*The winner of this game will finish third in the SEC West, and the loser fourth. While both would thus be playing next Thursday in the opening round of the SEC Tournament, the West-3 team gets to take on Georgia while West-4 faces Vanderbilt. Then again, the downside is also that third-place team from the West will be in the same bracket as Division and overall champ LSU.
*This will be Coach Rick Stansbury's 354th game as Bulldog boss, matching the program record set by Richard Williams (1987-98).
About the Rebels: Those bad breaks were so long ago that few outside Oxford are still saying ‘what ifs' about the Ole Miss season. Inside is surely another matter as Rebel faithful wonder what this year could have been had the two top veterans gone down and out…especially now that everyone else has gotten a look at the rest of the roster, and how Andy Kennedy has cobbled together a team able to have a spoiler's say in Division developments. For that matter the Rebels aren't entirely out of the NIT picture themselves if they could both knock off State to end the regular slate 8-8 and then pick up a SEC Tourney upset or two. Regardless, what even the most rabid rivals should respect is how Ole Miss overcame, to some extent, losing Chris Warren and Eniel Polynice in the fall and still played a competitive league schedule. Nobody has stepped in and stepped up more than Terrico White, who will get his share of votes for SEC rookie of the year after a terrific season. He might already be the best combo-guard in the West, a physical play-maker and reliable shot-taker scoring five whole points more in SEC action than the overall season. White's lone weakness for a guy who has the ball in his hands this much is 61% free throwing. But backcourt comrade David Huertas makes up for that with his 80% accuracy and a whole lot of attempts. That's because the junior is charged with taking and more shots than anyone on the squad, particularly at the arc whre he's heaved up 206 tries already (no Bulldog has tried more than 179). Huertas also has more SEC points (16.8) than the season as a whole. Both guards make 35% of such attempts though quantity matters more than quality in that area. Soph Zach Graham has benefited from the absence of elder guards to get more minutes and contribute to the outside attack, though his physique would fit the frontcourt as well. And the baseline was where Ole Miss expected to do a lot of rebuilding anyway. Team most-improved honors ought to go to soph Malcolm White, who contributed 2.5 points and 1.3 rebounds as a rookie compared to his marked upgrades this second season. The other portion of paint has been shared by a trio of newcomers, with freshman Murphy Holloway earning the starting job while juco DeAundre Cranston and frosh Terrancy Henry the alternates. That's plenty long bodies to rotate over the course of a contest, and Kennedy has certainly used that bench as needed for defense and rebounding. Offense is another matter for the backups, though, and the entire roster comes up short in areas like shot blocking—M.White tops them all with 39 swats in 29 games. Getting a real read on these Rebels means going deeper than the raw numbers, which in cases like shooting and scoring defense can be misleading. Maybe the telling stat is that while the Rebels don't get burned from the perimeter too badly, the assist/turnover rate for opponents is absurdly good…signaling that this is a defense that would rather be steady than aggressive. And this in-turn likely comes from the basic fact that this isn't the lineup Kennedy expected to play with in the first place. But he's made the best of the situation, and young talent has been put on a faster track than planned. So whatever the Rebels do the rest of this season, they will soon enough stop looking at what-ifs of '09 and think about the potential for 2010 when presumably everyone reassembles. For that matter, this weekend's game shapes up as a preview for the leading West contenders next winter.
