*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 208-114 record at State. His win total is just behind that of UO's Ernie Kent, who is 211-133 but in 11 seasons coaching his alma mater. Kent is 6-4 in his four NCAA trips. *Mississippi State placed two Bulldogs on All-SEC teams. Junior G/F Jamont Gordon was first-team in both the league Coaches and the writers polls; senior F/C Charles Rhodes was first-team on the Coaches list, second-team by the media. And soph C Jarvis Varnado was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Year, along with honorable mention All-SEC by media.
*Oregon senior forward Maarty Leunen was named second-team All-Pac 10.
*Though from opposite regions of the country there are some slender connections between the teams. Oregon guard LeKendric Longmire played his prep ball at Pascagoula High School; and assistant coach Kenny Payne hails from the Free State of Jones where he played at Northeast HS before starring at the University of Louisville. Also, former LSU guard Ben Voogd is sitting out this season as a transfer.
*Oregon won the very first NCAA Tournament championship, in 1939.
MSU at the NCAA Tournament: This is Mississippi State's ninth appearance in the national championship tournament. Previous trips were in 1963, 1991, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. Bulldog teams have posted a 10-8 record in these tournament.
*Of those ten wins, over half came in a two-year span as State reached the Sweet 16 in 1995 (2-1) and the 1996 Final Four (4-1). And the first win was in 1963 in the old regional ‘consolation' round which was eliminated as the tournament field expanded.
*That 1963 Bulldog team, which made history both as the first NCAA entrant in school history and for defying the state's infamous ban on inter-racial college competition, will be honored this month in Detroit, near East Lansing where those games were played. State lost to Loyola in the first round, and defeated Bowling Green in the consolation game.
*Rick Stansbury's 2002-05 teams were 3-4 in their four NCAA appearances, reaching the second round in 2002, '04, and '05.
*This is the second-lowest NCAA seeding for a Stansbury team. His previous four NCAA squads have been seeded (not in chronological order) #2, #3, #5, and #9.
*Only one current Bulldog, senior F/C Charles Rhodes, has NCAA experience. He played off the bench in two 2005 games at Charlotte; three minutes with four points in the win over Stanford, and eight minutes with two points against Duke. He made every shot (two field goals and two free throws) attempted.
*Because the titles have changed over the years, this is the first time SEC member State has played in a Regional named ‘South.'
*Mississippi State has played NCAA games in 11 different states, without ever repeating in different years. Yes, the 1996 Final Four was in the New York City area but played across the river in New Jersey's Meadowlands. So the 1991 Regional in Syracuse was State's only NCAA competition in that state.
*Other NCAA games have been in: 1995 Idaho and California; 1996 Indiana and Kentucky; 2002 Texas; 2003 Alabama; 2004 Florida; 2005 North Carolina.
About the Ducks: They're certainly glad to be back in the NCAAs, yet Oregon might be coming into this year's tournament with at least some sense of ‘starting over.' That's what happens when a team that returned the best parts of an Elite 8 squad, only knocked out of the 2007 tourney by eventual champs Florida, and ended the year ranked 10th in the country didn't quite achieve what was forecast. With four starters back the Ducks were projected to finish as high as second in the Pac-10; instead they came in at 9-9 and fell short of 20 wins. Still that was sufficient to earn the Ducks their third-straight NCAA berth where they have both the goal of making up for missed regular-season chances…and the experienced talent to make another extended March run. Certainly no coach relishes a do-or-done matchup with a team that thrives on perimeter shooting. And that is what Oregon does as well as anyone and much better than most. Four starters have sank 49 or more treys but that's not the numbers to note; it is their unnerving accuracy from the arc. State has played lineups where all shoot the longball; none that make treys like this club does, not even Tennessee. Literally every starter has to be guarded all over the floor, including the ‘big' man. Not that Maarty Leunen is all that big of body; it's his impact on the game that is huge, a 6-9 forward who can score, shoot inside and out (51% on treys!) with equal proficiency, and distribute. After all, how many forwards lead their team in assists? Then again how many can be confident of tossing the ball to any teammate with high likelihood of getting a bucket off the pass? The shortest Duck, 5-6 Tajuan Porter, has scored the most big shots with 79 threes so far while playing the point. He's got almost as many assists thanks to the perimeter prowess of Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor, the senior guards that both shoot 40% at the arc. Oregon does have a bench and guards Kamyron Brown and LeKendric Longmire do get minutes; just not a lot of points. 83% of the scoring is done by starters, and 71% of the rebounding, so if parts of the tipoff team have to sit for a while it could be a production problem. The other obvious down-sides of this lineup and gameplan are lack of sheer muscle on the boards or defensive presence in the paint; Oregon has blocked just 79 shots in 31 games; State's Jarvis Varnado has almost twice as many swats himself. Still the Ducks do have advantages in preparation, such as superior post-season experience and having played in a better league. And of course they can all shoot the three, the great equalizer in regular seasons and greater unpredictable in tournament time.
