the SEC; he would be #5 this week if he met the required minimum.
*Hansbrough has not seen less than 35 minutes on the court since the game at Auburn, a stretch of eight contests.
*Until the last home game, C Brian Johnson was the most judicious shooter on the team. He had taken just 11 shots in SEC play and made seven; and in seven league games didn't even attempt a shot. Then against LSU he went wild, putting up four attempts and making two.
*C Elgin Bailey has 21 minutes in the last two games; prior to that he had 22 minutes in four games.
*State is finding situations to get G Ravern Johnson on the court, usually to pit his fresh legs against tired defenses as the first half winds down. The rookie has responded by making five of his shots the last three games.
*G Phil Turner has not played in the last three games, and in the preceding four games had a total of 11 minutes. Yet in the first nine SEC games, with other starters injured, the redshirt freshman opened eight games and averaged 27 minutes.