*State goes into the weekend part of a five-way tie for second place overall in the Southeastern Conference standings. Since all the other four are in the SEC East, the Dogs are alone in second-West behind overall league-leader LSU. But, State is just a game in front of 6-5 Auburn, which took a win last Saturday off the Dogs.
About the Crimson Tide: The latest SEC program to take the mid-year change of staff direction, Alabama hasn't quite given up the season for lost just yet. A bad last-tip call foiled an upset bid against South Carolina, and the Tide pushed Florida hard enough to show there's some life left here. Even if the ‘interim' tag essentially means soon-to-be-also-gone Phillip Pearson has his team performing in some aspects better now than in the pre-SEC schedule. The young frontcourt certainly shows promise for whoever inherits the roster. JaMychal Green has lived up to rookie-billing and is a legit candidate for league freshman of the year with five double-doubles already and a double-digit scoring rate. He and soph Justin Knox are going to be a pair to contend with around the goal in coming years, both 50%-plus shooters and strong rebounders. The big guys need to play really big because without longsuffering guard Ron Steele—who retired himself after one SEC game—the backcourt has been a work in progress. And there has been some. Soph Senario Hillman is rising to the opportunity to contribute 13 points-per with the occasional longball from the point position. His partners are more forwards in size but have guard skills, most notably old hand Alonzo Gee. The senior tops the squad in scoring and just surpassed 1,500 career points. Meanwhile Michael Torrance has come on of late and averaged double-digits over the last five games. The weak link in Alabama's offense is lack of reliable perimeter prowess. Take away Steele's longballs and the rest of the roster has made just 80 treys all year. Some of this is offset by Bama's knack for thieving the ball, though they have far too many of their own turnovers, too. What really matters is how much moxie this team can muster for the remainder of the slate, since post-season is purely speculative and few would likely care there anyway. But, playing SEC spoiler can still offer some home-court fun these next couple of weeks.
Projected Starting Lineups (all-games stats):
ALABAMA: F JaMychal Green, FR 6-9 225,10.1ppg, 7.3rpg, 54%fgs; F Justin Knox, SO 6-9 236, 5.8ppg, 5.1rpg, 50%fgs; G Senario Hillman, SO 6-1 188, 13.2ppg, 18 3ptrs, 47stls; G Alonzo Gee, SR 6-6 219, 14.2ppg, 7.2rpg, 17 3ptrs; G Michael Torrance, JR 6-5 196, 9.0ppg, 87%fts.
Top Backups: F Yamene Coleman, JR 6-9 236, 3.5ppg, 3.9rpg; G Andrew Steele, FR 6-3 215, 3.0ppg; G Brandon Hollinger, SR 5-11 167, 2.3pg, 9 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G/F Ravern Johnson, SO 6-7 175, 12.4ppg, 3.5rpg, 64 3ptrs, 45% 3ptrs; G/F Phil Turner, SO 6-3 170, 8.5ppg, 4.9rpg, 32 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, JR 6-9 210, 13.2ppg, 9.2rpg, 57%fgs, 126blks; G Dee Bost, FR 6-2 170, 11.1ppg, 4.3asts, 41 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, JR 6-3 170, 11.3ppg, 3.7rpg, 48 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Riley Benock, SO 6-4 180, 2.6ppg, 18 3ptrs; F Romero Osby, FR 6-8 230, 5.0ppg, 3.0rpg.
HOW THEY COMPARE: (all-season stats)
Scoring: MSU 74.8ppg, ALA 71.9ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 68.0ppg, ALA 69.1ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 44.0%, ALA 44.0%
FG Defense: MSU 39.0%, ALA 40.9%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 37.2%, ALA 31.2%
3-point Attempts: MSU 22.2pg, ALA 15.0pg
Rebounding: MSU 38.2rpg, ALA 38.9rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU -0.8, ALA +2.2
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.7%, ALA 69.2%
Turnovers: MSU 14.5pg, ALA 14.2pg
THE SERIES: Alabama holds a 110-71 lead in the intrastate rivalry, but the Bulldogs have been trimming away the deficit over the last decade and have now won five-straight in the series. That includes last year's win in Tuscaloosa, where the Tide still leads 70-14. Rick Stansbury is 14-9 against Alabama, his second-most SEC wins as head coach behind only the 15 wins against Ole Miss.
BULLDOG NOTES: For the first time this SEC season, the Bulldogs won a game by shooting under 35% from the three-point line. They were 9-of-26, 34.6% against South Carolina at the arc. In all four league losses State was under 30% on longshots.
