About the Rebels: Just when it seemed safe to write off the Rebels, guess who up and knocks off the league leader? Ole Miss' home win over Kentucky was a much-needed reward for a team that had suffered more bad breaks the first half of this season than most programs endure over consecutive campaigns. And, likely makes a Rebel wonder what they might have achieved down the 2009 stretch if not for pre-SEC injuries that left three starters sidelined for the duration. The absences of backcourt veterans Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice can't be overstated and cost the Rebels all sorts of scoring, leadership, and fall semester defeats that probably can't be made up in spring, at least in tournament terms. What Andy Kennedy has done, out of necessity, is revamp the approach for a bigger, more paced approach that doesn't depend as much on outside shooting. One Reb does have a permanent green light, though, and junior David Huertas is exercising every opportunity. He already has 55 treys, after sticking 75 all of last season, and his accuracy is even improved somewhat despite obvious defensive attention. The 4th-leading scorer in SEC-only games, Heurtas is even making himself a respectable play-maker as well as the shot-taker, picking up some of Warren's slack. Terrico White probably didn't expect this much freshman work but has seized the opportunity to show his college stuff early and taken an increasing share of the point-man duties as well as scoring better for SEC season than the year as a whole. Soph Zach Graham has also inherited more minutes the second season-around and increased his scoring by a bucket; he now has as many treys as scored his freshman year. Don't overlook the fact, too, that while losing Warren was no, um, small matter this backcourt is a heckuva lot taller all the way around. This has contributed greatly to Ole Miss having much better boardwork at each end during SEC season than before. For that matter Kennedy recruited a lot of size over the past two years and it's now showing in the lineup(s). Juco transfer DeAundre Cranston is far from a polished product at three points and four boards per, but his 6-9, 250-pound presence has to be taken into account. Soph Malcolm White is listed at backup forward but has 16 starts to his credit and is far more productive than his rookie winter when he scored just 2.2 points. Some of the team stats have to be seen in the perspective of essentially a ‘split' season; that is, pre Warren's injury and after. Kennedy has to be professionally pleased with the way this squad has become a better defensive squad, though it's a rather static system since Ole Miss is last in SEC steals. For that matter the turnover margin is still woeful and will continue to hamper this revised backcourt. Then again, just about anything the Rebels achieve the rest of this season could be seen as a success and they will surely pull off a couple more February upsets that factor into the entire league's post-season positioning, both in record and RPI terms. And there is always the future fact that throwing a lot of kids into more often and urgent action this winter is bound to pay off when the roster is re-assembled next year.
Projected Starting Lineups:
OLE MISS: F Murphy Holloway, FR 6-7 225, 8.4ppg, 5.9rpg; F/C DeAundre Cranston, JR 6-9 251, 3.1ppg, 4.4rpg; G Zach Graham, SO 6-6 225, 7.4ppg, 3.1rpg, G David Huertas, JR 6-5 200, 19.6ppg, 4.9rpg, 2.5apg; G Terrico White, FR 6-5 210, 9.9ppg, 3.2rpg, 2.2apg.
Top Backups: F Malcolm White, SO 6-9 217, 6.4ppg, 5.0rpg; F Terrance Henry, FR 6-9 190, 4.6ppg, 3.8rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G/F Ravern Johnson, SO 6-7 175, 12.5ppg, 3.6rpg, 49 3ptrs, 48% 3ptrs; G/F Phil Turner, SO 6-3 170, 7.7ppg, 3.5rpg, 19 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, C 6-9 210, 13.0ppg, 9.3rpg, 62%fgs, 97 blks; G Dee Bost, FR 6-2 170, 9.7ppg, 90asts, 24 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, JR 6-3 170, 10.6ppg, 3.3rpg, 35 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Riley Benock, SO 6-4 180, 2.8 ppg, 14 3ptrs; F Romero Osby, FR 6-8 230, 6.0ppg, 3.5rpg; C Elgin Bailey, SO 6-8 254, 4.6ppg, 2.8rpg, 22 blks.
