*Mississippi State did not play a Conference USA team this season, nor any since 2003-04 with wins that year over both UAB and Tulane. Rick Stansbury is 6-1 against that league. Memphis lost their only game this year to a SEC foe, at home to Tennessee 66-62.
*MSU is 1-0 against CUSA teams in the NCAA Tournament, beating Connecticut in the Sweet 16 round in 1996. Memphis is 2-1 against teams that were in the SEC at the time, splitting with Arkansas (win 1992, loss 1995) and beating South Carolina in 2004.
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 now posted a 11-8 record in these tournament.
*With Friday's win, four of the five Rick Stansbury teams to play in the NCAAs have now advanced to the second round; along with the 2002, '04, and '05 squads. He holds a 4-4 record in NCAA action.
*The 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 coming weekend 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.
*Mississippi State has now played NCAA games in 12 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.
*The lone Bulldog with previous NCAA experience at State, Charles Rhodes celebrated his return to the post-season by shooting 10-of-12 from the floor (and 14-of-18 at the foul stripe) in the win over Oregon. In 2005 when he played off the bench briefly in two Charlotte Regional games, he was 2-of-2 from the field, 2-of-2 at the stripe. And, last year Rhodes was 24-of-43 shooting in four NIT games.
*Rhodes' 34 points against the Ducks is the MSU post-season game record, surpassing the 32 by Daryl Wilson in 1995 against Utah.
About the Tigers: Talented. Athletic. Experienced. And motivated. So what's not to like about Memphis as they take another shot at NCAA glory? Determined critics might snipe about the conference quality, which of course the Tigers can't control. All they could do was kick the whole darn league around, play a credible non-CUSA schedule, and just keep piling up the Ws to merit their top seeding and local siting. That mission was clearly accomplished, now it's up to John Calipari's eighth Tiger team to prove it's the best by getting to San Antonio. All the tools are here, as a veteran lineup that already knows how to win has melded with a gifted rookie to produce a consensus championship contender. Oh, Memphis might have made the Final Four just with the four veterans of two previous NCAA ventures who already own a nice collection of conference crowns. Any lineup that puts big—really big—forward Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier on the front line, with the matching talents of attacking guards Chris D.-Roberts and Antonio Anderson is of top-ten potential anyway. But the addition of guard Derrick Rose has balanced out the package, a play-maker capable of utilizing all the skills on the court at any time. And while folk look at the scoring, don't ignore the defense these Tigers can do whether in the lane or out on the arc. Maybe the raw numbers are inflated somewhat by the sad state of the rest of CUSA. Or maybe the rest of the league has just conceded the top slot annually and plays for second, something SEC folk knew a couple of decades ago with other blue-tinted felines. That situation changed, perhaps it will in CUSA…eventually. But for now these are the unchallenged top cats of the loop, and a team with far higher ambitions in 2008. If those dratted free throws don't catch up with them, that is.
Projected Starting Lineups
MEMPHIS: F Robert Dozier, JR 6-9 215, 9.4ppg, 6.8rpg, 59 blks; F Joey Dorsey, SR 6-9 265, 6.8ppg, 64%fgs, 9.6rpg, 61 blks; G Chris Douglas-Roberts, JR 6-7 200, 17.3ppg, 41 3ptrs, 44% 3ptrs, 4.2rpg; G Antonio Anderson, JR 6-6 210, 8.5ppg, 44 3ptrs, 3.4apg; G Derrick Rose, FR 6-3 205, 14.0ppg, 32 3ptrs, 4.5apg.
Top Backups: G Doneal Mack, SO 6-5 175, 7.8ppg, 1.9rpg; G Willie Kemp, SO 6-2 175, 5.1ppg, 45 3ptrs, 1.7apg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Charles Rhodes, SR 6-8 245, 17.5ppg, 56.4%fgs, 7.7rpg, 41 blks; G/F Jamont Gordon, JR 6-4 230, 17.1ppg, 6.5rpg, 163 asts, 56 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SO 6-9 210, 7.8ppg, 64.5% fgs, 7.9rpg, 152 blks; G Barry Stewart, SO 6-2 170, 11.7ppg, 4.6rpg, 87 asts, 62 3ptrs; G Ben Hansbrough, SO 6-3 205, 10.2ppg, 3.9rpg, 77 asts, 59 3ptrs.