*State also bucked the season-long trend of 40% as the magic marksmanship mark. They hit just 37.3% on all attempts Wednesday and still won, despite South Carolina hitting 42%.
*For their 11 SEC games, 44% of all State shots have come from beyond the arc. For the season as a whole the rate is ‘just' 39%.
*It's not a bad strategy either, as 39% of Bulldog SEC-game points come on three-balls. And if only field goals are counted, the Dogs have scored 318 points on regular buckets…and 318 on treys made.
*With 576 trey-tries already on the books, this team has a, umm, good shot at breaking the season mark of 775 fired two winters ago.
*Going into the weekend, MSU leads the nation in blocked-shots average at 8.1 per game, ahead of Connecticut (7.6). Last year the Huskies edged State for first in the final NCAA standings.
*State's 211 blocks in 26 games is ahead of last year's pace when the Dogs set the SEC season record of 267 swats, in 34 games.
*Bulldog rebounding has made real progress in the last two weeks. After getting beaten on the boards the first seven SEC games, State has come out ahead twice in the last four games and trailed by two the other two contests.
*With 126 blocks so far, C Jarvis Varnado continues to lead both the SEC and NCAA for another week. He's ten ahead of Connecticut's Hasheem Thabeet in the national chase. But, with 44 blocks in SEC games, he's just two ahead of LSU's Chris Johnson for league-play only.
*With 350 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.
*After outputs of 31 and 20 points the previous two games, Varnado managed just eight markers against South Carolina to drop his average to 13.2; still best on the squad and better than the combined averages of his previous two seasons.
*But Varnado was only 3-of-13 shooting Wednesday night. In the last six games he is 28-of-64 from the floor, or 44%. In his first five SEC games he shot 66.7%.
*His rebounding pace has also slipped. After grabbing 27 total boards in games against Ole Miss and Kentucky, he's managed 27 in the last four games combined. That's brought his average down to a season-low 9.2
*But Varnado is shooting free throws better than ever as a collegian. He's made a remarkable 81% in SEC play and 71% overall. *Look who has turned into a beast on the backboards. At 6-3 G Phil Turner is the smallest ‘power' forward in a league lineup, but in the last four games he has muscled for 11, 11, 9, and 14 rebounds. His season rate is up to 4.9 –per, and for SEC play Turner is collecting 6.5 rebounds. He's nearly tripled his entire output of last season in fact.
*Turner has posted a pair of double-doubles in the last two weeks. After notching 16 points/11 rebounds against Arkansas at home, he posted a 16/11 evening against South Carolina. Those 16 Wednesday points were more than the previous two games combined.
*After 2-of-13 outside shooting in those two preceding contests, Turner was 2-of-4 at the arc.
*Turner averaged 4.3 points as a backup the first nine games. In 17 starts he has averaged 10.8 points, and shot 61-of-125.
*G Dee Bost is the fourth Bulldog freshman to reach 100 assists. He's up to 113 for this rookie year, and just surpassed the 112 of Ben Hansbrough in 2007 for third place on the list. The freshman record is 129 by Jamont Gordon in 2006.
*Bost is shooting a bit better in SEC season than overall, 37% to 36%, though both can obviously stand improving. Bost showed more discretion Wednesday night; after taking ten or more shots in the previous five games he settled for six against South Carolina and made three.
*But he also got to the line 11 times, and was able to knock down enough free shots to score double-digits for a sixth-straight game. He's averaged 15.8 points in this stretch, raising his SEC-season average to 13.5.
*Maybe more impressive is the point guard's aggressiveness on the boards. In the last five games he's gotten to 20 rebounds.
*G Barry Stewart has been putting up his own points, too, with double-digit performances the last six games and a 13.8 average.
*Stewart is the 30th member of the 1,000-Point Club at State. He now has 1,027 in 95 career games.
*With 178 three-point goals, Stewart is third on the all-time list and trails only Timmy Bowers (197) and Darryl Wilson (258).
*Stewart has made good on 30 of his last 34 free throw attempts.
*G Ravern Johnson seems to be getting his shooting touch back, with 11 and 20 points the last two games. He had five points in the previous two contests combined.
*And after going 2-of-17 at the arc in a three-game struggle, Johnson was 4-of-10 against Arkansas. He now has 64 treys for the sophomore season, most on the team.
*That slump cost Johnson his NCAA lead in outside-accuracy, when he was making over 49% of trey-tries. But he is still making good on 44.8% for the season, 40.3% in SEC season.
*Johnson went nine SEC games without a single offensive rebound. He has grabbed one in each of the last two contests.