Bulldog Basketball Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (12-3) begins Southeastern Conference season with a road trip, taking on #14-ranked Ole Miss (12-2) in Oxford. Game time from Smith Coliseum is 12:30 for telecast by the SEC Network, with radio broadcast on XM 200 (subject to change).

*This is Mississippi State's first contest with a ranked opponent of the season. The Bulldogs were themselves ranked coming into the season but fell out of the November polls after opening 3-2.

*Until Monday night's setback at Western Kentucky, the Bulldogs did have a nine-win streak going, the longest for State since the 2003-04 team opened with 13-straight wins.

*Bulldog teams are 9-2 in SEC openers under Coach Rick Stansbury, and 3-1 when beginning league play on the road.

*Mississippi State has a 134-105 lead in a series dating back to 1914, and Stansbury is 16-7 in his 11 seasons. That includes five victories in Oxford and one on a neutral floor, when the teams met in the 2003 SEC Tournament in New Orleans. But Ole Miss still holds a healthy 77-41 lead in home games.

*The last time these in-state rivals opened SEC season against each other was 2004, as the Bulldogs took a 61-54 win in Oxford.

About the Rebels: There were obvious reasons for optimism in Oxford this winter, but the Rebels themselves might be a bit surprised at how well the season has begun. And, how quickly they have risen in the polls. Yet Ole Miss has earned both their dozen victories and their ranking against a pre-SEC schedule that increased their national exposure. Even losses to Villanova and West Virginia were respectable enough not to deter pollsters. Andy Kennedy's club is just playing sound basketball on both ends of the floor and taking care of business. Only twice have the Rebs shot under 42% this year, and not coincidentally those were the losses. And it's still a youngish squad with a lone senior on the roster. That upperclassman, DeAundre Cranston, just moved back into the starting lineup after six games as a backup, and while he doesn't bring a lot of stats to the gameplan he does bring a little more size and a lot more experience than the freshman he alternates with. Rookie Reginald Buckner has been a strong addition to the lineup, and if most of his numbers are essentially identical to Cranston he has one extra skill as the team's top shot-blocker already. Soph Murphy Holloway is the consistent frontcourt presence, the most accurate shooter among the regulars and leading Rebel on the backboards. Though he's also the one foes would prefer putting on the foul line late. This frontcourt tends to be overlooked simply because the guard corps deserves spotlighting. Bulldog fans will disagree but other SEC folk saw Terrico White as the West's most impressive rookie guard of last winter. Already physical and fast, he's only improved his game this sophomore season with a dozen double-digit scoring outings and three 20-point games. He's also on an outside tear with 12 treys in the last two games and literally does it all on offense and defense alike. Not that White has to play as much point this season, with the return of quicksilver guard Chris Warren after missing most of last year with a knee injury. The 5-10 junior won't out-muscle anyone but will pop the semi-open perimeter shot before defenders can recover, or if they do find the open teammate. Warren had cooled off for a few games on his trey-tries but seems to have gotten the touch back in the last game with four longballs against Central Florida. There's plenty depth in the backcourt as well, with occasional starter Zach Graham getting double-digits himself. With all these moving parts, the glue-guy is still junior swingman Eniel Polynice who just has the knack of doing whatever it is the team needs in a particular matchup, whether manufacturing some points or getting to the glass. Oh, and he's actually the team's assist leader as well as the top ball-hawk with 21 steals. For that matter the whole lineup takes defense seriously and everyone hustles for missed shots…especially their own as Ole Miss has a knack of offensive rebounding. If there's any issues with the style it is a tendency to draw whistles, but the fouls must come with some authority as opponents have only made 62% of their free throw chances. Oh, and another item the Rebels do well: they don't get shots blocked very often. Something to think about for a State team that relies on swats as a last-line of defense.

Projected Starting Lineups:

OLE MISS: F Murphy Holloway, SO 6-7 230, 11.5ppg, 7.0rpg, 63%fgs; F DeAundre Cranston, SR 6-9 250, 4.6ppg, 4.3rpg; G/F Eniel Polynice, JR 6-5 220, 10.6ppg, 4.1rpg, 64 asts; G Terrico White, SO 6-5 213, 17.3ppg, 4.4rpg, 31 3ptrs; G Chris Warren, JR 5-10 168, 16.9ppg, 51 asts, 42 3ptrs.