Projected Starting Lineups
OREGON: F Maarty Leunen, SR 6-9 220, 15.2ppg, 9.2rpg, 58 3ptrs, 51% 3ptfgs, 88 asts; F Joevan Catron, SO 6-6 235, 9.0ppg, 5.8rpg, 51% fgs; G Tajuan Porter, SO 5-6 150, 13.8ppg, 79 3ptrs, 73 asts; G Malik Hairston, SR 6-6 220, 16.1ppg, 4.8rpg, 49 3ptrs, 44% 3ptfgs; G Bryce Taylor, SR 6-4 210, 13.0ppg, 3.7rpg, 49 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Kamyron Brown, FR 6-2 170, 4.4ppg, 93 asts; G LeKendric Longmire, FR 6-5 200, 3.8ppg, 54% fgs,1.5rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 16.9ppg, 55.5%fgs, 7.7rpg, 41 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.3ppg, 6.3rpg, 154 asts, 56 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.7ppg, 64.2% fgs, 7.9rpg, 148 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 11.6ppg, 4.7rpg, 85 asts, 58 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.4ppg, 3.9rpg, 74 asts, 59 3ptrs.
Top Backups: C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.4ppg, 2.3rpg; G Ravern Johnson, FR 6-7 175, 2.5ppg, 1.1rpg.
How They Compare (all-season stats):
Scoring: MSU 73.1ppg, ORE 76.8ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.1ppg, ORE 72.4ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 46.1%, ORE 48.5%
FG Defense: MSU 36.8%, ORE 44.3%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 33.4%, ORE 40.1%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 20.8, ORE 21.7
Rebounding: MSU 40.9rpg, ORE 34.1rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU +4.5, ORE +1.9
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 64.4%, ORE 68.9
Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 21.7, ORE 20.5
Assists: MSU 423, ORE 462
Turnovers: MSU 489, ORE 392
The Series: Mississippi State and Oregon have never met. State is 4-8 against teams in the Pac-10, the last game being in the 2005 NCAAs opening-round when the Bulldogs beat Stanford in Charlotte.
Bulldog Notes: Mississippi State enters the post-season still the top defensive team in the SEC in major categories of: scoring at 65.1 points allowed, shooting at 36.8% allowed, and by far in blocked shots at 254.
*Of course MSU is just 89th in national scoring defense; and 93rd in offense. There are 328 teams in NCAA stat rankings.
*In their two SEC Tourney games the Dogs held Alabama and Georgia to combined 35% shooting, better even than State's regular-season defense. But, those foes were also 37% from the three-point line.
*Still if State can keep up this defensive pace, this team will post the best shooting defense by a SEC club since Tennessee (37.4%)in 1964. No SEC team shot better than 50% against the Dogs this year.
*Going into the tournament, in NCAA stats this State ranks second only to Connecticut (8.8) in blocks average; and to Georgetown in field-goal defense, 36.8% to 36.7%.
*With 254 through 32 games the 2008 Dogs have smashed the SEC season blocks record of 240 by Kentucky in 1998. And they are essentially assured of rewriting the season-average record of 7.1 by LSU in 1990. State is swatting 7.9 a game so far, plenty of cushion no matter what happens in the post-season.
*These Bulldogs are 2-1 in overtime games (beat South Carolina, Alabama; lost to Vanderbilt). Rick Stansbury teams are 12-8 playing an extra period.
*G Ben Hansbrough left Atlanta still leading in the team three-point race, with 59 treys. That's one-up on G Barry Stewart, while G/F Jamont Gordon has slipped back to third at 56 after a tough SEC tourney.
*Twelve Bulldogs have made 100 or more career treys. Three of them are on this team, all underclassmen. Stewart now is in 8th place with 126; Gordon 9th at 125; and Hansbrough 12th at 106.
