Bulldog Basketball Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (7-3) travels to the Queen City for a made-for-TV matchup with Cincinnati (7-2). The 5:30 contest in U.S. Bank Arena is part of the SEC/Big East Challenge event to be shown on ESPN2, with statewide radio broadcast on the MSU network.

*Following Mississippi State's game, the Bulldogs can get an early scouting report on rival Ole Miss as the Rebels take on Louisville in the second half of the Challenge with a 8:00 tipoff for ESPN. The Bulldogs were originally to play in the 2008 Challenge, the first year of the event, but delayed participation to this season.

*Mississippi State is 8-12 in all games against teams currently making up the Big East. Most of these games have come in tournament settings, such as the 2007 NIT semifinal loss to West Virginia; or the 2005 loss to Syracuse in the Coaches Vs. Cancer semis. Both of those meetings came in Madison Square Garden.

*MSU has played Cincinnati before…but never in that city. In fact State's only appearance in this locale was in the 2004-05 season when the Bulldogs beat hometown team Xavier.

*U.S. Bank Arena used to be known as Riverfront Coliseum and was Cincinnati's home court from 1976-87. The Bearcats still play in the city arena occasionally and have won their last 12 games there.

*State has lost both games played on TV this season.

About the Bearcats: A rebuild job was certainly anticipated after the ugly collapse of the Bob Huggins regime, and folk in Cincinnati haven't enjoyed a three-year absence from NCAA action. But after two really tough years with a 24-38 record '97 alum Mike Cronin looks to have things turning around at last. With some impressive young talent joining a core of veterans, a competitive Bearcat club is gradually taking shape…though a ten-point loss to intratown rival Xavier didn't set well with the locals. Cronin has used four lineups through nine games, but looks to tip it off this time with a group that has opened four times. It includes the two returning starters from a 13-19 club, F Rashad Bishop and G Donta Vaughn, both underclassmen. Though, junior Vaughn plays with plenty seniority as both a play-maker and shot-taker and a nominee for the Cousy Award after averaging over 17 points last season. His points are down a bit but the assists show Vaughn is making use of teammates. UC had expected to have help at point but freshman Cashmere Wright was lost for the season with knee surgery. Soph Larry Davis has started eight times at guard, though frosh Dion Dixon opened the most recent game as Cronin is making more use of the whole roster this season. The ‘big' addition has been sizable center Yancy Gates, another member of that rookie class, who has made real impact on each end of the floor. He lost his starting job after a three-point night against Xavier, but came off the bench next time out for a season-best 18 points against Charleston Southern. The Bearcats can also start 6-8 juco Steve Toyloy in the pivot, as they did against CSU, but in games Gates has got double-figures they are 5-0. Seven-foot soph Anthony McLain is available to do some banging as needed. Forward Mike Williams is a good story, a Texas transfer two years ago who sat one season as required, then another with a tendon injury. Healthy now, Williams is showing why he was a prep McDonalds All-American with a couple of double-double games this year. Soph forward Alvin Mitchell is scoring at three-times his freshman pace with a much-improved stroke. For that matter the whole squad has upgraded the perimeter punch, while mixing in muscle as needed. No, Cronin's first two years weren't much fun…but after improving their Big East win count by six from year-one, any sort of similar progress will give the Bearcats a good shot at breaking the post-season drought. And they know this is the sort of game that can definitely boost their NCAA profile come March.

Projected Starting Lineups

CINCINNATI: F Mike Williams SR 6-7 240, 9.1ppg, 5.4rpg; F Rashad Bishop SO 6-6 225, 5.2ppg, 4.2rpg; F Yancy Gates FR 6-9 260, 9.7ppg, 5.6rpg; G Donta Vaughn JR 6-1 190, 14.6ppg, 4.6apg; G Larry Davis SO 6-3 195, 7.0ppg, 2.4rpg.

Top Backups: G Dion Dixon FR 6-3 195, 5.9ppg, 3.9rpg; F Alvin Mitchell SO 6-5 210, 9.3ppg, 4.0rpg.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Ravern Johnson SO 6-7 175, 11.8ppg, 4.2rpg, 24 3pts; G/F Phil Turner SO 6-3 170, 4.9ppg, 2.8rpg; C Jarvis Varnado JR 6-9 210, 12.4ppg, 10.5rpg, 63%fgs, 62 blks; G Dee Bost FR 6-2 170, 9.5ppg, 46 asts, 14 3pts; G Riley Benock SO 6-4 180, 2.7ppg, 1.2rpg.

Top Backups: G Barry Stewart JR 6-3 170, 9.8ppg, 1.4apg, 14 3pts; F Kodi Augustus SO 6-8 220, 7.3ppg, 5.0rpg; F Romero Osby FR 6-8 230, 7.4ppg, 4.0rpg.

