*These teams faced each other once in the regular season with State taking a 67-61 win in Athens on January 24.
MSU at the SEC Tournament: Mississippi State is 21-46 in all SEC Tournaments, and 17-28 in the modern event (since 1979).
*Bulldog teams have twice won Tournament championships, in 1996 (New Orleans) and 2002 (Atlanta). State also reached the finals in 2003 (New Orleans) of the modern event. Before that the only time a State team made the title game was the very first SEC Tourney, in 1933 (Atlanta).
*This is the first SEC Tournament to be played in Tampa, though the event was held in Orlando in 1990. State lost to Alabama in a second-round game that meet.
*This is the second-straight year State has played Georgia in the SEC Tournament. Last March in Atlanta, the UG Dogs continued their improbable and historic run to the championship by knocking off MSU 64-60 in the third round…but in UG's second game of the day. A Friday evening tornado that damaged the Georgia Dome during State's second-round overtime win against Alabama, delayed the Georgia-Kentucky contest to Saturday and moved it to Georgia Tech's campus. After beating the Wildcats in an afternoon game, Georgia upset State in the evening and advanced to the finals where they beat Arkansas.
*This will be the 11th meeting of the SEC's two Bulldog teams in the conference tournament, tying State's 11 games with Vanderbilt in the event. Georgia leads 8-2 in these meetings.
About the (other) Bulldogs: Veteran UG Bulldogs will no doubt fondly remember their unexpected starring role in the Miracle March of 2008. That was a whole year ago and any good feelings—along with the head coach—have since gone. Not even the most devout Dog fan believes lightning will strike twice, at least not on that scale, but at the same time no SEC foe in this bracket is thrilled about taking on a Georgia squad that has played their best ball in the last few weeks. This will certainly be a different lineup than the one State faced back in January as a couple of freshmen have worked their way into the tipoff team. Rookie forward Trey Thompkins has been a solid boost to the baseline game at each end, particularly on offense where UG has struggled all season, and his insertion into the lineup showed a shift away from a guard-oriented set. It makes Georgia a more physical bunch for sure with a front line weighing 260, 245, and 220, and muscular opponents are something State has had a few problems with this season. It's a good thing big man Albert Jackson can bang bodies, because the junior has been almost a non-entity when it comes to scoring. Even his rebounding is unimpressive for a guy with his physique. Old hand Terrance Woodbury picks up some of that slack from his forward slot, and he's the toughest matchup on the squad when he floats out on the wings and fires three-pointers. For that matter Thompkins is as likely to score from outside as in the paint, as the two have 76 treys between them. The only Dog to start all 31 games is senior guard Corey Butler, a 37% outside marksman. Dustin Ware is the other first-year man to win a starting job and he's proven a capable young point guard, having just topped 100 assists for the season. And he's willing to pull the trigger on his own with 39 threefers so far, though his accuracy can be iffy. Soph Zac Swansey started 17 games but has moved into a backup job. While junior Ricky McPhee only gets 11 minutes in the average game, he had his big day so far when he hit State for 15 points off the bench. But those efforts have been too few for most Dogs as only Woodbury and Thompkins average double-digits, despite extensive use of the backups; ten Georgians get ten or more minutes per game. That might pay off in the future for whoever is given this job, but for this last weekend of the '09 season Georgia can only hope to have some say in how this year's league tourney plays out and perhaps nip some opponent's NCAA hopes in the bud. Because lightning (and hopefully tornados) rarely strike consecutively.
Projected Starting Lineups (all-games stats):
GEORGIA: F Trey Thompkins, FR 6-8 245, 12.7ppg, 31 3ptrs, 7.4rpg; F/C Albert Jackson, JR 6-10 260, 4.4ppg, 48%fgs, 3.8rpg; G/F Terrance Woodbury, SR 6-7 220, 14.0ppg, 45 3ptrs, 4.5rpg; G Dustin Ware, FR 5-11 175, 7.4ppg, 39 3ptrs, 3.3apg; G Corey Butler, SR 6-3 195, 6.7ppg, 34 3ptrs, 4.1rpg.
