*The last time either of these contestants won on the other home court was in 2004 when State scored a victory at Nashville. And Vanderbilt has not won in Starkville since 1993.
*Vanderbilt is this week's NCAA leader in shooting defense, allowing just 35.9% accuracy from the field. They are also first in SEC scoring defense at 58.0 points allowed.
*Rick Stansbury shoots for history Saturday as the 11th-year coach is tied for the most SEC wins at Mississippi State. His 89 league victories match the total by his former boss Richard Williams (1986-98). Both are one league win ahead of Babe McCarthy's 88 total.
About the Commodores: Others in the East boast higher highs and far more flash. Meanwhile Vanderbilt cruises along enjoying annual consistency in the remarkable decade of Kevin Stallings. Since taking over for the 1999-2000 season, the low-key coach has taken seven squads (including the last five) to post-season play. Last season saw the most wins, 26, though probably not his best team; that was the previous squad that tied for second in the East and advanced three rounds into NCAA play. In fact the only Commodore complaint would be lack of a SEC title since 1993. This team probably won't score one, either…will it? Hey, if ever there was a year for a dark horse to come out of a flawed league pack this is it, and even if the two hottest shots of last season have gone with 211 treys between them there are folk here who know about winning. Starting with A.J. Ogilvy, the all-important post presence who set a VU rookie record scoring 17 points-per and is notching 16.6 so far this year under greater defensive attention. Though that's not always good because Ogilvy has a knack for drawing fouls and is ahead of his league-leading '08 pace for free throw chances. His absence for a foot injury was obvious in the loss at Kentucky, but Ogilvy notched 18 against Georgia last time out. Getting the big guy help is Stalling's concern. Soph Darshawn McClellan has started the last four games at big forward and hits the boards hard; it's his 32% shooting in this span that signals trouble on the baseline. Freshman Steve Tschiengang had to sit six games for NCAA eligibility rules, then started five times at forward but shot even more poorly to lose that tipoff job. He's been more efficient off the bench since then though, and can step out to shoot long jumpers. Freshman Jeffrey Taylor earned a starting wing-job immediately and while not a big three-point threat just yet he gets inside for shorter baskets, needed rebounds, and surprising steals. He's scored ten or more in all but four games. Point guard Jermaine Beal, one of the returning starters, has been putting up his own buckets just as frequently, though his 40% shooting could be better. Still this is one of the SEC's better distributors with 272 career assists (he set a program sophomore-record) in three seasons, and is dead-reliable at the charity stripe with a 88.1% accuracy this winter. It's fallen to frosh Brad Tinsley to assume the perimeter-prowess of Shan Foster, and the kid has delivered 35 treys in 14 games shooting nearly 40% at the arc. But this combo-guard who has started since game-three has almost as many assists as Beal. His only knock is that, like many frosh, his shooting stats reflect playing to the level of his competition. This Stallings squad is different than previous teams, starting with those defensive feats listed above. The lineup has good size all around and is beating folk on the boards consistently. The ‘Dores are even blocking shots with 77 swats in 16 games; they had just 118 in 34 contests last winter. But one fact remains constant whoever suits up in black-and-gold: Vanderbilt has still hit at least one three-pointer in ever game since the shot was instituted, a streak now at 714 games and second only to the 722 by UNLV.
Projected Starting Lineups
VANDERBILT: F Darshawn McClellan, SO 6-9 240, 3.1ppg, 2.8rpg; G/F Jeffery Taylor, FR 6-7 210, 12.3ppg, 6.3rpg; C A.J. Ogilvy, SO 6-11 250, 16.6ppg, 7.0rpg, 22 blks; G Jermaine Beal, JR 6-3 205, 12.0ppg, 4.1rpg, 3.3apg, 26 3ptrs; G Brad Tinsley, FR 6-3 210, 10.1ppg, 2.7apg, 35 3ptrs.
Top Backups: F Steve Tchiengang, FR 6-9 240, 3.1ppg, 3.4rpg; G George Drake, JR 6-4 215, 4.3ppg, 2.6rpg; C Festus Ezeli, FR 6-11 255, 4.0ppg, 2.8rpg, 51%fgs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Ravern Johnson SO 6-7 175, 11.8ppg, 3.7rpg, 38 3pts; G/F Phil Turner SO 6-3 170, 7.2ppg, 3.5rpg, 15 3pts; C Jarvis Varnado JR 6-9 210, 12.9ppg, 9.8rpg, 61%fgs, 90 blks; G Dee Bost FR 6-2 170, 10.0ppg, 4.6asts, 23 3pts; G Barry Stewart JR 6-3 170, 11.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 31 3pts.
