*LSU has been even more impressive in friendly confines, having won all 13 home games to-date and 16-straight going back to last season. The Bulldogs are 2-0 in true road games though, with wins at St. Bonaventure and Arkansas.
*Rick Stansbury is now the winningest MSU basketball coach for both all-games, having set that mark last season; and now for SEC victories. He has 90 league wins in 11 years.
*Stansbury has faced LSU Coach Trent Johnson once before; in the first round of the 2005 NCAA Charlotte Regional, where Mississippi State defeated Stanford.
About the Tigers: As the song says, a change will do you good…if it's the right one. And LSU seems to have made the right move coaxing Trent Johnson away from Stanford, where he'd taken three of four Cardinal teams to NCAA berths and won 80 games. But the new coach had fine timing as well, inheriting a roster featuring veterans who've survived the extremes of winning and losing. The Final Four is far in the past, of course, but four of these Tiger elders remember that 2006 run. Most notably, forward Tasmin Mitchell who started every game that season as well as the next and averaged double-digits each year. A stress fracture cut his first junior year short and played no small part in last winter's woes, but he's back to health and scoring better than ever to rank 11th in SEC offense this week. But that's just second on this squad as senior Marcus Thornton checks in at 7th in the latest league stats. Thornton's scoring is actually down a bit, from 19.8 as an All-SEC junior transfer, since the team around him is much better-balanced. Which is an excellent word to use for Garrett Temple's game because this senior does something of everything; score, hit a three, rebound, and best of all distribute with a four-assists rate. And he's a noted defender to round everything out. For that matter defense is something these Tigers take renewed pride in, as LSU's 61.4 points-allowed average for SEC play is only a tenth more than the all-season rate, and they're holding foes under 40% shooting. A good reason is the post-presence of senior Chris Johnson, who is blocking 2.3 balls per-game. Johnson had a breakout junior season, tripling his scoring production from 3.2 points to 11.6; he's been able to back off with a 8-point pace this last time-around, but given the right matchup will take the short jumper. He's also 8th in SEC rebounding, an area his numbers have upgraded. But nobody has improved his game as much as guard Bo Spencer. After averaging three points as a rookie backup, the soph has come to the to contribute a dozen points while providing a second three-point threat. The progress by other guards has come at Terry Martin's expense, as the senior and former Texas Tech freshman starter has seen his numbers drop each winter. But that experience, and quick trigger from the arc, mean Martin has a regular role with the new regime. Especially as depth is something of a question for SEC season. There's not much margin here for a couple of individual slumps, much less injuries. And while LSU is 2nd in three-point shooting, they've yet to connect on the 100th trey of the season. Still the change at the top has done a seasoned roster lots of good, and if the rotation can hold up over the long SEC season haul, these Tigers have the attitude and aptitude to win a wide-open Western Division.
Projected Starting Lineups
LSU: F Tasmin Mitchell, JR 6-7 240, 15.2ppg, 56%fgs, 6.5rpg; C Chris Johnson, SR 6-11 210, 8.2ppg, 7.4rpg, 2.3bpg; G/F Garrett Temple, SR 6-6 190, 7.5ppg, 4.5rpg, 4.1apg; G Bo Spencer, SO 6-1 185, 12.2ppg, 2.6apg; G Marcus Thornton, SR 6-4 205, 17.6ppg, 31 3ptrs, 4.9rpg.
Top Backups: F Quentin Thornton, SR 6-9 240, 3.6ppg, 2.9rpg; G Terry Martin, SR 6-6 210, 4.7ppg, 2.0rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Ravern Johnson SO 6-7 175, 12.1ppg, 3.8rpg, 42 3pts; G/F Phil Turner SO 6-3 170, 7.6ppg, 3.5rpg, 17 3pts; C Jarvis Varnado JR 6-9 210, 12.6ppg, 9.6rpg, 62%fgs, 93 blks; G Dee Bost FR 6-2 170, 10.3ppg, 4.7asts, 23 3pts; G Barry Stewart JR 6-3 170, 10.9ppg, 3.3rpg, 32 3pts.
Top Backups: F Romero Osby FR 6-8 230, 6.3ppg, 3.6rpg; G Riley Benock SO 6-4 180, 3.0ppg, 14 3ptrs; C Elgin Bailey, SO 6-8 254, 5.0ppg, 2.8rpg, 22blks.
How They Compare:
Scoring: MSU 75.7ppg, LSU 75.8ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 64.8ppg, LSU 61.4ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 46.7%, LSU 46.3%
FG Defense: MSU 37.4%, LSU 39.2%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 38.1%, LSU 38.6%
3-Point Attempts: MSU 20.0pg, LSU 14.9pg
Rebounding: MSU 39.2rpg, LSU 39.7rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU +1.1, LSU +7.9
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 69.6%, LSU 71.4%
Free Throw Attempts: MSU 23.2pg, LSU 21.6
Turnovers: MSU 15.4pg, LSU 12.2
The Series: LSU holds a 101-92 lead in Mississippi State's second-most played rivalry, which now stands at a full century. But the Bulldogs have been slashing away at the deficit these past two decades, and have won 23 of the last 32 games with sweeps in 2007 and ‘08. That includes victories in nine of the last 15 visits to Baton Rouge, though overall the Tigers are 63-33 at home. Rick Stansbury is 13-9 against LSU teams.