Top Backups: G Zach Graham, JR 6-6 225, 10.5ppg, 3.6rpg, 24 3ptrs; G Trevor Gaskins, SO 6-2 200, 3.4ppg, 2.7rpg; F Reginald Buckner, FR 6-8 210, 4.6ppg, 4.8rpg, 32 blks.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.2ppg, 5.4rpg, 17 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 14.3ppg, 10.9rpg, 74 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 14.5ppg, 3.9rpg, 47 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.1ppg, 40 asts, 28 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 10.7ppg, 44asts, 28 3ptrs.

Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 5.9ppg, 5.0rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 4.9ppg, 2.8rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 2.3ppg, 10 3ptrs.

HOW THEY COMPARE:

Scoring: MSU 74.8ppg, OM 84.2ppg

Scoring Defense: MSU 58.5ppg, OM 68.1ppg

FG Shooting: MSU 46.2%, OM 47.4%

FG Defense: MSU 35.6%, OM 40.8%

3-Point Shooting: MSU 40.8%, OM 37.1%

3-point Attempts: MSU 363, OM 340

Rebounding: MSU 41.9rpg, OM 40.1rpg

Rebound Margin: MSU +8.5, OM +1.5

Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.2%, OM 66.6%

Turnovers: MSU 12.6, OM 13.6

BULLDOG NOTES: The winning streak came to a painful halt, but Bulldog defense can't be flamed for the loss at Western Kentucky. In fact, State held the Hilltoppers under 35% shooting. In their last ten games opponents have shot a combined 33.5% (211 of 630). The best any of these victims has shot against MSU is 38.6% by San Diego.

*State ranks 10th this week in NCAA shooting defense.

*In this run the Bulldogs have allowed a high of 68 points (San Diego) and an average of under 56 points.

*Only last season the Bulldogs set a program record with 296 made three-pointers in 36 games. That mark won't last a calendar year the way this squad is scorching the nets. Through 15 games the Dogs have hit 148 treys, barely under 10-per contest, and they are on pace to top 300 threefers before post-season.

*Though, the Dogs have gone into a recent slump of sorts with just six and four treys in the last two games. Still they are hitting over 40% from the arc for the year.

*This week the Bulldogs rank 4th in NCAA treys-per-game, and 14th in three-point shooting. And they are on a program-record pace in outside shooting, better than the 38.4% of the 1996 Final Four squad.

*Teams aren't challenging State shot-blockers as much lately, with just nine rejections in the last two games. But the Bulldogs still rank 4th in NCAA blocks-per game. And, only 31 State shots have been swatted in 15 games.

*Mississippi State leads the nation in one category: they are #1 in fewest personal fouls-per game despite the impressive defensive standing.

*Naturally the centerpiece in State's defensive gameplan is senior C Jarvis Varnado, who is up to 468 career blocked shots and just 68 shy of setting the all-time NCAA record. At his current pace he needs 14 more games to get there.

*But, this week Varnado has slipped to 3rd in the NCAA per-game blocks list; not a surprise as the last two opponents put up only 2 and 3 balls he could get to. He'd averaged five blocks in the previous four games.

*Varnado finished pre-SEC season with the best offensive fall of his college career, averaging 14.3 points. He scored 12.9 as a junior.

*And the senior is shooting 64.7% going into SEC play, after hitting 55% for the whole junior year. Varnado ranks 11th in the NCAA this week and first in the SEC.

*Varnado's career 60.1% shooting is second-best in program history. The record is 63% by Bill Singletary (1970-72), though Varnado has made more field goals than Singletary attempted.

*Varnado is working towards becoming the next Bulldog to average a double-double over the course of a season, netting 10.9 rebounds per game. The last to do so was Lawrence Roberts in 2005.

*Varnado had consecutive double-doubles to wrap up non-conference play, and has eight for the season and 22 for his career.

*And Varnado is closing in on the career top-20 in scoring. With 1,121 points he stands 26th, having just passed the 1,119 points of Tyrone Washington (1996-99). He needs one basket to catch Greg Carter (1988-91).

*Varnado now stands fourth in career rebounding with 890 boards.

*Varnado has blocked a shot in 32-straight games, since being blanked in the home game with LSU last February. Before that he had blocks in 34-straight games.

*Varnado has not fouled-out of a game so far this season.

*Meanwhile G Ravern Johnson keeps shooting his way up the three-point record lists. He now stands 8th for career makes with 137 having just passed the 132 of Tang Hamilton (1998-01). Next in sight is Winsome Frazier (160, 2002-05).