Top Backups: F Romero Osby FR 6-8 230, 6.5ppg, 3.7rpg; G Riley Benock SO 6-4 180, 3.1ppg, 14 3ptrs; C Elgin Bailey, SO 6-8 254, 4.9ppg, 3.0rpg, 21blks.
How They Compare:
Scoring: MSU 75.8ppg, VAN 69.1ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 64.7ppg, VAN 58.0ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 46.6%, VAN 44.3%
FG Defense: MSU 36.9%, VAN 35.9%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 38.0%, VAN 33.0%
3-Point Attempts: MSU 20.1, VAN 16.9
Rebounding: MSU 39.8rpg, VAN 36.7rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU +1.6, VAN +4.4
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.9%, VAN 74.5%
Free Throw Attempts: MSU 23.3, VAN 23.1
Turnovers: MSU 15.6, VAN 14.5
The Series: Vanderbilt holds a 71-42 lead in a series dating back to 1922. But over the last 15 years the Bulldogs have cut into the deficit, especially at home where State has won all seven meetings in Humphrey Coliseum since 1995. In this span MSU is 10-8 against the ‘Dores. And the Dogs are 30-21 in all Starkville games. Vanderbilt is MSU's most frequent SEC Tournament foe, with 11 meetings (eight in the modern event). Rick Stansbury is 8-5 against VU, while Kevin Stallings is 5-6 against State.
Bulldog Notes: Until Wednesday, Mississippi State had won every game they led at halftime, and lost every game trailed. Then the Bulldogs came back from three-point deficit to Alabama for the victory to end that trend.
*One indicator that has held true, though, is when State shoots better than 40% they win. That has been true in all 12 victories to-date. The Bulldogs hit exactly 40% in the loss to Texas Tech; and in all other losses were good on under 40%.
*Alabama was the first foe to top 70 points against State since Cincinnati, and still lost.
*By contrast State is 11-1 when scoring 70 or more points, the lone loss by a 77-73 score to Tech.
*The Crimson Tide was also the first team to shoot better than 44% against MSU's defense (46.3%) since Cincy hit 44.6%. That bumped the Dogs' defense up—or down—to 38% even for the year, while Vanderbilt took over first place in the SEC standings. Last season State set the modern SEC record by giving up just 37.0% all year.
*And in their two SEC wins, the Dogs have given up just three treys each time. Though Arkansas tried a lot more often, 22 such shots, to only nine arc-attempts by Alabama.
*Which only makes the brilliant outside-shooting start by State to January play the more impressive. The Bulldogs have thrown in double-digit treys in four-straight contests, including consecutive 11-threes efforts to open SEC season. In this four-win streak to begin '09 State sharpshooters are 47-of-98 or 48%.
*In the last four games, 42% of State's field-goal tries have been fired from beyond the arc.
*The Bulldogs have made more treys, 47, than free throws, 44, in this span.
*The down-side to playing a lineup of four guards or at least guard types is giving up some rebounding muscle. Still in their four-straight wins the Dogs have only been beaten on the backboards 161 to 149.
*Nor is State giving up much in the way of shot-blocking even with a shorter squad a-courting. In fact with 150 blocks in 17 games these Dogs are on pace to break their own SEC season record of 267 (34 games) set last winter.
*After watching his shorter teammates have their perimeter fun for two games, C Jarvis Varnado is asserting himself on offense inside. He has opened SEC season with 16 points at Arkansas and 11 against Alabama, shooting a combined 10-of-16 in the process. In the last two non-conference contests the junior had ten total points with just ten total shots taken.
*In December, Varnado was a beast with four twenty-point outings and made 75.5% of his shots. He is 13-of-26 in four January games.
*Varnado's 12.9 scoring average this season is equal to the combined rates of his freshman (5.0) and sophomore (7.9) years.
*Varnado has five double-doubles this season, the latest an 11-point, 10-board outing against Alabama. He had six D-Ds all last season, at least in points/boards. He had another last year of points/blocks.
*Varnado isn't having the huge shot-block game totals of earlier in the season, but he still makes regular progress up the SEC ladder. He now has 314 for his career, ranking fifth in league history and is four swats out of fourth place.
*He is also still in good shape to break his own shared SEC season record of 157 blocks, which he got as a sophomore when he blocked 4.6 balls per game. This year he's bagging 5.3 each game.
*Varnado has blocked a shot in 79 of 86 career games, and in the last 34-straight contests.
*And Varnado has made 11 of his last 12 free throw tries, in four games; and is up to 66% for the season. He was barely better than break-even at the stripe his first two years.
*Turning the calendar page to 2009 has been good for G Barry Stewart. In the last three games the junior has scored 48 points for a 16.0 average. He's also posted five double-digit scoring games in the last six contests. This after he struggled at a 6.7 scoring clip in the preceding seven games.
