*The Bulldogs are coming off a successful league start at Oxford where they knocked off then-#14 ranked Ole Miss 80-75. State is 1-0 against ranked teams this year, while Arkansas is 0-3 including last week's setback to then-#2 Texas. Arkansas has not played since January 5.
*So, State is off to a good start on the annual goal of winning the SEC West. Since the league went Divisional, Bulldog teams have won outright or shared six West crowns; most of any Division program. Arkansas has three West titles but none since 1995.
*Arkansas holds a 26-21 lead in games with State, and a 21-17 lead since joining the SEC. But the Bulldogs have won the last three meetings and swept the 2009 series. State is 16-5 in home games against the Hogs.
About the Razorbacks: Two years ago John Pelphrey made an immediate mark, winning 23 games his debut season in Fayetteville, finishing second in the SEC West and earning a NCAA berth. But that was done with an inherited lineup of veterans, and their collective departure brought a complete 2008-09 collapse of 2-14 SEC and losing overall record. Now in year-three this is Pelphrey's team totally, and results are certainly mixed as Arkansas is the only SEC team opening league play sub-.500 with some pretty ugly losses to the likes of Morgan State, East Tennessee, and Baylor. Give the Hogs credit for better play of late though, taking ranked foes UAB and Texas to the wire in their most recent setbacks. The return of quicksilver point guard Courtney Fortson certainly gives UA hope that SEC season will see better results. Having served a 14-game team suspension the soph sparkplug's belated debut produced 19 points and seven assists; this coming after a rookie season with 14.8 points and 172 assists to win Freshman All-SEC. He's still vulnerable to physical defenders and can be herded into turnover-situations but is the play-maker this lineup needs to keep defenses honest. And, to create openings for classmate Rotnei Clarke. Not that the soph shooter needs too much of an open look to loft his trademark longballs. Hapless Alcorn State watched him set a school record with 13 treys back in November, just the start to a super second season. After hitting 83 treys on 39% outside accuracy as a rookie Clarke already has made 55 in less than half as many games and is hitting 50%. He's second in SEC scoring this week. Stef Welsh has 46 career starts as a wing guard and would seem in-line for a regular lineup job as a senior after scoring 11.5 last winter. Instead he's settling for a substitution role, after serving an early-year suspension of his own. That opened the door for junior transfer Jemal Farmer to start at big guard and he's seized the opportunity to help both scoring and rebounding. But a bigger impact, literally, has come from frosh forward Marshawn Powell. He made his college debut with a 17 point, 11 rebound outing—admittedly against ASU—and is averaging 15 points and six boards for the year with four-straight double-digit scoring games coming into this one. He holds the highest scoring average of any SEC frosh not playing in Lexington. In fact Powell and fellow rookies Julysses Nobles and Glenn Bryant are reasons for optimism about the program's resurgence when combined with current sophomore pacesetters. But it's center/forward Mike Washington, who this lineup is centered around. A proud graduate of the now-defunct Genesis One, and one of the last Stan Heath signees on the roster, Washington was pre-season first team All-SEC coming off a 15.5 point, 9.8 rebound junior year. A back problem kept him out of the Oklahoma and South Alabama games, no small factor in UA losing both. And his stats are down somewhat, both from the ailment and the increased aid from Powell inside. A foot problem has sidelined supporting forward Michael Sanchez the last six games. It's naturally tempting to go ahead and write the Razorbacks off based just on their losing pre-SEC mark. But as their Texas effort showed this is not the same squad that sputtered through November-December. Getting Fortson back and keeping Washington healthy means Arkansas has a real chance to make their run in the 2010 portion of the schedule, dial back the heat on young Pelphrey, and maybe even re-fill all those empty seats in Walton Arena.
