Bulldog Basketball Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (16-8, 6-3 SEC) takes to the Western Division road for a Saturday contest at Auburn (15-9, 4-5 SEC). Tipoff in Beard-Eaves Coliseum is 4:00 with regional telecast by Fox Sports Net. The MSU network broadcast is available state-wide as well as on XM satellite radio channel 199.

About the Tigers: It might be an exaggeration to say Auburn basketball is back, yet…but things are certainly looking up for a Tiger program that had practically vanished from the SEC picture and has not played a post-season game since 2003. That season is worth bringing up because it was also the last time Auburn got this far into February with a shot at a break-even league record. And with a pair of solid home-court wins in the past week Jeff Lebo's squad can reasonably start thinking about scrambling into the top-two slots in the West. If, that is, the Tigers can maintain recent momentum in a stretch-run that includes four games against Mississippi State and LSU. It's a much-needed change of pace after Lebo's first four frustrating years as a '09 lineup featuring time-tested veterans and instant transfer help has to be taken seriously. Though had DeWayne Reed not cracked a hand and missed all SEC season the '08 Tigers could have been a factor. He's back and better than ever this junior year, notching around 15 points the past three games. But the hottest hand of late has been old cat Rasheem Barrett; while his season scoring rate is just 9.5, his league average is up to 14.1 with tallies of 29 at Vanderbilt and 27 against Tennessee. Just 6-5, Barrett still gets his points inside the arc while transfer Tay Waller is the top threat outside it with 22 treys in SEC play. He is up to 3rd in SEC three-pointing this week. And while soph Lucas Hargrove has started four times in league play he plays and scores better off the bench and has averaged ten points in the last three relief appearances. The Tigers who should be enjoying this year most are the two other elders. It's been a long four seasons for Quantez Robertson, who is about to make his 114th college start and is enjoying distributing the ball to a more versatile squad. He's one key cog in a defense that leads the league in scoring and is 9th nationally in steals. They do it with a true four-guard lineup, too, leaving 6-7 Korvotney Barber to pass for a ‘big' man in the set. The senior does it well, too, and his 10.8 (SEC game) rebound rate is just remarkable, as is 55% SEC shooting. Still there is no getting around lack of size in key aspects as Auburn has to really scrap on the glass at each end. 6-10 transfer Brendon Knox has been a help there in backup duty which makes for better defense. The odd fact is that for a squad with so much collective experience, the Tigers are a terrible 57% on SEC free throws and can attribute some of their losses to foul foul-shooting. Without improvement here, and a bit more board-work, the Tigers will have a hard time breaking out of mid-pack in the West…but with home-and-homes against the loop leaders they will surely can have a say in who does ultimately win the Division.

Projected Starting Lineups (all-season stats):

AUBURN: F Korvotney Barber, SR 6-7 225, 12.8ppg, 9.2rpg, G/F Rasheem Barrett, SR 6-5 220, 9.5ppg, 3.1rpg, G Tay Waller, JR 6-2 180, 11.3ppg, 1.6apg, 63 3ptrs; G Quantez Robertson, SR 6-3 193, 6.3ppg, 4.3rpg, 3.5apg; G DeWayne Reed, JR 6-1 175, 13.2ppg, 43 3ptrs, 3.8apg.

Top Backups: F Lucas Hargrove, JR 6-6 205, 8.3ppg, 5.5rpg, G Frankie Sullivan, FR 6-8ppg, 1.3spg; F Brendon Knox, JR 6-10 220, 2.2ppg, 1.8rpg.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: G/F Ravern Johnson, SO 6-7 175, 12.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 59 3ptrs, 47% 3ptrs; G/F Phil Turner, SO 6-3 170, 8.2ppg, 4.4rpg, 28 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, JR 6-9 210, 13.1ppg, 9.5rpg, 60%fgs, 118blks; G Dee Bost, FR 6-2 170, 10.9ppg, 106asts, 36 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, JR 6-3 170, 11.1ppg, 3.5rpg, 43 3ptrs.

Top Backups: G Riley Benock, SO 6-4 180, 2.8ppg, 18 3ptrs; F Romero Osby, FR 6-8 230, 5.3ppg, 3.2rpg; C Elgin Bailey, SO 6-8 254, 4.2ppg, 2.5rpg.

HOW THEY COMPARE: (full-season stats)

Scoring: MSU 74.8ppg, AUB 71.2ppg

Scoring Defense: MSU 66.9ppg, AUB 63.7ppg

FG Shooting: MSU 44.7%, AUB 43.9%

FG Defense: MSU 38.5%, AUB 40.8%

3-Point Shooting: MSU 37.9%, AUB 32.1%

3-Point Attempts: MSU 515, AUB 563

Rebounding: MSU 38.0rpg, AUB 36.2rpg

Rebound Margin: MSU -0.9, AUB +0.5

Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.8%, AUB 59.4%

Free Throws Attempted: MSU 562, AUB 524

Turnovers: MSU 352, AUB 334

THE SERIES: Auburn holds a 67-62 lead in the series which dates back to 1915 but became annual only in 1947. Despite trailing overall, the Bulldogs have cut into the deficit during this decade and won 13 of the last 15 meetings, including four-straight with victories at Auburn in 2006 and '07. The Tigers still have a 40-22 advantage in games played at home. Rick Stansbury is 13-7 against Auburn while Jeff Lebo is 2-6 against State.

BULLDOG NOTES: Mississippi State's commitment to a guard-led lineup has meant the Bulldogs live, and die, by the longball. In their six SEC wins, State shot at least 38% from the arc; and in the last two victories over 50%. But in all three league losses the Dogs have shot under 30% on trey-tries, with a low accuracy of 20.8% Wednesday night against LSU.