Top Backups: C Brian Johnson, JR 6-9 245, 2.4ppg, 2.3rpg; G Ravern Johnson, FR 6-7 175, 2.4ppg, 1.1rpg.
How They Compare:
Scoring: MSU 73.2, MEM 79.9
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.2, MEM 60.7
FG Shooting: MSU 46.1%, MEM 46.7%
FG Defense: MSU 36.7%, MEM 38.4%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 33.2%, MEM 35.3%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 20.7, MEM 22.6
Rebounding: MSU 40.8, MEM 40.7
Rebound Margin: MSU +4.4, MEM +6.5
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 64.5%, MEM 59.7%
Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 22.1, MEM 24.2
Assists: MSU 439, MEM 563
Turnovers: MSU 501, MEM 427
The Series: Mississippi State and Memphis are near neighbors but have only met 23 times on hardwood over the years…and the last get-together was in 1985. Tiger teams own a 12-11 advantage due to having won one more game in five neutral-site games. The programs have split four games in Starkville and 14 in Memphis. The Tigers won that last meeting in Humphrey Coliseum 68-59 en route to a Final Four season.
Bulldog Notes: Mississippi State entered the post-season 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. The Bulldogs backed that up by holding Oregon to 34% shooting (25% in the second half), seven points under their season average, and blocking six of the 26 Duck shots taken inside the arc.
*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 ranked second only to Connecticut in blocks average; and to Georgetown in field-goal defense.
*With 260 through 33 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 7.8 a game so far, plenty of cushion no matter what happens in the post-season.
*The team three-point lead just changed again. G Barry Stewart hit all four of the team's treys Friday night and now has 61; compared to 59 for G Ben Hansbrough and 56 for G/F Jamont Gordon.
*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 130; Gordon 9th at 125; and Hansbrough 12th at 106.
*F/C Charles Rhodes has fortunately saved his best ball for the end of his college career. His 34 points didn't just set a State post-season standard, it was his highest output ever topping his 30 at home against Auburn this year.
*In his three tourney games, SEC and NCAA, Rhodes has scored 71 points on 26-of-46 shooting.
*In six games on neutral courts this year Rhodes is 42-of-76 shooting; but take away that 3-of-14 outing against UC-Irvine at Anaheim and the accuracy leaps to 63%. That's what Rhodes shot in SEC home-court games as a senior.
*This Beast has roared through the closing months of his senior season, scoring double-digits in 15-straight games and averaging 20.8 points. In eight of these games he's scored 20 or more points and twice 30 or better.
*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 season scoring average of 17.5 points, almost four points better than what he scored as an all-SEC junior.
*And his battle for tenth place on the Bulldog career shooting list continues. As of now Rhodes is at 56.40% through four years; edging just ahead of the 56.27% of Robert Jackson (1999-01) for the 10th spot.
*Not coincidentally, Rhodes owns the school dunks record with 180 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 1,437 points. He needs 1,460 to match Cameron Burns (1989-91) for 10th place.
*And, he just climbed another notch on the rebound list. Rhodes is now 11th with 681, having just passed the 677 of Tang Hamilton (1998-2001). But top-ten status will require 705 boards, thus several more post-season weekends.
*It was a ‘historic' evening for G/F Jamont Gordon as well, but not one the junior wanted. For the first time in his college career Gordon has been held to single-digits in consecutive games; after scoring seven against Georgia last Saturday, he managed eight points against Oregon. Gordon had gone 97 college games without being limited under ten points in back-to-back outings.
*Yet in the previous three games he had scored 24, 23, and 23 points. If State isn't sure which Gordon will show up Sunday, how can the opposition have a clue?
*His problem is easy to judge; in these two tourney games Gordon has shot 2-of-8 and 2-of-14, and a combined 1-of-10 at the arc.
*His four trey-tries out of 14 shots Friday was actually against Gordon's trend; because over 40% of his shots this year have come from beyond the arc. But his accuracy there this year has slipped under 31%, compared to almost 35% as a soph shooter. Gordon is 4-of-29 at the arc in the last five games; 1-of-14 in tournament games.
*With his average down to 17.1 for the season, Gordon has lost the scoring lead on the team to Rhodes at 17.5. points.
*But if Gordon wasn't scoring Friday, he certainly set up baskets with nine assists credited by the NCAA stats crew. He's had 16 assists in the last two games and in the last six contests has averaged 6.7 scoring passes. Also, he's back to a positive ratio in tourney time for assists-to-turnovers.