*Stewart has certainly regained his perimeter touch, too, in time for SEC season. He is 7-of-9 at the arc in the Arkansas/Alabama games; this after he went 4-of-6 in the Western Kentucky game. After going 5-of-27 at the three-point line in December, Stewart is off to a 12-of-19 start to January.
*Stewart now owns 922 career points at State. He is on a pace to become the 30th member of MSU's 1,000-Point Club by mid-February.
*After a wrist problem slowed his workload in December, Stewart is back up to his old SEC speed. He has played 35 minutes in both conference contests. Stewart never played less than 30 minutes in a SEC game as a sophomore.
*Stewart now has 160 career three-pointers, tying him with Winsome Frazier for 6th on the all-time program list.
*And his outside accuracy this season is actually better, 38% to 33%, than his sophomore season.
*PG Dee Bost is bolting up the list of freshman passers at State. With a ten-assist outing against Alabama he now has 79 for his young season. That already ranks him fourth on the rookie-assist list at State, having surpassed both Greg Lockhart (1986) and Gary Ervin (2004) on the same night. He's a ways behind #3 Ben Hansbrough's 112 assists as a '07 frosh but has half-a-season left to get there or climb even higher on the chart. The record is 129 by Jamont Gordon in 2006.
*Bost somehow was not credited with an assist in the Western Kentucky game. But he's made up for lost time with 15 assists in his first two SEC games. The 10-assist outing against Alabama was his second of the year, matching the 10 against North Alabama.
*In fact, Bost has tallied 30 assists in four games (including Alabama State and South Alabama) against teams from that state.
*Bost slipped back into early-December habits Wednesday by shooting first, passing second and going 1-of-5 at the arc. In his first three January games Bost was more selective and 6-of-12 on trey-tries.
*But, Bost was able to get to the foul line enough against Alabama to score six points (on 10 shots) and get into double-digits for the eighth time, and fourth game in the last five.
*Bost is the current SEC Player of the Week for his exploits against WKU and Arkansas, averaging 17.5 points and 4.5 rebounds.
*In fact Bost has pitched in with rebounding, grabbing 17 boards in the last four games. He has 54 rebounds for the year to go with 79 assists, good for a point guard.
*Maybe G Phil Turner just needed to catch his breath. After scoring double-digits in four of five games, he tallied just six points in both the WKU and Arkansas contests. But the sophomore came to the fore this week with a season-best 17 points against Alabama.
*Turner was 6-of-9 from the floor in the UA win, almost as accurate as he was scoring 16 points against Houston on 6-of-7 shooting. In both contests though he was 3-of-4 at the arc.
*Since taking a slot in the starting lineup against South Alabama, Turner has averaged 10.5 points; he was scoring 4.3 as a backup the first nine games.
*And he has made 29-of-54 shots as a starter, 19-of-26 at the arc.
*All last season Turner got 84 rebounds; he's up to 60 this season just over half-way through.
*Most impressive is how Turner maximizes his court-time. He has played only 22-to-24 minutes in the last four games.
*For a while G Ravern Johnson was the hottest Dog in town, such as his 14 and 26 point outputs in the last two non-conference games when he was a combined 8-of-15 at the arc. Since SEC season began the soph has been just 3-of-10 on long shots with 13 total points.
*Johnson's hot stretch included a 6-of-7 night at the arc against WKU that set the MSU game record for trey-accuracy, 85.7%.
*Johnson had averaged 13.5 points in the three weeks prior to SEC season. Still he is second in squad average this week at 11.8.
*His work on the boards has dropped off lately, too, with eight rebounds in the last four games.
*And after going 16-of-20 on free throws in 15 pre-SEC games, Johnson is awaiting his first chance to go to the stripe in league action.
*It's been an up-and-down, or maybe on-and-off, stretch for F Romero Osby with his contributions varying radically. After hitting Houston for 13 points, he had four and two markers the next two games and took only eight combined shots. But he reappeared in the Alabama game with 8 points on 4-of-6 shooting.
*After burning the Cougars for a couple of treys, Osby has missed his last three chances. He is just 5-of-19 at the arc for the rookie season.
*But staying closer to the goal has paid off with better rebounding. Osby got six boards against Alabama, and has averaged a key 5.0 rebounds in the four-game win streak.
*Soph G Riley Benock has become a reliable scorer in rotation duty. He has knocked down five treys on 10 tries in the last four games. Before that Benock was 2-of-11 in a eight-game stretch.
*Soph C Elgin Bailey has scored a basket in all but one game this season (St. Bonaventure). And in the last four contests better shot selection has produced 9-of-17 accuracy.
*Senior C Brian Johnson has not played in the first to SEC games.
*G Twany Beckham's basket against Alabama was his first field goal since the San Diego game. But the rookie is 12-of-21 shooting for the season, though he's taken just two tries from long ranged and missed each.