*In fact, in seven of their eight losses this season State has been in the 20%'s from outside; the lone exception when they were good on 43% against Washington State.

*Before that LSU setback, the Bulldogs had made 52% and 55% in wins over Kentucky and Arkansas and combined for 30 treys. Of those, a school-record 16 came against the Razorbacks.

*Overall, when the Bulldogs shoot better than 40% from the floor they win; all 16 times. They have yet to triumph when hitting 40% or less on all field-goal tries.

*44% of all State's shots in SEC play come from beyond the arc. By contrast league opponents only take 32% of their shots against State from long range.

*For their first seven SEC games, the penalty for a four-guard lineup was begin beaten on the backboards and by an uncomfortable margin. But in the last two contests the Bulldogs have hit the glass harder and better. They beat Arkansas 35-31 in rebounding, and battled LSU almost evenly with a 52-50 margin favoring the Tigers.

*Four a four-game stretch opponents didn't challenge State's shot-blockers with just 16 combined swats. These last three games the Dogs have returned to form, blocking 13, 11, and 10 balls. That brings their season total to 190 blocks; last year State set the SEC record with 267 in 34 games.

*C Jarvis Varnado is back up to his own typical swat-rate as a result, with 20 blocks in the last three games. He's broken 100 blocks for a second-straight season, and now has 118 through 24 games; a 4.92 average game. Last year he averaged 4.62 blocks while tying the SEC season record of 157.

*Varnado now has 342 blocks in three seasons. He needs 360 to match former Auburn center Kyle Davis's 360 (for seasons) for second place on the SEC list.

*Varnado now has 120 baskets this year and 118 blocked shots.

*The junior just set a personal scoring standard with his 31-point output against LSU. His previous high game was 24 twice this season (Cincinnati, Nicholls State). That raised his season average to 13.1 points; or better than the 5.0 and 7.9 averages of his previous two seasons combined.

*Wednesday night saw Varnado score more points than in the previous three games combined.

*But with eight boards each of the last two games his rebounding has slipped to 8.9 per SEC game; not bad but a whole rebound less than he was nabbing a week ago.

*And after leading the league in shooting at one point in January, Varnado has hit 18-of-36 shots the last four games. However, his free throwing is a season success-story as the 50% foul-shooter for his first two seasons is making 79% in SEC play and 69% for the year.

*PG Dee Bost is the fourth Bulldog freshman to earn 100 assists. With 106, he needs six to catch Ben Hansbrough for the third-best year by a MSU rookie; and the freshman record of 129 by Jamont Gordon is within regular-season sight.

*And Bost's defense has picked up as he has nine steals in the last four games.

*Though State's offense is built around outside shooting and Varnado's inside presence, Bost adds a dimension with his dribble-penetration moves. This has resulted in his scoring 20 and 25 points the last two contests, and four-straight double-digit outputs in SEC play.

*But, his accuracy has been problematic as Bost needs to put up a lot of attempts to get those points. He's taken 52 shots the last four games, making just 20 of them; 39%. And his long-range shooting is only 12-of-27 in the same span.

*Bost has 76 field goals this year, and 73 made free throws.

*All his efforts on defense, guarding the other team's top backcourt scorer, is taking a toll on G Barry Stewart's offense. A 1-of-13 shooting night against LSU dropped is SEC accuracy to 35%; though he's actually a tiny bit better than that from the arc and remains second on the team in league-game treys with 43.

*Stewart only needs one Saturday shot of any sort to go in the hoop to become the 30th member of the 1,000-Point Club at State. The junior goes to Auburn with 999 markers in three seasons, in 93 games.

*Stewart also has 173 career treys, ranking him 3rd-best on the all-time Bulldog list. He now trails only Timmy Bowers (197) and Darryl Wilson (258).

*For two weeks G Ravern Johnson was the hottest Dog around, with 58 points in a three-game stretch and five double-digit outings in a row. But the soph was blanked against Arkansas, his first shutout of the season; and mustered six points in 30 minutes against LSU at home.

*The obvious reason is Johnson's struggles at the arc, where last week he ranked first in the NCAA stats with 49% accuracy. In these last two games he is 1-of-7 on trey-tries; though that still leaves him at 47% for the season and 44.4% in SEC play, still one of the best anywhere.

*The stat-fact remains, Johnson has a better chance of hitting a spot-up three than anything he shoots inside the arc where he is just 45% accurate.

*That does not include the foul line; there Johnson is a perfect 8-of-8. Though he obviously doesn't draw enough fouls for this to be a factor in team plans.

*Johnson is also the only MSU regular without any offensive rebounds through nine SEC games.

*G Riley Benock has four treys in the last two games. He also earned his first college disqualification in the LSU game (one of three Dogs to do so), fouling out in 23 minutes.

*G/F Phil Turner has suddenly become a beast on the boards, with 11 rebounds in both the Arkansas and LSU games. He had eight boards at Kentucky too, and has raised his SEC-game rate to 5.4…second only to Varnado in league play.

*Turner notched his first college double-double with a 16-point, 11-board game against Arkansas.

*After hitting for four treys in each of the previous two games, Turner went 0-of-4 at the arc against LSU. Still he has 18 league-treys and 28 for the season.

*Turner shot 34% at the arc before SEC season; he is 42% in league play there.

*Turner averaged 4.3 points before moving into the starting lineup. He has averaged 10.5 as part of the tipoff team. And as a starter he is shooting 51-of-104.

*C Brian Johnson is making his presence known again off the bench. In the last two games he has been 5-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds as a backup postman.

*Johnson also managed to draw five fouls in 14 game-minutes against LSU.

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