Top Backups: G Zac Swansey, SO 6-1 180, 4.9ppg, 9.0rpg, 2.9apg; F Chris Barnes, SO 6-7 250, 4.3ppg, 4.0rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: G/F Ravern Johnson, SO 6-7 175, 12.5ppg, 3.2rpg, 77 3ptrs, 42% 3ptrs; G/F Phil Turner, SO 6-3 170, 8.5ppg, 5.0rpg, 40 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, JR 6-9 210, 13.0ppg, 9.0rpg, 55%fgs, 143blks; G Dee Bost, FR 6-2 170, 11.5ppg, 4.3asts, 52 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, JR 6-3 170, 12.1ppg, 3.8rpg, 62 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Riley Benock, SO 6-4 180, 2.5ppg, 20 3ptrs; F Romero Osby, FR 6-8 230, 4.5ppg, 2.7rpg; F Kodi Augustus, SO 6-8 220, 5.4ppg, 3.3rpg.
HOW THEY COMPARE: (all-season stats)
Scoring: MSU 75.1ppg, GA 65.1ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 69.7ppg, GA 69.6ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 43.7%, GA 41.2%
FG Defense: MSU 39.9%, GA 42.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.8%, GA 34.1%
3-point Attempts: MSU 23.2pg, GA 18.6pg
Rebounding: MSU 38.0rpg, GA 37.8rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU -1.0, GA +0.8
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.9%, GA 64.1%
Turnovers: MSU 14.4pg, GA 17.5
THE SERIES: With the January win in Athens, Mississippi State took a 50-49 lead in the series that began in 1932. State is 30-14 in home games, while the other Dogs are 26-18 on their floor. On neutral courts Georgia leads 9-2. Rick Stansbury is 7-6 against Georgia, while the interim UG staff is 0-1 against State.
BULLDOG NOTES: Mississippi State has never led the SEC in three-pointers for a whole season. But these Bulldogs go into tournament season first in league trey-making with 264, eight ahead of Florida with Auburn a distant third at 231. It will take 282 treys to have a top-twenty season in the SEC records.
*State needs 11 more treys to match the 2007 school record of 275. The mark for attempts is 775, and this team has pumped up 718 long shots so far.
*This team has made ten or more longshots in a dozen games now, including the program-record 16 against Arkanasas.
*After leading the NCAA most of the season in blocked shots, the Bulldogs have just slipped to second place to, again, Connecticut. The standings are based on averages, not totals, so UConn's 7.73 puts them ahead of MSU's 7.55 even though the Dogs have 234 blocks, Connecticut 232 in one less game. State has just a dozen total swats in the last four games. In 2008 the Huskies also finished just ahead of MSU in the final shot-block standings.
*State has also fallen behind the 7.85-block pace of last season when they set the SEC record of 267 in a year (34 games).
*And Mississippi State has only had 93 shots blocked this year, indicating just how much this offense relies on outside gunning.
*After scoring just 23 combined points in one five-game stretch, the Bulldog bench has come alive. In their last two outings backups have contributed 26 points (Florida) and 27 (Ole Miss).
*C Jarvis Varnado became State's first SEC Defensive Player of the Year last season. Now the junior is the league's first two-timer for the award having repeated this year. Varnado also earned First Team All-SEC for '09, having been honorable mention as a sophomore.
*Varnado was 2008 National Defensive Player of the Year, and tied the SEC season mark for blocks with 157. He now has 143 blocks as a junior, again most in the SEC. And he holds a 12-block lead over UConn's Hasheem Thabeet for the NCAA lead this week.
*This, despite getting just two blocks in each of his last three games as foes shy away from challenging him. So Varnado is behind his '08 pace when he tied Shaquille O'Neal's 1992 mark of 157 swats in a season. Varnado trails only O'Neal in SEC career blocks, too, 412 to 367 (both in three years).
*Varnado's scoring has varied in recent weeks and while he leads in overall-season average at 13.0 his SEC rate of 13.1 is now third on the squad.
*After shooting 58% in his January games, Varnado hit just 45% in February play. So far in March he is 10-of-21 from the floor. But his 55.4% season accuracy is still 5th-best in the SEC this week.
*He's also third in SEC rebounding (all games) though the current 9.0 average is a season-low.
