*State has never lost more than five home games in a season during the Rick Stansbury era. But they enter this game 12-5 in The Hump so far.
About the Gators: If it weren't for the high late-season stakes involved, these teams should apply for a special exemption to allow a four-on-four, call-your-own fouls, non-clock contest with the first side to reach 80 winning. Because this sets up as one of the most potentially entertaining matchups of the 2009 SEC season. Only Mississippi State relies more on outside shooting than a Gator team that heaves the longball with abandon. And, accuracy with a startling 39.8% rate in SEC play, over twenty points better than the rest of the league. What makes Florida more dangerous though is their knack for taking and making shorter shots, where they also top the SEC. Speaking of league-leaders, is there a better triggerman in the conference or for that matter country than soph Nick Calathes? He's got 87 assists in league play alone, which is saying something considering he ranks #3 this week in SEC-game scoring at 19.9-per. And then there's a ridiculous rebound average of 6.2 (SEC games) for a POINT GUARD?! Here is your first pick for a friendly game of H-O-R-S-E. As the assist stats show there are other scorers on the court. Soph Chandler Parsons has become the leading choice as his SEC average is a point-and-a-half better than the season overall, but Dan Werner is a real mis-match situation bringing center size to the forward spot with a sweet outside touch. Both hit the glass well, too. Walter Hodge is the old lizard on this roster, a lone senior regular able to pop from the arc or drive for creative closer shots. And while rookie Erving Walker will be the shortest guy on the court, he's providing even more perimeter punch off the bench with 47 treys. The only Gator that doesn't take long shots is center Alex Tyus, with no reason to as he's a 59% shooter inside. Frosh Kenny Kadji brings more bulk off the bench as needed, though by this point in the campaign Florida doesn't go much deeper on the roster than those seven. Nor need to on offense. Defense? That can be another matter as opponents tend to shoot better than usual against this group. They don't block many shots for that sort of size and rebounding overall is erratic. But you can't argue with the league's leading assist/turnover rate. Besides, for every basket the Gators give away they can take it back at the other end. And usually do.
Projected Starting Lineups (all-games stats):
FLORIDA: F Dan Werner, JR 6-8 230, 8.7ppg, 38 3ptrs, 4.4rpg, 2.3apg; F Chandler Parsons, SO 6-9 213, 10.2ppg, 33 3ptrs, 5.7rpg; C Alex Tyus, SO 6-8 220, 12.3ppg, 59%fgs, 6.0rpg; G Nick Calathes, SO 6-6 195, 18.4ppg, 64 3ptrs, 5.3rpg, 6.4apg; G Walter Hodge, SR 6-0 170, 8.3ppg, 47 3ptrs, 2.3apg.
Top Backups: G Erving Walker, FR 5-8 160, 9.9ppg, 54 3ptrs, 2.4apg; F Kenny Kadji, FR 6-10 245, 4.9ppg, 2.9rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G/F Ravern Johnson, SO 6-7 175, 12.5ppg, 3.4rpg, 72 3ptrs, 42% 3ptrs; G/F Phil Turner, SO 6-3 170, 8.5ppg, 5.1rpg, 38 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, JR 6-9 210, 13.1ppg, 9.1rpg, 56%fgs, 139blks; G Dee Bost, FR 6-2 170, 11.5ppg, 4.3asts, 50 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, JR 6-3 170, 11.9ppg, 3.7rpg, 55 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Riley Benock, SO 6-4 180, 2.3ppg, 18 3ptrs; F Romero Osby, FR 6-8 230, 4.5ppg, 2.8rpg.
HOW THEY COMPARE: (all-season stats)
Scoring: MSU 74.7ppg, FLA 79.0ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 69.3ppg, FLA 68.3ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 43.3%, FLA 48.5%
FG Defense: MSU 39.6%, FLA 44.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.4%, FLA 37.7%
3-point Attempts: MSU 23.3pg, FLA 22.1pg
Rebounding: MSU 38.3rpg, FLA 34.4rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU -1.0, FLA +0.6
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 71.1%, FLA 69.0%
Turnovers: MSU 14.7pg, FLA 12.1pg
THE SERIES: Florida owns a 56-46 lead in a series dating back only to 1936. The Bulldogs have had the better on things in home games with a 31-19 score in Starkville, though the Gators won in their last trip here in 2007. Rick Stansbury is 5-7 against Florida, while Billy Donovan is 9-5 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: As SEC season winds down, Mississippi State's dependence on the three-point shot only increases. In the last five games the Bulldogs have averaged an eye-opening 32 trey-tries per contest. That includes a school-record 39 such long shots in the double-overtime game at Alabama.
*But in all five SEC games this season State has tried 30 or more treys, the Dogs have lost.
*Not surprisingly the season record for trey-tries is in danger, if the season lasts long enough. This team has put up 675 long shots in 29 games; the record is 775 in 35 games by the 2007 squad.
*To the positive, this team has made 246 threes so far which is the second-highest output in program history. Two years ago the NIT semifinalist squad hit 275 threeballs. And these Dogs have hit ten or more treys in eleven games including the program-record 16 against Arkansas at home.
*State's shot-swatting pace has taken a hit in the last two games with just six total rejections, and the two blocks against Auburn matched the season-low. So the season rate is now at 7.86 per-game, cutting into MSU's lead in the NCAA stats over Connecticut to barely just .1 now. And the Huskies have just three fewer swats than State going into the week.