Projected Starting Lineups (all-games stats):
OLE MISS: F Malcolm White, SO 6-9 211, 6.8ppg, 5.6rpg; F Murphy Holloway, FR 6-7 215, 8.4ppg, 6.4rpg; G Zach Graham, SO 6-5 230, 8.3ppg, 3.2rpg, 25 3ptrs; G Terrico White, FR 6-5 190, 13.2ppg, 3.5rpg, 55 3ptrs; G David Huertas, JR 6-5 200, 18.5ppg, 4.6rpg, 74 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Will Bogan, FR 6-1 167, 2.5ppg, 14 3ptrs; F DeAundre Cranston, JR 6-9 250, 3.2ppg, 4.3rpg; F Terrance Henry, FR 6-9 205, 4.4ppg, 3.8rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G/F Ravern Johnson, SO 6-7 175, 12.6ppg, 3.3rpg, 76 3ptrs, 43% 3ptrs; G/F Phil Turner, SO 6-3 170, 8.6ppg, 5.2rpg, 39 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, JR 6-9 210, 13.1ppg, 9.1rpg, 55%fgs, 141blks; G Dee Bost, FR 6-2 170, 11.4ppg, 4.3asts, 52 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, JR 6-3 170, 11.9ppg, 3.8rpg, 56 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Riley Benock, SO 6-4 180, 2.5ppg, 20 3ptrs; F Romero Osby, FR 6-8 230, 4.4ppg, 2.8rpg.
HOW THEY COMPARE: (all-season stats)
Scoring: MSU 74.8, OM 73.0
Scoring Defense: MSU 69.4, OM 72.0
FG Shooting: MSU 43.6%, OM 43.2%
FG Defense: MSU 39.8%, OM 42.9%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.8%, OM 34.4%
3-point Attempts: MSU 23.2pg, OM 20.4
Rebounding: MSU 38.3, OM 37.5
Rebound Margin: MSU -0.8, OM +0.9
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.6, OM 72.9%
Turnovers: MSU 14.6, OM 13.1
THE SERIES: Mississippi State holds a 133-105 lead in a rivalry dating back to 1914. The Rebels are 77-40 in home games, though the Bulldogs did win on three-straight trips to Oxford in 2002-04. The teams have met just once in a SEC Tournament, with State winning in New Orleans in 2003. Rick Stansbury is 15-7 against Rebel teams, his most wins in any MSU series, while Andy Kennedy is 3-2 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: In Wednesday night's win, the Bulldogs stretched their SEC lead in three-pointers a bit over the nearest rival. State has hit 256 longballs this season, Florida 248, and Auburn 229. Though, the Dogs are only 4th in SEC outside accuracy.
*The 695 trey-tries by this team is third-most in program history, behind only the last two teams. In 2007 the Dogs shot it 775 times (35 games) from the arc, in '08 it was 703 times (34 games). Five times this year State has taken 30 or more shots at long range, and lost all five games.
*The 256 treys-made is the second-best season at State. The record is 275 by the 2007 squad. This team has made ten or more longshots in a dozen games now, including the program-record 16 against Arkanasas.
*In the last three games State players have blocked only eight balls total, and in the last two the tally has been a pair each time. This has dropped the season-swat rate to 7.67, where two weeks ago it was well over eight. Thus the Dogs (230 blocks) have lost much of their edge on Connecticut (225) in the race to pace the NCAA. A year ago the Huskies also caught State and won the block-shot ‘title' for the season.
*Through 30 games these Dogs have fallen behind the pace of last year when State set the SEC season mark of 267 blocks at 7.85 per-game.
*What hasn't changed is that opponents don't return such favors. State has had just 90 shots blocked all year, a stat naturally influenced by the team's reliance on outside shooting.
*A game after being shut out, the Bulldog bench scored 26 points against Florida. They had just 23 combined points in the previous five games.
*No Bulldog is listed in the SEC top-ten for average minutes played.
*Both of State's blocks against the Gators came from C Jarvis Varnado, who maintains his NCAA-lead with 141 swats. The junior should defend his league blocks title from last winter and is bidding for first in the nation, but his pace has dropped now to 4.70. This means he needs four more games to match, then break, his State season record (and tie for the SEC mark) of 157.
*Varnado is already the SEC's #2 in career bocks at 365. The record is 412 by LSU's Shaquille O'Neal (1990-92).
*After a brief stretch of inconsistent scoring, Varnado has consecutive double-digit outings with 14 and 13 points. But while he leads the team in overall-season scoring Varnado is second in SEC average to G Dee Bost, 13.5 to 13.4 points.
