*In his 12 seasons in charge, Rick Stansbury has won 121 non-conference games played during the regular season. And he is going for the 240th overall win of his MSU tenure Saturday.
*Houston is 68-12 in Hofheinz Pavilion under Coach Tom Penders. The campus arena opened in December 1969.
*In his 36 seasons at seven programs, Penders is the 27th –winningest coach in NCAA history at 634 victories and fifth among active coaches. Penders is 13-32 against SEC teams and has played nine league members. The exceptions are Alabama, Auburn, and South Carolina.
*But Penders is looking for his first NCAA Tournament bid since coming to town; and Houston's first since, gulp, 1992?
About the Cougars: This is the sixth year for Penders in Houston, and the former Texas coach has won 107 games with trademark, entertaining style. To wit, running and gunning and piling up the points. This Cougar club is doing it better than just about ever, or at least in the quarter-century since that Phi Slamma Jamma gang was the terror of the college game. OK, maybe these cats don't ‘jam' it as often or spectacularly, but Houston puts the ball in the basket for 86 points per game. And it's not a team reliant entirely on outside shooting either; in fact less than 40% of Houston shots come from beyond the arc. Instead the Cougars either beat the defense downcourt for the easy layups or work it for a high-percentage attempt nearer the goal. And the do move the ball superbly, with a NCAA-best 9.7 turnovers per-game. Most foes can top that giveaway count in a single half. A sub-plot here is how well Penders has melded a unit dominated by transfer talent, too. Two Cougars were voted pre-season all league, both automatic choices. Aubrey Coleman made his junior-debut year—after playing two seasons at Mississippi's Southwest C.C.—one to remember with a 19.4 scoring average. He's way ahead of that pace his senior season, which began with consecutive 30-point outings and a 27-point performance against the Sooners. He comes into this game the NCAA's scoring leader at 26.7. But he's not a pure gunner, with just a dozen treys in seven games. Coleman works closer to the goal, gets the good shot, or draws the foul and cashes in. Classmate Kelvin Lewis, who began his senior-college career at Auburn, runs a little more hot-and-cold in his scoring; double-digits one night and 2-of-whatever shooting the next. But he's up to 1,117 career points and closing in on 200 treys, six of them coming in the Oklahoma win. Yet another juco product, big guard Adam Brown, is coming on strong since moving into the lineup four games ago with seven treys. And 5-8 guard Desmond Wade oughtn't be overlooked as he's upped his scoring four points this year and is way ahead of his freshman assist pace. Transfer Zamal Nixon opened the first two games, since then has settled into a backup role. What size there is for tipoff comes from 6-9 frosh Kirk Van Slyke, an every-game starter and occasional scorer who isn't shy about firing from the arc himself. Transfer Maurice McNeil is interchangeable with Van Slyke, right down to their matching physiques. But it says too much about this squad's lack of power that their respective six blocked shots are tied for most on the squad. That is further reflected in a glaring lack of rebounding prowess as the Cougars are giving up ten more boards per-game than they can grab. That won't be a huge problem in most of their conference season of course, but a team that counts on good open shots inside the arc and doesn't send bodies at the basket could be vulnerable to taller, stronger clubs that can block a shot. Or ten.
Projected Starting Lineups:
HOUSTON: F Kirk Van Slyke, FR 6-9 215, 5.0ppg, 2.4rpg; G Aubrey Coleman, SR 6-4 200, 26.7ppg, 7.0rpg; G Desmond Wade, SO 5-8 150, 8.1ppg, 5.6apg; G Kelvin Lewis, SR 6-4 195, 17.9ppg, 2.9ppg; G Adam Brown, JR 6-4 175, 13.7ppg, 2.7rpg.