How They Compare:

Scoring: MSU 76.1ppg, UC 72.9

Scoring Defense: MSU 63.1ppg, UC 59.2

FG Shooting: MSU 45.6%, UC 44.8%

FG Defense: MSU 35.4%, UC 35.7%

3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.5%, UC 34.7%

3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 18.9, UC 21.7

Rebounding: MSU 42.9rpg, UC 43.6

Rebound Margin: MSU +5.5, UC +11.2

Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.7%, 65.1%

Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 25.9, UC 18.4

Turnovers: MSU 16.7, UC 16.2

The Series: Mississippi State and Cincinnati have met just three times, all in either a post-season tournament or pre-conference classic event. State is ahead 2-1. In 1980 the Bulldogs beat the Bearcats 87-72 in Biloxi, in the old Babe McCarthy Tip-Off Classic. Better-remembered is State's 73-63 triumph over UC in the 1996 NCAA Regional in Lexington, that sent those Dogs to the Final Four. Cincinnati got on the board in 2002 with a 90-56 win in the Las Vegas Classic. All-time, UC is 35-47 against SEC teams, but has won the last five such games dating back to that victory over MSU.

Bulldog Notes: While March is several calendar pages away, the Bulldogs are already playing for post-season position in these pre-conference contests. And this team is ahead of last season's pace as the 2007-08 team was 5-5 through the first ten games.

*In all seven wins this season the Bulldogs have led at halftime. In all three losses, they trailed at intermission.

*The 2008 Bulldogs made their mark in modern SEC history with the best field-goal defense on record (league stats only go back to 1969). State held foes to 37.0% shooting for the full season, breaking the 1995 mark of 37.6% set by Alabama. So far this season, these Bulldogs are allowing 35.4% accuracy from the field.

*State also led the SEC in scoring defense last year at 65.5 points; they are allowing 63.1 points through ten games this year.

*Last year's Dogs smashed the SEC mark for blocked shots with 267 and blocks-per at 7.9. The previous marks were 240 (Kentucky 1998) and LSU (6.6 in 1991, '92).

*Mississippi State has led the SEC in rebounding four of the last five years.

*Junior C Jarvis Varnado tied the SEC season record for blocks with 157 last season, matching the total by Shaquille O'Neal in 1992. Though, O'Neal got his in 30 games while Varnado took 34.

*Varnado has more blocks this season than ten SEC teams.

*Varnado now has 286 career blocks, and just moved into fifth-place on the SEC list by one over Robert Horry of Alabama (1989-92). He is about to become only the fifth league player with 300 swats, and needs 318 to catch former Arkansas center Stephen Hill for 4th place. The record is 412 by O'Neal in three seasons.

*Varnado has blocked ten balls in three games, all as a sophomore. His high this season is nine against Louisiana-Monroe, with a pair of eight-block games.

*Varnado has blocked at least one shot in 72 of 79 career games, and in the last 27 games.

*As a sophomore Varnado scored double-digits in 12 games; including six of the last eight State contests. This season he has six double-digit outings, including a career-high 22 points against Alabama State and 21 points against South Alabama.

*But taking more attempts has cut into his accuracy a bit; Varnado is shooting 62.8% this season after making 64.7% and 64.1% the first two years.

*Varnado has two double-doubles this season. He had three all of last campaign.

*And while it's nothing to brag about, Varnado has improved his free-throwing to 56.5%. He only broke-even as a soph, making 50 of 100 attempts at the stripe.

*G Barry Stewart is questionable for this game with a left wrist injured Saturday in the South Alabama game. He was held out of Monday and Tuesday practices.

*The injury limited Stewart to 18 minutes Saturday; his shortest stint since March 2007 with 18 minutes against Arkansas in the SEC Tournament. Stewart never played less than 25 minutes as a sophomore, or 30 minutes in any SEC game. He averaged 35.7 minutes for the season, tops on the roster.

*Stewart is struggling with his shooting to start this junior season. After making 33.3% of his trey-tries, and 38% overall, last year he is hitting just 29.8% and 35.9% respectively this fall. And in the last four games Stewart is just 1-of-18 at the arc. In the first four contests he was 10-of-20, all on the home court.

*Stewart is 7th on the MSU career made-threes list with 144. He needs 16 more to catch Winsome Frazier (2002-05) for 6th place. Only a dozen Dogs have made 100 or more treys.

*Freshman PG Dee Bost has 46 assists in his first ten college games, and ranks second this week on the SEC list. His assist/turnover rate is positive, too, with just 35 giveaways.

*The rookie had a three-game streak of scoring in double-figures until settling for four points against South Alabama, though with five assists.

*Bost has as many treys, 14, as Stewart so far this season, and is hitting them at a 35% clip. He has thrown in three longballs three times.

*Soph G Ravern Johnson has been State's best source of long-range offense though, making 24 treys in ten games. And while his season shooting at the arc is 52%, in the last three games he is a sizzling 8-of-14.

*Johnson is a surprising second in team scoring so far at 11.8 points, and had a career-best 21 points in the win over Alabama State.

*Johnson has been good on six of his last eight free throw chances.

*Drawing his first starting job this season produced the most points yet for G Phil Turner, who had 10 markers against South Alabama. It was Turner's highest output since an 11-point effort against Kentucky last January.

*Turner has been State's most accurate free-thrower, making 14-of-16 tries and his last ten-straight…though he went three games without an opportunity.

*Turner is 5-of-14 at the arc through ten games. On anything closer, he is 10-of-18.

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