Taking on one of the most potent offenses in the nation this weekend in Athens, Mississippi State currently ranks second in the SEC in both scoring defense (61.4 ppg) and field-goal percentage defense (39.5%), having rated 21st and 20th nationally in the respective defensive statistical categories at the start of the current week. Also having entered the week ranked fifth nationally in rebound margin (+8.9), MSU has outrebounded all but two opponents to date this season, including a commanding 29-19 advantage on the boards earlier in the week at Ole Miss. At Georgia, MSU will be looking to snap a 16-game road losing skid against ranked SEC opponents that dates back to the school's Final Four season of 1995-96.
Individually, junior SEC Player of the Year candidate Mario Austin enters the Georgia game with 999 career points to his credit following his 16-point, eight-rebound effort in Oxford on Wednesday. Bidding to become the 25th player in school history to reach 1,000 career points, Austin leads the Bulldogs in scoring (17.1 ppg) and rebounding (8.0 rpg), along with pacing the SEC in field-goal percentage (57.6%) for conference games only. His perimeter counterpart - fellow junior Timmy Bowers - currently ranks among the league's Top-10 leaders in five different categories, including scoring (14.9 ppg; 10th), steals (2.0 spg; 5th) and field-goal percentage (50.5%; 7th). State's Austin-Bowers tandem presently rates as the highest scoring duo in school history since Darryl Wilson (18.0 ppg) and Dontae' Jones (14.7) during the team's 1995-96 NCAA Final Four campaign.
Senior forward Michal Ignerski also averages in double figures at 10.2 points per game, in addition to ranking 20th among the SEC's leading rebounders (5.7 rpg). The star of Starkville this week after his game-winning basket against rival Mississippi, senior co-captain Derrick Zimmerman contributes impressive all-around numbers of 9.5 points, 4.9 assists (4th in SEC), 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals (6th in SEC) per contest from his playmaking position.
Rated 15th nationally in this week's AP poll and 17th by ESPN/USA Today, Georgia sports a 12-5 overall record and 4-2 SEC mark after having its three-game league winning streak snapped with Wednesday's 94-91 loss at Vanderbilt. Guided by Jim Harrick, now in his fourth year in Athens and 23rd season overall as a collegiate head coach, the Bulldogs lead the SEC and rate among the Top 10 nationally in scoring offense (82.3 ppg), three-point field goal percentage (43.3%) and assists (19.2 apg). Georgia is powered by the perimeter game of Ezra Williams (18.0 ppg) and Jarvis Hayes (17.9), who rank third and fourth, respectively, among the league's leading scorers. Hayes tops the SEC in three-point field goal percentage (50.6%) and Williams leads in 3-pointers made per game (3.1 treys/game), while junior point guard Rashad Wright averages a league-high 5.8 assists an outing.
By virtue of their double-digit victories over MSU each of the past two seasons, the Georgia Bulldogs hold a narrow 46-44 all-time lead in this inter-divisional league series that dates back to the 1931-32 roundball season. Mississippi State's most recent victory in Athens was a 60-59 road win over Georgia during the 1994-95 campaign.