Bulldog Notes: For years Mississippi State has game-planned around defense and rebounding. But these Bulldogs have added an offensive twist to success. When they shoot better than 40%, they win…as they have in all 13 victories to-date. State hit exactly 40% in the loss to Texas Tech and in all other defeats were under that rate.
*And in their last two wins, the Dogs didn't even play great shooting-defense. Alabama was good on 46% of their shots, and Vanderbilt on 45%, but both lost as MSU shot a bit better (50% and 48%). Still for the season MSU is allowing 37.4% accuracy, not much more than the 37% rate of last year that set the modern SEC record.
*Curiously, though, no Bulldog ranks among the SEC's top-15 shooters this week. C Jarvis Varnado's 61.5% accuracy would be third-best, but he's only taking 7.9 shots per game, just under the league-minimum for ranking.
*State is 12-1 when scoring 70 or more points.
*And the most notable portion of those points are coming from the perimeter. The Bulldogs have hit 137 treys this season, one behind league leader Florida in the same number of games. But State's 38.1% arc-accuracy is even better than the Gators' 34.9% and ranks third in the SEC as of this week.
*In this five-game winning streak the Dogs have been sizzling at the arc, 54-of-116 or 47%. In four-straight games they threw in double-digit treys.
*In this win streak four of every ten shots State takes have come from the arc.
*By contrast, the Dogs have been stingy on the defensive perimeter. In these same five games foes have made just 20 treys total, and attempted only 88. That's 24% accuracy by the way.
*There is a price for playing a four-guard lineup, though, as State has surrendered some rebounding muscle. The Bulldogs have been beaten on the boards in five of their last six games, and eight of the last ten.
*Thus MSU, which for much of this decade set the SEC standard in board-work, rank just 11th in league rebounding margin.
*And even with four ball-handlers usually on the floor, this State squad is just 11th in SEC turnover margin.
*Still State isn't giving much away as far as shot-blocking, even with a shorter squad on the court. MSU continues to lead the SEC in both blocks (156) and average (8.7). At that rate these Dogs will best their own SEC season record of 267 blocks (34 games) set last winter.
*And of course the centerpiece of State's shot-swatting is C Jarvis Varnado, who is closing in on his second 100-block season. The junior now has 93 in 18 games; he swatted 157 in 34 games as a soph, tying the SEC season record that belonged solely to Shaquille O'Neal (157 in 30 games 1992).
*Varnado's 5.2 blocks per-game rate this year is well ahead of his 4.6 sophomore clip, so that season mark is very much in reach by March.
*Varnado is now up to 317 blocks in three seasons. His next swat ties him for 4th on the SEC career list with Steven Hill of Arkansas (2005-08), and third place is just a few games beyond at 327.
*He's got two months and another whole season left to play, so the SEC record of 412 (O'Neal) is not all that far off either. Varnado has at least one block in 80 of 87 career games, and the last 35-straight.
*Varnado goes into this week 2nd in SEC rebounds average at 9.6 boards, behind only Arkansas' Michael Washington at 10.3. When the two met to open the league season, Washington grabbed 15 boards to Varnado's nine. But the Bulldog is leading the SEC in defensive rebounding.
*Now that it's SEC season, Varnado is content to shoot and score only as needed. He needed to against Arkansas and Alabama with 27 total points, but eight markers was enough in the Vandy game.
*Whereas in December, it was Varnado leading the way with four 20-point productions, his four top scoring games at State.
*In December, Varnado was 48-of-71 shooting or 68% (counting a 4-of-12 night against San Diego). In January the junior is 17-of-31 or 55%. But counting his three SEC contests only, Varnado has shot 14-of-21 or 67%.
*Varnado has six double-doubles so far this season, or as many as he had all his sophomore campaign in points/rebounds. Throw in a 10-block day against Kentucky and Varnado had only the third ‘triple-double' in program history.
*And his greatest improvement this junior season has been at the free throw stripe, where he has hit 11 of his last 12 chances and 66% for the year. He was just over break-even for the first two college campaigns combined.
*G Barry Stewart had a three-game stretch of double-digit points end in the Vanderbilt game, as the junior mustered seven points. This was as his three starting cohorts in the backcourt all notched double-digits though, and Stewart contributed three assists.
*Still it's been a good January so far for Stewart with 62 points in five games. And until Saturday he'd scored double-digits in five of six matches. This, after he struggled along scoring just 6.7 points in the preceding seven games.
*In the wins over Arkansas and Alabama, Stewart was 7-of-9 at the arc. For this month he's hit 15 treys, after making five in the seven December games.
*Stewart keeps working his was towards the 1,000-Point Club, with 929 in his 87 career games. He will become the 30th member of that group in the coming weeks.
