Bulldog Basketball Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (16-9, 6-4 SEC) is back home, and back in inter-Division play as the Bulldogs host South Carolina (18-5, 7-3 SEC) Wednesday evening. Tip-off in Humphrey Coliseum is 7:00 with no telecast. The MSU radio network broadcast is available nationally on XM satellite channel 199.

About the Gamecocks: At the time some wondered whether leaving a successful Western Kentucky program to take over long-struggling South Carolina was a smart career move for Darrin Horn. Now the question is how far the league's leading turnaround job of 2009 can carry on into March. True, the new coach both arrived with the entire SEC in flux and inherited some quality talent, but give Horn credit for reviving and revamping the program into an unexpected conference contender. It didn't hurt that the new boss inherited a superb all-around talent in Devan Downey, a legit candidate for league player of the year. Already a proven play-maker, the junior has taken the load of clutch shot-taker on himself and made it pay in SC's biggest wins of the season so-far. As good as his stats are, Downey is even better than the numbers and he's certainly made teammates better in turn. Certainly the need to cover him creates more openings around the perimeter for longball leader Zam Fredrick; and when the Gamecocks need more outside offense junior forward Evaldas Baniulis—a sometime starter himself—can come off the bench and stick the three. The Bulldogs have made more treys this season but South Carolina is more accurate at the arc, as well as 20-percent points better shooters than last season. Progress inside the perimeter has been similar, too. F Dominique Archie's stats have not made huge jumps, scoring or boarding, it's the consistency this junior is showing that matters more. The biggest progress has been from forward Mike Holmes, up three whole points from last season and hitting the glass harder with the helpful 6-9 presence of Sam Muldrow in the paint. This still isn't the most physical frontcourt in the league, as only State has a more negative-rebound margin, but neither are the Gamecocks getting pushed around as in the past. Their more serious issues are overall accuracy; first on defense where S.C. ranks last in the SEC guarding the floor, and then at their free throw stripe where they rank last in league games at under 57%. A strange stat considering how many shooters the lineup lists, to be sure. But make enough threes and the one-pointers don't matter quite so much.

Projected Starting Lineups (all-games stats):

SOUTH CAROLINA: F Dominique Archie, JR 6-7 200, 11.7ppg, 6.7rpg. 17 3ptrs; F Mike Holmes, SO 6-7 230, 11.3ppg, 7.8rpg, 27blks; F Sam Muldrow, SO 6-9 215, 6.3ppg, 5.3rpg; G Devan Downey, JR 5-9 175, 19.9ppg, 4.4apg, 38 3ptrs; G Zam Fredrick, SR 6-0 203, 15.6ppg, 3.1rpg, 44 3ptrs.

Top Backups: G Brandis Raley-Ross, JR 6-2 193, 6.4ppg, 11 3ptrs; F Evaldas Baniulis, JR 6-7 210, 7.0ppg, 2.7rpg, 38 3ptrs.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: G/F Ravern Johnson, SO 6-7 175, 12.1ppg, 3.4rpg, 60 3ptrs, 45% 3ptrs; G/F Phil Turner, SO 6-3 170, 8.2ppg, 4.6rpg, 30 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, JR 6-9 210, 13.4ppg, 9.3rpg, 59%fgs, 122blks; G Dee Bost, FR 6-2 170, 11.0ppg, 4.3asts, 40 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, JR 6-3 170, 11.4ppg, 3.5rpg, 46 3ptrs.

Top Backups: G Riley Benock, SO 6-4 180, 2.7ppg, 18 3ptrs; F Romero Osby, FR 6-8 230, 5.2ppg, 3.1rpg.

HOW THEY COMPARE: (all-season stats)

Scoring: MSU 74.8ppg, SC 80.2ppg

Scoring Defense: MSU 67.9ppg, SC 70.1ppg

FG Shooting: MSU 44.4%, SC 46.1%

FG Defense: MSU 38.9%, SC 43.5%

3-Point Shooting: MSU 37.3%, SC 38.3%

Rebounding: MSU 38.0rpg, SC 38.6rpg

Rebound Margin: MSU -1.0, SC -0.3

Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.8%, SC 62.8%

Turnovers: MSU 14.5pg, SC 13.9pg

THE SERIES: This is Mississippi State's shortest SEC series, which began only upon South Carolina joined the league for 1992. The Bulldogs hold a 11-8 lead, and a 6-2 advantage in Humphrey Coliseum. The Gamecocks have won both meetings in SEC Tournament play, each time in Nashville. Rick Stansbury is 7-5 against South Carolina, having snapped a three-game losing streak last season in Columbia.

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 twice over 50%. But in all four league losses the Dogs have been under 30% firing it from out there.

*The trend continues in overall shooting where 40% is the magic mark. In all 16 wins State was better than that rate; in eight of nine losses at or under 40% from the field.

*Just how big a part of the gameplan is the long shot? For the season as a whole the Dogs have taken 39% of all attempts beyond the arc, but in ten SEC games the rate leaps to 45%.

*The 35 shots from the arc Saturday at Auburn tied the program record, which was set against Nicholls State in the 2003-04 seasons.

*Talk about balance; in ten SEC games State's four starting guards have scored 25, 22, 21, and 20 treys respectively.

*With 550 trey-tries already on the books, this team has a, umm, good shot at breaking the season mark of 775 fired two winters ago.