Projected Starting Lineups:
ARKANSAS: F Marshawn Powell, SR 6-7 220, 15.1ppg, 6.5rpg, 49.7fg%; C Mike Washington, SR 6-9 240, 13.2ppg, 5.3rpg; G Jemal Farmer, JR 6-5 213, 9.3ppg, 5.2rpg; G Rotnei Clark, SO 6-0 184, 19.4ppg, 55 3ptrs, 50%3ptrs; G Courtney Fortson, SO 5-11 180, 19.0ppg, 7.0apg.
Top Backups: G Stef Welsh, SR 6-3 185, 7.2ppg, 2.0rpg, 10 3ptrs; F Delvon Johnson, 3.1ppg, 2.1rpg, 54%fgs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.5ppg, 5.9rpg, 18 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.9ppg, 10.9rpg, 80 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 14.6ppg, 3.7rpg, 50 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.1ppg, 42 asts, 31 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 11.6ppg, 49 asts, 30 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 5.6ppg, 4.9rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 4.9ppg, 2.8rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 2.1ppg, 10 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 75.1ppg, ARK 76.3ppg
Scoring Defense: MSU 59.6ppg, ARK 73.1ppg
FG Shooting: MSU 45.9%, ARK 46.7%
FG Defense: MSU 35.9%, ARK 41.6%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 41.0%, ARK 37.0%
3-point Attempts: MSU 385, ARK 390
Rebounding: MSU 42.2rpg, 34.2rpg
Rebound Margin: MSU +8.4, ARK -2.3
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.1%, ARK 65.9%
Turnovers: MSU 13.7, ARK 13.7
BULLDOG NOTES: Offense comes and goes but Bulldog defense is a constant. Over the last 11 games opponents have hit just 34.2% of their total shots (240 of 702). When Ole Miss managed 40.3% accuracy Saturday it was the first time a foe had bettered 40% against MSU since Richmond on November 27.
*Mississippi State is now 4th-best in NCAA field goal defense, and 23rd in scoring defense; and first in the SEC for both categories.
*Offensively the Bulldog calling-card of course is outside shooting. This week State ranks 3rd in NCAA treys-per-game, and 11th in long-range accuracy…and again topping the SEC at both.
*After setting a program record with 296 made-threes in 36 games last winter, this Bulldog squad is on a furious pace to smash that mark. Through 16 games the Dogs have popped 158 treys already which should produce 300 treys before the regular season ends.
*Though they've been able to get to ‘only' 17 balls in the last three games, MSU still leads the SEC and ranks #4 nationally in blocks per-game. If there were a blocks-to-blocked category they'd likely lead the land as only 36 State shots have been swatted…or less than half what C Jarvis Varnado has all on his own.
*Bulldog fans might need to re-think their annual paranoia about officiating. Because as of this week State is #2 in the NCAA in personal fouls per-game drawing less than 13 whistles each contest.
*Varnado can count down the games until he becomes the NCAA's all-time shot blocks leader. With 474 for his four seasons, he is just 62 away from breaking the record of 535 (Wojciech Mydra, Louisiana-Monroe). It will take 13 more games to do it at this pace.
*He now stands 4th in NCAA history needing seven more swats to catch Tim Duncan for #3 spot.
*But Varnado has fallen a step behind in the NCAA weekly rankings, to #2 nationally at 5.0 per-game.
*After averaging a career-best 14.3 points through pre-SEC season, Varnado struggled at Oxford with nine points on 2-of-7 shooting. But he is still netting 13.9 per-game, a whole point better than his junior year average.
*He now has 1,130 career points, and is 25th on the MSU all-time list. He is six points from catching Wiley Peck for 24th.
*Varnado's name doesn't show on either the SEC or NCAA lists for his shooting, which at 62.6% would ranks second in the league this week. It is because he's only making 4.8 baskets per game, and the minimum for qualifying are now 5.0 buckets-per.
*That off-day at Ole Miss dropped his career accuracy to 59.8%, leaving him #3 in MSU's all-time rankings behind Bill Singletary (63.0%) and Tony Robinson (59.9%). Though, Varnado has made as many baskets as those preceding Dogs combined.
*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.
*Varnado is 10th in NCAA rebounding this week, and first in the SEC by 1.5 boards over LSU's Tasmin Mitchell.