*Which gives him 479 career assists, third-most in MSU history.
*Gordon has scored double-digits in 84 of 98 games; 20 or more points 26 times. So while his shooting eye has been off of late, he still keeps climbing the school's scoring list. Gordon is up to 7th all time with 1,537 points; next up is the 1,619 of Daryl Wilson from 1994-96.
*For the year Gordon's rebounding rate is down to a career-low 6.5. But in the last five games he's grabbed 40 boards. So even if he's not shooting great, the total points, assists, and rebounds are why Gordon has made the most recent cut for both the Cousy and Wooden awards.
*Not surprisingly, post-season opponents aren't challenging C Jarvis Varnado any more often than necessary. But if the soph got ‘only' four blocks against Oregon, all were impressive and a couple came in the last half while the game was changing State's way. Varnado now has 152 swats for the season.
*He entered the tournament leading the nation in both blocks and average. His closest contender for total, Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet, is now out of the NCAAs after one game.
*Varnado is closing on a SEC season record once believed unbreakable. He is now five blocks behind the 157 of LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in 1992 (Alabama's Roy Rogers had 156 in 1996).
*The MSU career record of 249 by Erick Dampier (1994-96) is sure to fall, if not this year then early next season. Varnado now has 219 blocks as a Bulldog.
*Varnado has blocked a shot in 61 of 68 career games, two or more balls in 44 games, and three times this year has rejected an even ten—Miami Fla., Georgia, Kentucky. Ten is of course the school's game-record.
*If planning around Varnado on (State's) defensive end isn't trouble enough, now foes have to fear him at the other basket. The SEC's Defensive Player of the Year is becoming a scorer, too, with double-digits in five of the last seven games, including 11 against Oregon.
*It was likely not a coincidence that State lost to Georgia in the SEC Tournament semifinals when Varnado did not try an official shot. 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).
*His team remedied this by getting the ball to the soph center Friday, and Varnado responded with 5-of-7 shooting. In the previous six games (counting UG) he was 24-of-36 from the field, 67% accuracy. Only four times this season has Varnado been less than break-even from the floor.
*Taking seven shots Friday means Varnado nudges over the SEC minimum of 5.0 attempts per-game to be ranked. So, his 64.5% shooting is either first or second best in the league as of today, depending on what Ole Miss' Dwayne Curtis did in his most recent outing.
*Most of the year opponents would rather let Varnado try free throws than shoot field goals, as he's a 46.7% shooter on the stripe. Yet, that's actually improvement as in the last three games Varnado is 6-of-9!
*He's not as consistent as he'd like, but give G Barry Stewart credit for clutch-ness. The soph was 4-of-10 shooting against Oregon but all four of the makes were for three points; and all in the second half as his treys sparked State's comeback.
*And after going 2-of-12 in games against LSU and Alabama, Stewart is 7-of-14 at the arc the last two tourney contests. He's scored double-digits in seven of the last eight games, and his 16 points Friday were the most since February 16.
*His soph-season scoring pace of 11.7 points is almost two better than his freshman rate of 9.8.
*For the regular season Stewart was the unexpected ‘iron man' of the lineup, averaging 35.6 minutes. He's seeing plenty of post-season duty, too, though now older, bigger guard Gordon is getting a minute more; it was 39 for Gordon, 38 for Stewart last night.
*Focusing on perimeter defense, Stewart didn't get to a lot of Oregon rebounds; just two, his lowest total since mid-January. Before that though Stewart was on a remarkable run with 36 rebounds in six games.
*Stewart is also playing more on the point now, besides scoring them. He has 87 assists this season, more than twice his rookie-year total of 43.
*Stewart is 9-of-13 on free throws the last three games.
*Stewart is 15-of-41 at the arc on neutral floors this season.
*G Ben Hansbrough is still working on his post-season touch, having gone 6-of-23 on all shots and 4-of-19 at the arc in three tournament games.
*It's been a tough stretch for the soph shooter. Since his trip to Auburn, where he was 6-of-9 and 4-of-7, Hansbrough has been above break-even from the field in three of 10 games. And his long-range rate is 20-of-63 in this period.
*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 78.3% free thrower this year, a tick behind 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 a dozen assists the last four 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. And he was 1-of-1 against Oregon.
*G Phil Turner has seen a few minutes of first-half duty in State's substitution pattern during tourney-time. The redshirt frosh isn't afraid to fire and has taken five long shots in three games, but missed them all.