*While the four-guard lineup has come with a cost in rebounding, the Bulldogs have hit the boards harder and better of late. In their last three games combined State has broke-even in total rebounds for an encouraging change. Still for SEC season as a whole the Dogs show an average six-board deficit.

*Auburn shied away from challenging State's shot-blockers so only four balls were swatted Saturday. In the three previous games Dogs had rejected 34 shots. Still MSU continues to hold first place in the NCAA stats with 8.2 blocks per-game, .6 ahead of Connecticut. Last winter the Huskies edged State for first in the final standings.

*With 204 blocks through 25 games State is well-ahead of last year's 7.9 pace when the '08 Bulldogs set the SEC season record of 267 blocks. At this pace, MSU will need to play at least two tournament (SEC or other) to break the record.

*C Jarvis Varnado got all four of those blocks at Auburn, giving him 122 for the season to maintain his SEC lead. He's also tops in the country this week, a dozen blocks ahead of UConn's Hasheem Thabeet. *Varnado's 4.88 average is also better than the 4.62 rate of his sophomore season when he tied the SEC mark of 157 (in 34 games). He also needs a projected eight games at this speed to become the league-season-leader.

*With 346 blocks through three seasons, Varnado is closing in on the SEC's second place all-time. That slot now belongs to former Auburn center Kyle Davis at 360.

*With 31 and 20 points the last two games, Varnado just had the most productive two-contest stretch of his college career. The previous best was 48 after he scored consecutive 24s in two December outings.

*Varnado is up to 13.4 points-per, his best average all season. And that's a half-point better than if his freshman and sophomore rates of 5.0 and 7.9 points were combined.

*But, he's having to take more shots than usual to get those points as his accuracy has slipped lately. In the last five games Varnado is 25-of-51 (49.0%) from the floor; not bad, but not like the 28-of-42 (66.7%) shooting he posted in the first five SEC games.

*And after nabbing 27 rebounds in games against Ole Miss and Kentucky, Varnado has snared just 21 in the three games since. His average is down to a season-low 9.3 going into Wednesday's game.

*There is a truly encouraging trend though. His SEC free-throwing is up to a remarkable 80% even, and his season rate is 70.2%. Varnado was barely 50% at the stripe in his first two college campaigns.

*He might be the smallest ‘power' forward in the league but Phil Turner has turned into a beast on the backboards. In the last three games the 6-3 soph has grabbed 11, 11, and 9 rebounds. Turner has raised his season average to 4.6 rebounds, and SEC rate to an impressive 5.8-per.

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

*His outside shooting has slipped though, as after going 8-of-17 at the arc in the Kentucky/Arkansas wins he is 2-of-13 there in the last two losses.

*Turner averaged 4.3 points before moving into the starting lineup. He has averaged 10.3 as part of the tipoff team. And as a starter he is shooting 54-of-114.

*PG Dee Bost is the fourth Bulldog freshman to notch 100 assists, and he's now up to 108 for the year. That's just four behind #3 Ben Hansbrough on the rookie-year list, and the freshman record of 129 by Jamont Gordon is within sight.

*Bost actually has a slightly better average for assists in SEC play than overall, 4.40 to 4.32.

*This is also true for his shooting where Bost has been a bit more accurate in conference competition than the season as a whole. Though, a 36.4% rate on all field goals can certainly stand improving. Bost has been putting the ball up a lot of late, too, with 63 shots taken in the last five SEC games. Of those, 35 have been from the arc with 16 makes.

*Bost still has scored double-digits in these last five contests and his SEC average of 13.4 points is second on the squad only to Varnado's 14.2.

*Maybe the big surprise is Bost's ability to get to a long rebound, as he's averaging 3.1 boards in SEC action.

*The shooting will naturally go hot and cold, but G Barry Stewart will keep putting up points. The junior has double-digits in the last five games and a 14.6 average in this stretch, raising his season rate to 11.4…Stewarts's best rate since late November.

*With his first basket Saturday, fittingly a three-pointer, Stewart became the 30th member of the 1,000-Point Club. He now has 1,1017 points in 94 career games, a 10.8-average.

*Stewart now has 176 career three-pointers, the 3rd-best total by a Bulldog. He now trails only Timmy Bowers (197) and Darryl Wilson (258).

*Stewart is shooting 80.4% at the free-throw line in SEC play, and has made good on 26 of his last 28 attempts.

*Stewart has blocked more shots this season, 10, than the previous two years combined, 9.

*Moving closer to the goal helped G Ravern Johnson get back in the offensive swing of things with 11 points at Auburn. This, after he mustered five total points in the previous two games. Johnson made four of the six shots taken inside the arc Saturday.

*But he was 1-of-8 beyond it at Auburn, meaning in the last three games he is 2-of-15 on long shots. That goes against Johnson's season trend because ‘til now he'd been more accurate from long range than close. And two weeks ago he was leading the whole NCAA in outside accuracy at 49%. He's slipped to 45% since.

*Spending some time inside the arc also produced Johnson's first offensive rebound of this SEC season.

*But for a fourth-straight game he failed to draw a free-throwing foul. That's annoying because he is 8-of-8 at the stripe in SEC play.

*Backup F Romero Osby is getting a bit more selective on his shot and he's made 2-of-3 attempts the last two games.

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