*Whether winning or losing, F/C Charles Rhodes was efficient on offense as he was 50% shooting in both SECT games. In his five neutral-court games this year he was a 52% shooter, despite a 3-of-14 outing against UC-Irvine in the Anaheim tournament. Take away that one and Rhodes is 29-of-48 in neutral arenas.
*Of course that doesn't compare to the 60% Rhodes shot on the home court in his last State season, and 63% in his SEC home games.
*This ‘Beast' has roared through the last two months of his last season, scoring double-digits in 14-straight games and averaging 19.9 points. Seven of those games were for 20 or more points, and Rhodes been 108-of-194 from the floor in that stretch, almost 66%!
*Rhodes posted five SEC double-doubles in the regular season, and nine for the whole year. In his previous three campaigns he had six DDs.
*This gives Rhodes a regular-season scoring average of 16.9 points, over three points better than what he scored as an all-SEC junior.
*Where Rhodes slipped in the SECT was rebounding, with 14 boards in two games. In the last five regular-season games he averaged an even 10.0-per.
*And his two-year battle for tenth place on the Bulldog career shooting list continues. As of now Rhodes is at 55.8% through four years; behind the 56.27% of Robert Jackson (1999-01) for the 10th spot.
*Not coincidentally, Rhodes owns the school dunks record with 175 in four years. Almost one-third of Rhodes' baskets have come on slams, in fact.
*Rhodes goes into post-season with a shot of achieving top-ten career scoring status for State. He has been 11th for weeks and now has 1,403 points. He needs 1,460 to match Cameron Burns (1989-91) for 10th place.
*He is now 9th in career field goals with 550. Rhodes needs three more made free throws to make that top-ten list. And he is 6th in blocked shots with 143.
*And, Rhodes is now 12th in career rebounds with 672, having just passed both former teammate Lawrence Roberts and Charles Hull (1958-60). He is five from catching Tang Hamilton (677, 1998-2001). But top-ten status will require 705 boards.
*Which Jamont Gordon will show up in Little Rock? The one who scored 23 points in the SEC Tournament against Alabama, or the one who was held to seven against Georgia in the semifinals? It's been feast or famine for the junior lately, with four single-digit outputs in his last nine games…and 20 or more points in the other five!
*But Gordon has never been held to single-digits in consecutive games in his MSU career, which bodes well for Friday. And in the three games before the Georgia debacle he had 24, 23, and 23 markers. Gordon has scored 20 or more points 26 times in his college career, and double-digits in 84 of 97 games.
*All those 20-point productions have Gordon producing 17.3 points-per-game going into the NCAAs. That's the best average by a Bulldog since Darryl Wilson netted 18.0-per as a senior in 1996.
*Getting his points the past month has required taking lots of shots. In fact Gordon already has taken the 9th-most attempts in MSU history, 1,208 in three seasons. That's 12.5 per-game for his career; this year Gordon has averaged 13.6 shots.
*Over 40% of Gordon's shots this year are three-point tries. Yet his outside accuracy this year, 31.6%, is down from his soph shooting of 34.7%. Take away his trey-tries and makes, and Gordon is shooting a tick under 50%.
*Gordon was 1-of-10 at the arc in the SEC Tournament. He is 4-of-25 in the last five games.
*A finalist for both the Wooden and Cousy awards, Gordon is the #3 assist man in MSU history. He has 470 scoring passes. The record is 514 by Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03) with Al Perry (1975-78) right behind at 510.
*But in Atlanta Gordon did upgrade his assist/turnover rate. In the previous eight games he was breaking even, 43 assists against 43 giveaways. In the SECT he had 11 assists, eight turnovers.
*While his shooting has tailed off, Gordon is still climbing the career scoring list. He's up to 7th now with 1,529 points and just passed Jerry Jenkins (1,503, 1973-75). He's 90 points behind the 1,619 Wilson scored in three years, 1994-96.
*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 14th in all-time boardwork with 655 and just passed Lawrence Roberts (654, 2004-05).
*And Gordon has the fifth-most made free throws, on the fourth-most attempts, ever at MSU as he is 396-of-574 at the stripe.
*His pace has slowed in the two weeks as opponents just don't challenge C Jarvis Varnado as often. But the sophomore is still the nation's blocked-shots leader going into NCAA play with a 4.6 average and 148 swats, both tops on the current lists. Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet has 143 blocks, and Alabama A&M's Mickell Gladness is even with Thabeet at 4.5 per-game.