HOW THEY COMPARE: (full-season stats)
Scoring: MSU 74.3ppg, OM 73.2ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.4ppg, OM 72.6ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 45.9%, OM 43.2%
FG Defense: MSU 37.9%, OM 44.0%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 37.4%, OM 34.6%
3-Point Attempts: MSU 20.2pg, OM 19.1pg
Rebounding: MSU 38.0pg, OM 36.2pg
Rebound Margin: MSU -0.5, OM -0.4
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 69.7%, OM 74.9%
Free Throws Attempted: MSU 22.8pg, OM 20.9pg
Turnovers: MSU 15.1pg, OM 12.9
THE SERIES: It isn't the oldest rivalry for these schools, just the most-played. Since the first tipoff in 1914 Mississippi State has built a 133-104 lead, lengthened lately by Bulldog success this decade. State has 15 of the last 20 meetings incuding a eight-game streak from mid 2002-through-2005. And it has been 11 years since the Dogs lost on the home floor, with an overall 88-23 lead in Starkville (27-6 at Humphrey Coliseum). The rivals have met just once in a SEC Tournament with State taking a 83-74 win in New Orleans in 2003. Rick Stansbury is 15-6 against the Rebels, the most victories against any opponent. Andy Kennedy is 2-2 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: After building his teams around defense and rebounding, Stansbury is getting used to winning games on the offensive end of the court. In all 14 victories, the Bulldogs have shot over 40%. In all six losses, they shot either exactly 40% or under.
*And in all four SEC wins—for that matter their last six wins—the Dogs shot 38% or better at the three-point line. In the loss at LSU they were just 25% on arc-attempts.
*For SEC play, all five State starters are scoring in double-digits.
*State has won despite giving up 46% shooting to Alabama and 45% to Vanderbilt, by out-shooting them both.
*What the Dogs do best on offense is score from long range. They have made 43 treys in five SEC games, compared to 28 for foes, and not surprisingly only LSU has connected from long distance more than MSU in a game (8 to 5). And it isn't just quantity, MSU is quality at the arc with a 38.1% SEC game accuracy. That's the best outside shooting by any Stansbury team to-date.
*When State scores 70 points, they are 12-1.
*Still Stansbury is having to tolerate something once-unthinkable for a MSU team; getting regularly beaten on the backboards. State has been out-rebounded in every SEC game so far, and in nine of their last 11 contests. More worryingly, the gap has been growing of late. Where the first half of January the difference would be two or three total rebounds, LSU dominated the glass 44-24 and Georgia came out ahead 41-32.
*But, there's a key qualifier here; a fair portion of those ‘rebounds' are actually retained possessions after an opponent's shot has been blocked. And Mississippi State continues to set the SEC pace in shot-swatting with 162 through 20 games. Though, the league rate is 27 blocks in 5 games. Of course opponents have blocked just 11 State shots in SEC play.
*Despite not being challenged as often, C Jarvis Varnado continues to hold the top spot among NCAA shot-blockers. The junior owns 97 rejections this season, a 4.85 per-game rate. That is ahead of his soph-season pace of 4.62 blocks-per, when Varnado ended up tying the SEC record for blocks in one year with 157.
*Varnado is blocking 3.0 shots per SEC game. Good, but not enough to break that season mark without a very long post-season run. He was blanked in blocks by LSU, snapping a 35-game streak of scoring at least one swat per contest.
*With 321 career blocks, Varnado is closing in on 3rd-place in the all-time SEC rankings. He needs 327 swats to tie Georgia's Lavon Mercer (1977-80) for the third slot; and 360 to catch Auburn's Kyle Davis (2001-04) for second.
*Varnado has over twice as many blocks as his nearest SEC competitor, LSU's Chris Johnson with 47.
*Varnado is 3rd in SEC rebound average at 9.3 boards, barely behind Kentucky's Patrick Patterson for second with Arkansas' Michael Washington leading the league at 10.1.
*This week Varnado ranks as the SEC's second-best shooter at 62.2%, to UK's Patterson at 66.4%. But count just the SEC games, and Varnado leaps ahead at 66.7% for the overall league-game lead with LSU's Tasmin Mitchell a distant second at 62.1%.
*Take away a 8-of-14 evening at LSU, and Varnado has hit 20 of 28 SEC shots, 71%, in State's league wins.
*For his first two years fouling Varnado was the percentage play defensively. Not now; he is making 67% of his free throws, and is 11-of-13 in SEC games. Now, if only he could get to the stripe more often.