*Varnado isn't shooting nearly as well as in January, when he made 58% of attempts. In February he fell off to 45% from the floor, and in his first March outing he was 6-of-14. Yet at 55.4% for the whole season Varnado still ranks 5th in the latest SEC stats.
*He's also third in SEC rebounding (all games) though the current 9.1 average is a season-low.
*The late-season strains might be showing at the stripe. In his last three games Varnado is 5-of-11 on free throws and his season rate has slipped under 70% for the first time since November.
*G Dee Bost played the acknowledged top triggerman in the SEC to a personal draw, as well as winning the game Wednesday. That should end any question of his deserving a spot on the Freshman All-SEC team, if not rookie of the year consideration.
*With four assists against Florida, Bost just set the MSU freshman record for scoring passes with 130. He surpassed both Rich Knarr (127, 1973) and Jamont Gordon (129, 2006) on the same night to take the top spot.
*Bost ranks 4th in SEC average assists (all games) this week. He has had four or more assists credited in four of the last five games.
*Though, Bost did have his nine-game streak of scoring double-digits ended when he managed nine points against the Gators. Still he leads his team in SEC-season scoring and has scored ten or more markers in a dozen league games.
*Bost has gotten smarter at picking his spots and shots lately as he's 11-of-28 at the arc the last four games. But it's not a good thing that his outside accuracy of 36.4% (all season) is barely under the 36.6% shooting for all attempts.
*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 16-of-18 at the stripe in the last four games.
*The only thing Bost hasn't done this whole year is block a shot.
*Bost now ranks 3rd in freshman-year treys made with 52; 3rd in free throws made; 7th in scoring; 8th in scoring average; 4th in steals.
*G Phil Turner had an amazing February on the backboards, averaging 9.3 rebounds. He began March by grabbing six caroms in the win over Florida. Turner has 155 boards this season, compared to 84 all last year.
*And though he stands 6-3, Turner has the second-most team blocks (11) in SEC season.
*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 has hit a three-pointer in the last six games and 11 total in the stretch. That gives him 39 treys for the sophomore season.
*His 38.7% 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.
*G Barry Stewart has made at least one longball in six-straight games himself, 15 total and 58 for the season. He had 68 threes in his sophomore season, 7th-best year for a Bulldog.
*Stewart now has 188 treys in his college career, ranking 3rd on the all-time list behind Timmy Bowers (197) and Darryl Wilson (258).
*Stewart has scored double-digits in the last ten games, the longest such streak of his MSU career. The 30th member of the 1,000-Point Club at State, the junior now has 1,090 and is 27th on the all-time list.
*Stewart has made good on 45 of his last 52 free throw attempts.
*With 118 career steals, Stewart needs four more to break into the MSU top-ten.
*G Ravern Johnson got back on the double-digit pace Wednesday with 15 points. He'd knocked down 10-to-20 points in four-straight games before Auburn held him to nine markers. Johnson has scored double-digits in 10 SEC games.
*After shooting 9-of-26 in the previous two games, Johnson picked his shots better against Florida and was 5-of-8. And, 4-of-7 at the arc, his best such effort since February 3 at Kentucky (5-of-8).
*Johnson still ranks 1st in the league for three-point accuracy and is 5th-best in makes.
*In January Johnson was 26-of-54 at the arc; in February he was 19-of-62. So he's back on a better pace for the start of March.
*And with 76 treys, Johnson has knocked down the third-most threes of any Bulldog season. Only Darryl Wilson has made more longballs, 97 and 94 in his senior and junior years.
*Wednesday night saw several Dog backups snap scoreless streaks. G Twany Beckham and F Kodi Augustus ended three-game droughts; F Romero Osby two; and G Riley Benock five. And Benock hit his first three-pointer since the LSU home game on February 11.
*But the year ended early for backup C Elgin Bailey. He had scored six points, his most since Feb. 11, and grabbed four rebounds when the soph dislocated his right ankle at eight minutes of the second half. Though nothing was broken or torn, Bailey will have to wear a cast for over a month.
*C Brian Johnson, the team's only senior, got to play six seconds in his final home game. He was unable to participate more with a case of flu.