*A torero is a bullfighter…though to males of a certain age, it is also one of the earliest Hot Wheels issued back in 1969. Still have one, and it would be worth something to a collector if the hood hadn't been pulled off.
*San Diego is also coming off a week-long break, having last played December 22 and losing 75-72 at home to Boise State.
About the Toreros: It was a successful debut season for Bill Grier. His first year with San Diego produced a 22-win season, half of those conference victories as the Toreros finished third in the West Coast league, then took the conference tournament for the automatic NCAA berth. There they reached the second round by stunning Connecticut. Now, Coach, what about act-two? Well, expectations were strong as San Diego was picked to be third again in the WCC behind Gonzaga and St. Mary's based on having all five starters, in fact all ten lettermen, back. But there've been some early-season setbacks, first and foremost due to an ambitious winter tournament schedule that has produced losses to then-#22 Miami and #25-Wisconsin, as well as by three points at New Mexico. Though, the Toreros do have a quality win over Oregon to their credit. Yet they've taken another sort of more serious loss as senior point guard Brandon Johnson was put out after eight games with an Achilles injury; he'd scored in double-digits all eight games and was a perimeter threat, something this team is a bit short on now. Backup center Nathan Lozeau also transferred out. But post play is not a problem here, not with two-time All-WCC center Gyno Pomare. The physical senior is about to become SD's all-time scoring leader, needing just two buckets tonight to break the mark of 1,473. He's already the program rebounding champion at 752 boards. He gets help around the lane from soph forward Rob Jones, who was a Freshman All-WCC pick and has picked up his scoring pace with three double-digit games recently. SD also brought in junior college all-American Roberto Mafra to provide the starters their breaks. With the loss of their senior triggerman, soph Matt Dorr is trying to fill the outside shooting gaps and getting his points lately too. But the real mid-year help is going to come from guard Trumaine Johnson, who had to wait until between semesters to be activated and celebrated his return with a 16-point night against Boise State. Again, this isn't a squad that has looked—so far—for a lot of perimeter shots despite a respectable accuracy. Where they are really consistent is at the foul line, though they don't get a lot of chances here either. And while the front line has some bulk it's not that tall and SD has blocked only 42 balls in 13 games.
Projected Starting Lineups
SAN DIEGO: F Chris Lewis, JR 6-7 215, 6.8ppg, 4.0rpg; F Rob Jones, SO 6-6 230, 10.6ppg, 5.3rpg; C Gyno Pomare, SR 6-8 240, 14.5ppg, 6.0rpg; G Trumaine Johnson, SO 6-2 190, 16.0ppg, 1.0apg; G Matt Door, SO 6-4 195, 6.9ppg, 17 3pts, 4.2rpg.
Top Backups: F Roberto Mafra, JR 6-9 235, 5.5ppg, 2.7rpg; G Devin Ginty, SO 6-2 180, 4.2ppg, 2.0rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Ravern Johnson SO 6-7 175, 11.5ppg, 4.3rpg, 26 3pts; G/F Phil Turner SO 6-3 170, 6.0ppg, 3.3rpg, 7 3pts; C Jarvis Varnado JR 6-9 210, 14.3ppg, 9.8rpg, 67%fgs, 72 blks; G Dee Bost FR 6-2 170, 8.3ppg, 55 asts, 14 3pts; G Barry Stewart JR 6-3 170, 9.8ppg, 2.9rpg, 17 3pts.
Top Backups: F Romero Osby FR 6-8 230, 6.8ppg, 3.5rpg; G Riley Benock SO 6-4 180, 2.9ppg, 1.3rpg; Twany Beckham, FR 6-5 190, 3.2ppg, 1.1rpg
How They Compare:
Scoring: MSU 74.8, SD 62.9
Scoring Defense: MSU 64.5, SD 60.8
FG Shooting: MSU 45.6%, SD 45.3%
FG Defense: MSU 36.4%, SD 41.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 34.7%, SD 34.0%
3-Point Attempts PGame: MSU 18.8, SD 14.5
Rebounding: MSU 40.8, SD 32.4
Rebound Margin: MSU +3.5, SD +1.9
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 69.9%, SD 74.3%
Free Throw Attempts PGame: MSU 25.8, SD 14.7
Turnovers: MSU 16.2, SD 14.9
Bulldog Notes: In all their eight wins this season the Bulldogs have led at halftime. In all four losses, they trailed at intermission.
*'Dogs' and ‘defense' are almost synonymous, as Mississippi State is holding the opposition to just 36.4% shooting. This is after State set a modern (post 1969) SEC record last season by allowing 37.0% for the whole campaign. The best accuracy allowed so far is 44.6% by Cincinnati.
*Opponents are, again, attempting to offset State's defensive prowess by putting up a lot of long shots; obviously a ‘hit or miss' strategy. Cincinnati attempted 27 treys out of 56 total shots; of Nicholls State's 65 shots 32 were lofted from beyond the arc. The opposition is shooting 34.3% on trey-tries.
*State is 1-3 in games where the opponents score 70 or more points. Though, 77 is still the most anyone has hung on the Bulldogs this season. State also led the SEC in scoring defense last year.