*After deferring to teammates in the first two SEC games, soph G Ravern Johnson has returned to the offensive forefront with a trio of double-digit efforts and 49 points; a 16.3 average. And he notched his first 20-point SEC game by burning Georgia for 21 Saturday.
*In these three games Johnson has thrown in 11 three-pointers. More impressively, he's made 52% of his arc-attempts in this stretch.
*In fact, Johnson is more likely to make a long jump shot than anything fired from closer range. For the year as a whole he is a 48% arc-shooter, and a 45% shooter on all other attempts. In SEC games the difference is even more ridiculous; Johnson is 14-of-31 at the arc (45.2%) and just 7-of-23 (30.4%) inside it! Johnson is the SEC's 3rd-most accurate outside shooter this week.
*Johnson averaged 11.5 points in December games; he's notching 14.6 in January action.
*Though he's not as accurate shooting inside the arc, State still wants Johnson to attack the goal more…and hopefully draw more shooting fouls. He has not missed a free throw since December 18. But, he's only taken 10 such shots in this nine-game span.
*Johnson could also upgrade his rebounding contributions. He has yet to grab a defensive board in SEC action.
*After a brilliant four-game run, all MSU wins, PG Dee Bost has slumped the last two contests with two and five points. His shooting the past two games reflects the problems, with 2-of-14 accuracy overall and 1-of-6 outside accuracy. During the four-game span where he scored double-digits daily, Bost averaged 16.0 even on 48% overall shooting.
*What doesn't change is Bost's ability to get the ball to teammates in scoring positions. He still ranks second in SEC-game assists at 5.2 per game, behind only Florida's Nick Calathes' 6.5. And Bost is tops in the league in assist/turnover ratio.
*His 90 assists to-date are the fourth-best total ever by a MSU freshman. He needs 112 to catch Ben Hansbrough (2007) for third place; and 129 to match Jamont Gordon's 2006 rookie record.
*Bost has scored 56 field goals this year; and made 57 free throws.
*Bost has become a sneaky rebounder, too, slipping into traffic to snare 17 boards in 5 SEC games.
*G Barry Stewart is due for another run of big games, in a season that has seen the junior riding up-and-down stretches. Since the calendar flipped, Stewart has had a three-game stretch of double-digit points and lots of treys (11 combined) and now is in a three-game span with just 22 total points and four treys in 17 tries. Stewart struggled at Georgia with 1-of-9 shooting…but when the other Dogs had rallied in the second half, it was Stewart sticking the tough trey to halt their momentum.
*Still January has been a good month for the junior with 17 treys; he had 5 all December.
*Stewart is up to 944 career points, and on pace to become the 30th member of the MSU 1,000-Point Club.
*And with 165 career three-pointers, Stewart now ranks 4th on the MSU list. He just surpassed his coach, Marcus Grant (164, 1992-95); and is right behind Tony Watts (166, 1989-92) for third place.
*G/F Phil Turner had a big three-ball of his own at Georgia, from even longer range that put State back in second-half control. It was his second trey of the night, and his ninth of SEC season.
*Turner is the unexpected outside threat of this league lineup, hitting 48% from SEC arcs so far. But he's been even better attacking the rim and is 8-of-13 on closer shots of all sorts.
*Since becoming a part of the starting lineup 11 games ago, Turner has averaged 10.5 points. Prior to that he'd notched 4.3 points as a backup. And as a starter Turner is shooting 53% overall, 38-of-71 from the floor.
*On a team trying to play ‘small' Turner has been a big help on the boards and on defense. He and Stewart both have nine SEC steals.
*No backup Dog is being asked to score a lot. But rookie F Romero Osby isn't shy about trying and added eight points against Alabama, seven at LSU. Then at Georgia he went scoreless for the first time all this freshman season, missing his only shot.
*Osby has certainly been consistent in his shooting. He went 14-of-35 in December games, and is 16-of-35 so far in January.
*Osby's rebounding has slipped lately. Where he got 20 boards in the first four games of 2009, he has nabbed just six rebounds in the last three games.
*The most selective shooter on State's squad is still C Brian Johnson. Since returning to play after missing an extended stretch with foot and ankle issues, the senior has taken four total shots in three SEC games and made three of them.