Top Backups: F Maurice McNeil, JR 6-9 215, 5.3ppg, 5.3rpg; G Zamal Nixon, JR 6-1 170, 4.3pg, 1.0rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 10.1ppg, 5.0rpg, 10 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 14.3ppg, 10.1rpg, 53 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 14.3ppg, 3.8rpg, 30 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.7ppg, 28 asts, 22 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 10.7ppg, 54 asts, 23 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 5.4ppg, 5.1rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 5.9ppg, 3.3rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 2.5ppg, 7 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 76.2, HOU 86.4
Scoring Defense: MSU 59.5, HOU 79.3
FG Shooting: MSU 47.5%, HOU 45.4%
FG Defense: MSU 36.8%, HOU 51.1%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 41.9%, HOU 42.2%
3-point Attempts: MSU 248, HOU 180
Rebounding: MSU 40.6, HOU 29.9
Rebound Margin: MSU +8.0, HOU -10.5
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.7%, HOU 71.7%
Turnovers: MSU 13.6, HOU 9.7
BULLDOG NOTES: It was only last year the Bulldogs set the program record for made-threes with 296. Well, that mark appears certain to fall by March. So far this squad has chunked in 104 treys. And the per-game-attempt rate of 24.8 is ahead of even last year's prolific 22.8 clip.
*State has hit for double-digit threes five times this season, and in three of the last five games.
*Four Bulldogs have already hit for ten or more treys; and collectively the quartet is making 45%!
*All five members of the current starting lineup are averaging double-figures scoring. State starters account for 78% of the team's offense.
*Mississippi State is very close to a 4-to-1 margin in blocked shots on the opponents, with 86 swats against just 22. Only three Bulldog shots have been blocked in the last three games.
*The current team pace of 8.6 blocks is far ahead of last year's 7.5 rate when State broke their own SEC record for season swats at 271.
*As impressive as State's scoring and shooting has been of late, the defense deserves even greater attention. The last five victims have shot a collective 34%. From the three-point line they were 29%.
*And it could have been worse for them. Only Bulldog carelessness with the ball has marred this win streak, with an average of 14 turnovers.
*Well of course C Jarvis Varnado can jump; but Wednesday night he showed real ‘hops' by vaulting two whole spots and half of another up the NCAA career blocked shots record. He broke a tie with Emeka Okafor (UConn) and went past Deng Gai (Fairfield) and Ken Johnson (Ohio State). Now with 447 swats, Varnado ranks 6th by himself and is just five shy of top-five status. Or, six from top-four, and five times this year the senior has blocked six balls.
*With 53 blocks this season Varnado is far ahead of last winter's 4.7 pace when with 170 swats he smashed the SEC one-year mark.
*And Varnado is leading the nation in average blocks this season.
*Varnado has blocked a shot in 27-straight games, since being blanked in the home game with LSU last February. Before that he had blocks in 34-straight games.
*The 31st member of MSU's 1,000-Point Club, Varnado now owns 1,050 for his career and just passed Gregg Lockart (1986-89) for 30th place. He will need 1,199 points for career top-20; and 1,460 for top-ten.
*Hot shooting? How about sizzling, as Varnado has made 26 of his last 36 attempts. He's making almost 68% of shots for the season. The one-year record is 67.1% by Cameron Burns in 1989.
*Varnado's career shooting of 60.2% is the second-best in program history, behind only the 63% of Bill Singletary (1970-72). Of course Varnado has made more shots than Mr. Singletary took in his three varsity seasons.
*Varnado is averaging a double-double for the season through ten games, with 10.1 rebounds, and he has five double-digit board efforts. Varnado now has 828 career rebounds, just two shy of catching Kalpatrick Wells (1980-83) for sixth place.
*This rebound rate is better than the 8.8 of last season when he grabbed 317 boards, the sixth-most ever in a year by a Bulldog.
*Varnado has five double-doubles this senior season, and 20 for his career. He is one of three Dogs in history with a triple-double to his credit.
*Making Varnado all the more efficient inside is the outside offense provided by WG Ravern Johnson, who is on his way to a record year on three-pointers. In the last four games the junior has hit 16 longballs, giving him a team-best 30 for the season.