*Varnado only got four blocks in the SEC Tournament, costing him a couple of margin points in the national stats. Still he has more than twice as many blocks as his next-nearest SEC competitor, Chris Johnson of LSU who's year is through at 66 blocks.
*Now Varnado has his sights set on breaking the SEC season record of 157 blocks by LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in 1992. That's one more than the 156 of Alabama's Roy Rogers in 1996. Though, O'Neal got his blocks in 30 games; Varnado has already played 32 this year.
*Varnado has blocked a shot in 60 of 67 games, two or more balls in 43 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.
*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 215 now.
*The SEC coaches 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 four of the last six games and raised his season scoring rate to 7.7 points.
*Maybe the Dogs oughtn't have been surprised by the loss to Georgia in Atlanta, because Varnado did not attempt an official shot (he was fouled on one try). It was the first game all year Varnado did not have a field-goal attempt on his box score, and only the second time he failed to score a basket this season (the other at Arkansas, 0-of-1).
*That seems an obvious failure of his team to at least give Varnado an offensive look. Because in the preceding five games he was 24-of-36 from the field or 67% accurate. That included his first college trey, in the regular-season finale against LSU.
*Only four times this season has Varnado been less than break-even from the floor.
*If Varnado met the SEC and NCAA minimums for shots taken (he's at 4.97, short of the 5.0 standard) he would rank second in the league in accuracy and be in the national top-ten. Ole Miss' Dwayne Curtis goes into the NIT a 64.8% shooter and does meet the listing-minimum.
*After averaging 4.2 rebounds as a freshman, Varnado is grabbing 7.9 boards as a soph. He had 17 rebounds in two SEC Tourney games.
*Most of the year opponents would rather let Varnado try free throws than shoot field goals. While he is still just a 47% marksman at the stripe, Varnado did go 5-of-7 in the SECT.
*G Barry Stewart is the unexpected ‘iron man' of the MSU lineup. The 170-pound soph is averaging 35.6 minutes this season; compared to 34.4 for the older, bigger, stronger Gordon.
*After heating up in February, Stewart's outside shooting has cooled in recent weeks. He is 13-of-52 at the arc in the last eight games. Before that he was 14-of-25 in a four-game run. But, he was 4-of-10 at Atlanta with 21 total points.
*Since scoring 19 points at home against Arkansas, Stewart has not gotten more than 11 points in a game…but he has scored 10 or 11 six times. This has kept his average at 11.6 for the year, almost two points better than his freshman rate.
*Where the shooting guard has become a surprising standout is on the boards. Stewart has had a remarkable run of rebounding games with 36 in the last six games, 14 at Atlanta outings.
*At the SEC Tourney, the shooter also turned point guard with seven total assists. With one more scoring pass Stewart will have twice as many assists as a soph as his 43 freshman assists.
*In those two tourney games Stewart, who had not shot a free throw in three of the four previous contests, went to the stripe eight times and made five.
*Stewart is 11-of-33 at the arc on neutral floors this season.
*G Ben Hansbrough had a couple of rough outings in the SEC, going 4-of-18 from the field (4-of-16 at the arc) in those games. Eight of his 20 Atlanta points came on free throws.
*Hansbrough has endured a tough month on the whole, shooting over 50% from the floor only twice in eight games. In this stretch he is 17-of-56 on trey-tries. But of course the soph is doing exactly what he is on the court to do, put up long shots. Of his 111 shots taken in SEC play, regular season or tournament, 85 were from the arc.
*Hansbrough is a 79.1% free thrower this year, better than his rookie rate of 78.4%. Still, in neither year does Hansbrough have enough attempts to be ranked by the SEC or NCAA. The team's best man at the stripe averages 2.4 shots per soph-game.
*Hansbrough is back to getting the ball to other scorers, with nine assists the last three games.
*Hansbrough has not seen less than 35 minutes on the court since the game at Auburn, a stretch of ten contests.
*Think Varnado is a selective shooter? C Brian Johnson makes his younger teammate look reckless by comparison. The junior took 17 total SEC shots, reg-season or tourney, in 18 games. Give him credit though as Johnson made 11 of them. And Johnson went wild against Georgia in the SEC Tourney, going 3-of-3 from the floor.
*G Phil Turner did not play in the last three regular-season games. Then he got into both SEC Tourney games for two and six minutes. The frosh managed to put up four shots, all trey-tries, in those limited appearances. All missed. Back when Turner was starting, due to injuries or illness of other regulars, he opened eight of nine SEC games and averaged 27 minutes.