*C Jarvis Varnado made his name by blocking shots in record-bunches the first two college seasons. But now the 2008 SEC Defensive Player of the Year is earning a reputation for scoring. Varnado has consecutive 24-point games to his credit, his career highs; and he has scored 20 or more in four of his last five contests. Even with a 8-point outing against Charlotte, Varnado has averaged 19.8 points in the last five games.
*He is up to 14.3 points on the season, compared to a 7.9 average as a sophomore.
*All could have seen this coming, though, as in six of the last eight games his soph season he scored double-digits. He has managed less than ten points just four times this year.
*As impressive as the scoring is Varnado's efficiency. In the last three games he has made 27 of 33 shots, or almost 82%. For the month of December he is 40-of-53, or 75.5%.
*And Varnado is still taking only 8.3 shots per-game this season. But that is still up from a five-shot rate of his soph season.
*Meanwhile, on the other end of the floor, Varnado is about to become just the fifth SEC player with 300 career blocks. He has 296, through 81 career games. 318 blocks will earn a tie for 4th place, and the all-time mark is 412 set by LSU's Shaquille O'Neal in three seasons.
*As he tied the league season record with 157 blocks last year, Varnado averaged 4.6 per game; he is swatting an even 6.0 through a dozen games this year.
*With Varnado leading the way State set SEC team records last winter for both total blocks (267) and average (7.9).
But teammates have contributed 56 combined blocks, too. Opponents meanwhile have blocked only 37 of State's shots. The 2008 Bulldogs smashed the SEC season record with 267 blocks and 7.9 per-game.
*Varnado has blocked at least one shot in 74 of 81 career games, and in the last 29 games.
*Varnado has two double-doubles this season. He had three all of last campaign.
*Maybe most remarkably, the junior is having a good year at the free throw line. After shooting just 50% as a soph, he has made 62% this season; and 12-of-15 in the last two games.
*Junior G Barry Stewart has had to battle both injury and inconsistency this season. Though a hurting left wrist didn't interrupt his games-started streak, now at 46, he was just 3-of-11 shooting against Nicholls State. This after a 3-of-8 night at Cincinnati.
*This slump has come after Stewart scored double-digits in five of the first six games. He has made it to double-figures twice in the six contests since.
*For the season Stewart is making just over 35% of his shots overall. And at the arc he is 30.3%. For December, Stewart is 4-of-22 on trey-tries.
*Stewart remains #7 in MSU career treys, with 147 now. He needs 160 to catch Winsome Frazier (2002-05) for the next notch on the list. He is one of a dozen Dogs to have made 100 or more threeballs.
*Hurt or not, though, Stewart is going to be on the floor. He averages 28.3 minutes this season, and that is tilted by a 18-minute outing against South Alabama when he was sidelined the second half by the wrist. 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.
*PG Dee Bost has handed out 55 assists in his first dozen college games, which is already the 9th-best rookie year output in MSU history. He has just passed the freshman-season totals of both Marcus Bullard (54, 1996) and Tony Watts (50, 1989). The record is 129 by Jamont Gordon in 2006.
*And Bost is keeping a good rookie-ratio with just 33 turnovers.
*The other aspect of Bost's offensive game has been trending less positively though. After going 6-of-13 his first three games on three-pointers, Bost has slumped to 8-of-33 since. He has missed his last nine attempts from the arc, and did not shoot one in the NSU game.
*But, he has suddenly turned into a rebounder by chasing down 11 caroms in the last three games.
*A guard even better on the boards though is soph Phil Turner, with 11 in the last two contests. He has 39 boards for the year, after getting just 84 rebounds all last season.
*Turner got his first offensive board of the season in the Nicholls game.
*Getting into the starting lineup has allowed Turner to get involved in the offense. In his three starts he has scored 10, 12, and 11 points. Turner did not get double digits in any of his nine games off the bench.
*As a starter he has shot 9-of-19 overall from the floor. But Turner's real forte is making unguardable shots at the foul line. He was 9-of-12 on free throws against Nicholls, which actually hurt his season average. Turner is now 23-of-30, or 76.6% at the stripe for the season. As a rookie Turner was only 15-of-27 or 57% on free shots.
*Turner has nine steals in the last four games.
*G/F Ravern Johnson has taken an aggressive approach to offense this sophomore season and is second in team scoring as a result at 11.5 points-per. He has scored double-digits in seven of 12 games, but had nine points in two other contests.
*Johnson has become State's most productive perimeter shooter in the last month. For his five December games he has ten treys, on 19 tries. He has made 26 threes so far this season, where all last year he shot only 24 times at the arc.
*With State going ‘small' in the lineup, Johnson is trying to come up bigger on the boards. He grabbed a team best eight rebounds in the Nicholls game, his own season-high also. Johnson had 30 rebounds all his freshman year; he has 51 this season already.
*And Johnson is a reliable man at the stripe as well, having made 10 of his last 13 attempts and 77.8% for the year.
*G Riley Benock has had his shooting struggles this year, too, and going into the Nicholls game had missed six-straight outside tries spread over five games. But he was 2-of-6 against the Colonels.
*Senior C/F Brian Johnson made his delayed season debut in the Nicholls game, playing a dozen minutes. He had missed all the first 11 games with foot and ankle problems.