*And suddenly the season-rate is barely ahead of last year's when the Bulldogs set the SEC season record of 267 blocks, or 7.85 per-game.
*Still opponents can only admire MSU's prowess for blocking, as in 29 games only 88 Bulldog attempts have been rejected…a figure obviously tilted by this team's reliance on longballs.
*The Bulldog bench was shut out Saturday in scoring by Auburn. Backups have combined for just 23 points in the last five games, in fact.
*With his 139 blocks C Jarvis Varnado is battling to lead the NCAA in average-swats for the season. At his current 4.79 pace he could also break his own MSU record, and tie for the SEC record, of 157 blocks in a year with four more games. State has three guaranteed on the remaining slate.
*Varnado is the SEC's second-leading shot blocker ever with 363 in three seasons. The record is 412, in three seasons, by LSU's Shaquille O'Neal (1990-92).
*After a three-game span with 61 points, Varnado's offense has run hot-and-cold in the last four outings. He's had eight-point outputs against South Carolina and Tennessee, bracketed by 16 and 14 points nights against Alabama and Auburn.
*So while his 13.1-point average for the whole season is still best on the squad, Varnado's 13.4 average in SEC action is second-highest.
*His challenge has been uncertain accuracy. In January, Varnado hit 58% of his shots. But in February he fell off to 45% from the floor.
*Varnado has a pair of double-doubles in SEC play this year, though his league rebounding rate is down to 8.4 through 14 games. In pre-SEC action he averaged a dozen boards.
*And while he's cooled off a bit in the last couple games, Varnado still has been a reliable scorer at the free throw line where he is hitting almost 79% for league season.
*Varnado has fouled-out only once all season, and it took a double-OT afternoon at Alabama for him to draw the fifth personal.
*Through three seasons Varnado has topped both 800 points and 600 rebounds.
*Nobody has hit the boards harder this last month than G/F Phil Turner. At 6-3, the sophomore muscled for 74 February rebounds; an amazing 9.3 average. He only had 28 rebounds in eight January games by contrast.
*Turner got his first collegiate double-doubles in February, with a 16/11 home game against Arkansas and 16/14 night against South Carolina.
*Turner's shooting has gotten more selective lately, as he's 8-of-17 from the floor the last two games and 4-of-9 at the arc. In the preceding four games he was 13-of-40, 6-of-25.
*His 38.4% shooting on treys in SEC season is best on the team.
*Turner has hit 80% even of his SEC free throws. As a freshman he was just 15-of-27 at the stripe for the entire season.
*State may be struggling down the stretch but G Dee Bost's credentials for Freshman All-SEC shouldn't be affected. The rookie took over the team's scoring lead in SEC play last week and he goes into the final two regular-season games with a 13.9 average SEC; 11.5 the entire year.
*Bost has scored double-digits in his last nine games.
*His outside shooting has improved a bit in recent weeks as he's made 9-of-23 at the arc in the last three games; and he is only a thousandth of a point behind Turner for the team-lead in SEC season. Still overall his accuracy of 35.6% will be off-season target #1.
*Passing, now, the kid has shown a surer hand here. With 126 assists this year, he is one shy of matching the second-best season in MSU freshman history (127, Rich Knarr 1973) and only three behind the rookie record of 129 by Jamont Gordon in 2007.
*To have a top-ten assists season regardless of class requires 168.
*As point guard Bost has been getting to the foul line more often than any Dog in SEC season, even more than center Varnado. It's a good percentage play for State, too, as Bost is 13-of-14 at the stripe in the last three games.
*The only thing Bost hasn't done this whole year is block a shot.
*G Barry Stewart stuck a couple more longballs in the Auburn game, giving him 11 in the last four games and 187 for his three varsity seasons. He ranks third on the all-time MSU list for longballs behind only Timmy Bowers (197) and Darryl Wilson (258).
*Stewart has scored double-digits in the last nine games, the longest such streak of his MSU career. *The 30th member of the 1,000-Point Club at State, Stewart now has 1,078 points in three years. He just passed Lawrence Roberts for 28th on the career list and is a single point behind Larry Fry.
*Stewart has made good on 40 of his last 47 free throw attempts. He's up to 79% for SEC season.
*G Ravern Johnson had his string of double-digit scoring snapped at four games as he managed nine markers against Auburn. Still the soph has recovered from a slow start to February and improved his SEC-season average to 12.6 points.
*Johnson, too, has his on and off nights at the arc. He went 4-of-10 against S.Carolina and 4-of-9 against Tennessee on long shots, but was 2-of-10 against both Alabama and Auburn around those efforts.
*At one point Johnson was leading the NCAA in outside accuracy at 49%. He's down to 36.7% for SEC season and 42% for the year as a whole. In January Johnson was 26-of-54 at the arc; in February he was 19-of-62.
*Still Johnson has dropped 72 treys for the season, which is the fourth-best year in MSU history. And he needs just 75 to catch the #3 slot of Bart Hyche in 1997.
*State's top four backups in SEC games—G Riley Benock, F Romero Osby, C Brian Johnson, and C Elgin Bailey—have just four points between them in the last two contests; all by Bailey.