*For a while Varnado was nearly automatic at the foul line, as he went 27-of-31 in a four-game stretch. In the last four games he's cooled off to 6-of-14 though, and obviously not drawing as many favorable calls from the officials. In fact Varnado has made more field goals this year (154) than he has attempted free throws (137).
*G Dee Bost was recognized by league coaches as a Freshman All-SEC pick, though he came up short in Freshman of the Year voting. But his rookie season ranks among the best in MSU history as Bost ranks in the top-ten of eight freshman statistical categories already.
*Most notably assists, as he has set the freshman record with 135 this year; surpassing the 129 by Jamont Gordon in 2006. He has had four or more assists in five of the last six games.
*He has made the third-most three-pointers by a MSU freshman, 52, behind only Barry Stewart (68, 2007) and Reginald Delk (59, 2006).
*Bost had a nine-game streak of double-digit points snapped in his last home game of the regular season. But he still lead the team in SEC-season scoring at 13.5 points, having scored ten or more in 13 of the 16 league games.
*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 25-of-29 at the stripe in the last five games including a 9-of-11 afternoon at Ole Miss.
*The only thing Bost still hasn't done this whole year is block a shot.
*For a while G Phil Turner was a hot Dog at each end of the floor, averaging 11.1 points and 9.3 rebounds in State's February games. He's cooled off in March with just 12 points and seven boards in two games, as teammates have stepped their games up.
*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 seven games and 12 total in the stretch. That gives him 40 treys for the sophomore season, but 30 of these have come in SEC play.
*Turner has hit 77% of his SEC free throws. As a freshman he was just 15-of-27 at the stripe for the entire season.
*His shooting struggles of January are long forgotten as G Barry Stewart has returned to the fore in the last six weeks. The junior has scored double-digits in his last 11 games, the longest such streak of his college career. That includes three 20-point efforts.
*Stewart is now State's #2 average scorer for SEC season at 13.4 points, a tenth behind Bost.
*Stewart has hit for threes in the last seven games with 19 in this stretch including four longballs at Ole Miss. That gives him 192 treys for his career, third-most in MSU history as he closes in on #2 Timmy Bowers (197, 2001-04). Darryl Wilson set the record of 258 from 1994-96.
*Stewart's 62 threes this season is nearing his soph year total of 68, which was the 7th-best effort in MSU annals.
*Stewart now stands 27th on the MSU scoring list with 1,107 points.
*Stewart has made good on 50 of his last 58 free throw attempts.
*With 119 career steals, Stewart needs three more to break into the MSU top-ten.
*G Ravern Johnson has been more picky about his shots the last two games, going 8-of-13 from the field and 5-of-10 at the arc. In the previous three games he'd shot just 28% at the arc.
*Johnson has hit 77 treys so far this soph season, the third-most threes by a Bulldog in one year ever. Only Wilson has made more in a schedule, 97 and 94 in his senior and junior years.
*Johnson is hitting 37.8% at the arc this SEC season, compared to 42.3% for the year as a whole.
*But he's the most accurate Dog at the free throw line for this winter, making 34 of 40 attempts (85% even). Of course that means he's only gone to the line 1.3 times per-game, a figure his coaches really want to raise here in tournament season.
*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 at 5-of-10.
*After waiting and working for almost two months to earn another chance at significant playing time, F Kodi Augustus is playing like a brand-new Dog. In the last two games he's chipped in nine and 13 points off the bench. Augustus had scored just 13 points in previous, and limited, SEC action.
*He has been 8-of-14 from the field in his two March outings, and at Ole Miss was 4-of-4 at the free throw line.
*As much as the scoring, it is Augustus' additions on the backboards that make a difference for State. He has ten rebounds in March play.
*Though, he's not gotten credit for assist this month against four turnovers.
*Another bench Dog who has reemerged is freshman F Romero Osby, with two and five points in relief this month. And he's made all three shots attempted.
*G Riley Benock went six games without scoring anything off the bench. But he hit Florida for seven points, with a couple of treys, and added a couple of free throws at Oxford.
*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 against Florida. Bailey will have to wear a cast for over a month, and did not make the trip to Tampa.