*Johnson has made at least two treys every game this season.

*His 47 threeballs this year keeps Johnson on pace to top Darryl Wilson's (1994-96) season record of 97. Johnson ranks third in season-threes after hitting 83 last winter.

*After making 12-of-21 treys in a three-game stretch, Johnson cooled off at Western Kentucky going 2-of-6 at the arc. He's still hitting 48.5% of his long shots this year, and going into the week ranked 22nd in the nation in outside shooting (second in the SEC).

*Johnson's 48.5% shooting at the arc this year is better than the program record of 48.1% by Shane Power in 2004. And his career 41.4% is second only to the 41.7% of Power in his two years.

*For weeks State wanted Johnson to work his way to the foul line as he hit his first six tries but over 13 games. Now he's getting fouled but Johnson is just 2-of-6 at the stripe in the last two games.

*Johnson still has never fouled out of a college game. In fact he has just 15 personals through 15 games.

*But he is getting more aggressive on the boards, with 13 rebounds in the last three games.

*PG Dee Bost has been getting the ball to teammates in scoring spots better than ever, with 45 assists in the last seven games and 81 for the season. He ranked 38th NCAA and second SEC in the most recent national stats for assists-per-game.

*Bost is way ahead of his 4.3 assists rate of the rookie year when he set a program freshman record.

*With 237 assists in two seasons Bost should crack the career top-ten before the year is out. He needs 314 to match Ray White (1975-79) for 10th place.

*And Bost is suddenly asserting himself on the boards. He's averaging 4.9 rebounds, compared to 3.6 as a frosh; and in seven games has had six or more rebounds.

*But, Bost has gotten mired in a shooting slump. Not scoring, as he's notched double-digits in four of the last five games. But Bost has been just 7-of-29 from the field in the last three games, and 1-of-12 at the arc. His season-shooting has fallen under 36%.

*Bost has started all 51 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.

*Senior G Barry Stewart got a short ‘break' of sorts with just 25 minutes against Mississippi Valley State. But he had to put in 38 minutes Monday night and is averaging 33.1 for the year…identical to Bost. Other than the Valley game, Stewart has played 30 or more minutes every outing this year.

*This gives Stewart 3,697 career minutes in 120 games. At this rate he'll break the career record of Jeff Malone (3,851, 1980-83) within five more games.

*Stewart, and classmate Varnado, are equally closing in on another MSU record. Both have played in 120 career games, and the standard is 127 by Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).

*Stewart now owns 1,345 career points and is 12th on the MSU scoring list.

*One of only two Dogs with over 200 career treys, Stewart (230) keeps inching closer to the record of 258 by Darryl Wilson. But he is just 1-of-8 at the arc the last two games.

*With 130 steals, Stewart is in 8th on the career list.

*Stewart is getting close to top-ten career status in made free throws. He has 293 and needs four more to tie Jerry Jenkins (1973-75) for 10th place.

*Junior F Kodi Augustus had a four-game run of scoring double digits in mid-December; he's cooled off since with one such outing in the last seven games, though that as a 17-point outburst at San Diego.

*Augustus has hit half his three-point tries, 17-of-34, and six of the last 13.

*After grabbing a career-best 16 rebounds, in just 20 minutes, at Houston the junior forward has gotten to just 14 boards total the last four games.

*In the first eight games Augustus was 27-of-31 on free throws. In the last four games he is 4-of-10 and not getting to the stripe nearly as often despite playing just as many minutes.

*Junior G/F Phil Turner hit 18 of 19 free throws in the 2009 portion of the schedule. But he was 3-of-6 at the stripe in the first game of this calendar year.

*Give freshman C Wendell Lewis credit as a selective shooter, making 60% of his attempts. Of course he's only tried five shots in the last four games.

*And despite playing in the post, Lewis hasn't been to the foul line since the Houston game.

*Junior G Riley Benock averaged 16 minutes off the bench in a three-game span, before playing just seven minutes Monday night.

*Benock is a selective shooter himself, albeit in a different way than Lewis. Of his 28 shots this season 25 have come from beyond the arc.

*Benock has nine points in the last six games, all of them against Centenary.

*After playing 17 minutes against Centenary, F Romero Osby has almost disappeared with three and six minutes the last two games and no shots taken.

*Osby has hit half his trey-tries this year, 7-of-14.


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