*His one trey-made in the Vandy game pushes Stewart into a tie for 5th place on the MSU career list at 161, even with Bart Hyche (1996-99). He broke a tie with Winsome Frazier (160, 2002-05) for 6th Saturday.
*There's no question which Dog spends the most time on the court. Stewart has put in 35, 35, and 36 minutes in the first three SEC games. He never played less than 30 minutes in a league match as a sophomore.
*Stewart has blocked eight shots this season. That's one less swat than his total for the first two years here.
*Dee Bost has made a fast freshman impression both at State and on the SEC. Ten days into conference play and the rookie ranks 3rd in assists at 4.7 per game, behind only classmate Courtney Fortson of Arkansas (6.4) and Florida soph Nick Calathes (6.7).
*With 85 assists in just 18 games, Bost already has posted the fourth-best season by a Bulldog rookie. He needs 112 to catch #3 Ben Hansbrough (2007), and the record is 129 by Jamont Gordon in 2006.
*In his three SEC games Bost has passed out 21 assists, including 10 against Alabama. Along with his 13 points, that gave Bost the first ‘double-double' of his college career.
*Bost has tallied 30 of his assists in four games against teams from the state of Alabama.
*While his passing pace has increased, Bost' shooting touch has slipped a bit as he is 7-of-19 the last two SEC games. That includes 1-of-8 at the arc. In his first three January games (Houston, WKU, Arkansas) he was 6-of-12 at the arc.
*But the kid keeps getting his points by drawing fouls on strong moves to the hole. Bost has scored 14 free throws in the last two games, on 19 attempts. In fact Bost now has 54 field goals for the season, and 55 free throws.
*His scoring average will improve as his foul shooting does, too. The point guard is just 63% for the season, though he hit 8-of-9 against Vanderbilt.
*Where Bost is making big strides midway of the season is as a rebounder. In the last five games he has grabbed 22 boards. In fact for the year he has more rebounds, 60, than turnovers, 51.
*He may be the shorted ‘big' forward in the league, if not the land, but Phil Turner is certainly playing like a big Dog. The 6-3 guard has put together consecutive double-digit points games with 17 against Alabama and 14 more against Vanderbilt, with three rebounds each time.
*Turner is averaging 3.5 boards, third-best among the starters despite averaging just 26 minutes of SEC action. And in the last two contests he's stolen six balls, best on the squad.
*In SEC play, Turner has shot 12-of-22 overall…but he's a more accurate 7-of-13 on three-pointers!
*Since moving into the starting lineup, Turner has averaged 10.9 points. He contributed 4.3 points as a backup the first nine games. And as a starter he has shot 54% on all attempts. That includes 21-of-29 accuracy at the arc.
*Turner has 63 rebounds through 18 games. He had 84 boards all his freshman season.
*After stepping into the background for the first two conference contests with 13 total points, G Ravern Johnson came foreward in the Vandy game for 18 points.
*In the Alabama/Arkansas tiffs, the sophomore was 3-of-10 on three-tries; he bounced back with a 4-of-6 night for longballs against VU. That was much more like his hot pre-SEC pace when Johnson scorched Houston and Western Kentucky for eight total threes.
*His 6-of-7 night against WKU set the MSU game record for arc-accuracy at 85.7%.
*Johnson averaged 11.5 points in his December games. For five contests into the New Year he has averaged 13.0, boosted by that 26-point outburst against WKU.
*The skinny soph's rebounding is an on-and-off affair. He had three combined boards in the last two pre-SEC games; grabbed four at Arkansas, then just one against Alabama; and came back for five at Vandy's expense.
*Johnson didn't attempt a free throw in the first two SEC games but made both chances Saturday. And prior to conference action he'd made 16 of his last 20 stripe-tries.
*Johnson has blocked just three shots in 11 games since November.
*F Romero Osby has had his ups and downs statistically of late. After scoring 13 points against Houston, he had six points the next two games before putting up eight vs. Alabama. Then in the Vandy game he only tried three shots and tallied a single basket.
*But the freshman has gotten much more selective on his shots in this stretch, and been good on 7-of-17 tries…significant progress after a December stretch where Osby was 14-of-35.
*And the VU game was notable as for only the second time in a month Osby resisted temptation and didn't put up a three-point try. He's 5-of-19 for the year there.
*Backup C Elgin Bailey has become a smarter shooter, too, and not forced the attempts he did in November. So over the last five games he has provided a reliable two or three buckets each time out, and shot just under 50% in the process.
*With one free throw against Vanderbilt, G Riley Benock has scored in the last four games. But that contest saw him playing just seven minutes, after he'd averaged 12-13 minutes for the previous six outings.
*Senior C Brian Johnson has not played in the first three SEC games, but is expected to be available for LSU if needed.
*G Twany Beckham's basket against Alabama was his first field goal since the San Diego game. But the rookie is 12-of-22 shooting for the season, though he's taken just two tries from long ranged and missed each.