*Johnson has hit exactly half his outside shots this year, 30-of-60. And his overall accuracy is now at 56.0% even as he has put up exactly 100 shots.
*Johnson and Varnado both have 143 points for the team-lead.
*Johnson now has 120 threeballs in his three State seasons, and needs four more to catch Antonio Jackson (124, 2000-01) for top-ten career status.
*Johnson's career three-point-shooting of 40.8% is third-best in program history behind only Shane Power and Marcus Bullard.
*But the junior defines ‘spot shooter' as he has been to the foul line only once all this season. He made the shot, as he has did in 85% of his chances as a sophomore.
*Johnson still has never fouled out of a college game. In fact he has just 11 personals through ten games.
*But that's still more than his assists total of nine.
*PG Dee Bost has been struggling with his own shooting. But the teammates he throws the ball to are making their attempts just fine, which has put the soph on a hot assists pace. He now has 54 for the season and a per-game rate even better than the 4.3 of last winter when he set the MSU freshman record.
*He just needs 168 for a top-ten Bulldog year in assists. As a rookie he issued 156, in 36 games.
*If Bost can keep up this pace and his team play a handful of post-season games, he can make the MSU career top-ten in just two years. Bost is already up to 210 assists in 46 games.
*Two weeks ago Bost was averaging 13.4 points. But in the last three games he has gone 4-of-21 shooting, and 2-of-13 at the arc. His average is now down to 10.7.
*But he's suddenly become a potent rebounder with six boards in both the last two games and a 4.7 average. He snared 3.6 boards-per as a freshman.
*Bost has started all 46 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*The iron man of MSU's lineup, senior G Barry Stewart is working over 33 minutes per-game. That's still down from the 35.7 minutes he put in each game as a sophomore.
*But Stewart is not too far, or too long maybe, from the program record. He has played 3,533 minutes as a Bulldog, and next month will surpass the 3,851 of Jeff Malone (1980-83). Though, Jeffie did his in just 110 career games.
*Whereas Stewart, and classmate Varnado, have both played in 115 career games and will begin February by catching the record of 127 by Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).
*The combination of a sore shooting wrist and extra exertions on defense have taken a toll on Stewart's senior-year shooting, which was at 36% through nine games. Then Wednesday night against Wright State he went off with a 8-of-11 evening and season-best five treys.
*Stewart has scored double-digits in 72 of his 115 games. And with 1,295 career points he now stands 15th in program history, just five behind Timmy Bowers (2001-04).
*With 224 career treys Stewart is closing in on the program record of 258 by Darryl Wilson (1994-96).
*With 126 steals, Stewart is now 9th on the MSU career list.
*Stewart is getting close to top-ten career status in made free throws. He has 289 and needs 297 to tie Jerry Jenkins (1973-75) for 10th place.
*After scoring double-digits in four games, F Kodi Augustus has slowed the pace with seven and five points the last two contests. Still the junior has been more selective in his shooting going 11-of-18 in the last four games.
*And Augustus has been brilliant at the foul stripe, hitting 87.1% this year.
*Augustus asserted himself as a shot-blocker in the WSU game, his five blocks that night matching his total for rest of his season.
*Sure, he's only gotten nine chances. But G/F Phil Turner has only missed one free throw, too.
*Where the junior has been short, literally, is at the arc. He's making just 22% for the season on trey-tries and has missed his last 14 attempts.
*G Riley Benock isn't 100% yet from his off-season hip problem. But the junior is getting there giving both valuable relief minutes at the point and making the most of his own opportunities to score. Since starting the season 3-of-10 shooting, Benock has made 6-of-11 shots in the last four games, though he didn't take a try against WSU.
*And all of those made Benock baskets were threes.
*F Romero Osby has had a quiet start to his sophomore season too. He's worked back into the picture though making 11-of-17 shots in the last four games, with 16 rebounds off the bench.