*Varnado now stands fourth in MSU career rebounding with 902 boards.
*Varnado has blocked a shot in 33-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.
*And his 65.7% free throwing this year is his best season yet.
*Speaking of career records, junior G Ravern Johnson keeps shooting his way up the three-point charts. He now has 140 treys in three seasons, ranking 8th on the MSU list already. Next up is the 160 by Winsome Frazier for 7th place.
*Johnson has hit 50 longballs this season and is on-pace to break the record of 97 set in 1996 by Darryl Wilson. Johnson hit 83 as a sophomore shooter.
*This week Johnson stands 25th in the NCAA for treys-per-game, and an even more impressive 7th in accuracy at 49.0% even. But he trails Arkansas' Rotnei Clarke in the SEC for both categories.
*Johnson had hit 12-of-21 outside attempts in a three-game run before going 2-of-6 at Western Kentucky. He bounced back to stick 3-of-5 at Oxford.
*Johnson has made at least two treys every game this season.
*If he can keep up this year's accuracy Johnson will break the season standard of 48.1% by Shane Power in 2004. And his career 41.7% is the equal of Power in his two years.
*After hitting all six free throw tries in the first 12 games, more opportunities hasn't been good for Johnson. He is just 5-of-11 in the last four games.
*Johnson still has never fouled out of a college game. In fact he has just 16 personals through 16 games.
*PG Dee Bost is hitting his stride at the right time, opening SEC season with six assists at Ole Miss. In the last eight games he has handed out 51 assists and moved up to 27th in the NCAA per-game standings.
*Bost is way ahead of his 4.3 assists rate of the rookie year when he set a program freshman record.
*With 243 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 asserting himself on the boards. He's averaging 4.7 rebounds, compared to 3.6 as a frosh; and in seven games has had six or more rebounds.
*At Oxford, Bost broke out of a three-game shooting slump where he was 7-of-29 overall and 1-of-12 at the arc. He was 7-of-13, 2-of-5 against the Rebels.
*Free-throwing is suddenly Bost's preferred way to score. He's made nine foul shots in each of the last two games, and is 18-of-23 at the stripe.
*Bost has gotten a steal or more often two in the last six games.
*Bost has started all 52 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*After a short ‘break' of sorts when he played just 25 minutes against MVSU, senior G Barry Stewart is back on his 30-plus usual workload. He played a season-high 38 minutes against Western Kentucky. Stewart is averaging 33.1 minutes for the season.
*He just surpassed 3,700 career minutes, too, with 3,731 for his four seasons. This puts him exactly four complete games behind the MSU record of 3,851 set by Jeff Malone (1980-83).
*Stewart, and classmate Varnado, are equally closing in on another MSU record. Both have played in 121 career games, and the standard is 127 by Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).
*Stewart now owns 1,356 career points and is 12th on the MSU scoring list.
*One of only two Dogs with over 200 career treys, Stewart (233) keeps inching closer to the record of 258 by Darryl Wilson.
*But his shooting has been off lately, as Stewart is 9-of-33 in the last three games. More surprisingly he has missed his last five free throw chances.
*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 posted the first double-double of his three State seasons with a 13 point, 12 rebound effort at Ole Miss. It came in his 50th career game.
*Augustus had 14 rebounds in the previous four games combined.
*In the last two games Augustus is 5-of-15 shooting, 2-of-8 at the arc. But he's still a 47% long-range shooter for the season.
*After missing half his six free throws in the WKU game, G/F Phil Turner bounced back to make both chances at Ole Miss. He's 22-of-27 at the stripe for the season.
*Junior G Riley Benock averaged 16 minutes off the bench in a three-game span, but has just 16 total minutes in the last two games as State relies on the starters more for SEC season.
*Of Benock's 28 shots this season, 25 have come from beyond the arc.
*Benock has nine points in the last seven games, all of them against Centenary.
*After almost disappearing for a couple of games, F Romero Osby re-emerged at Oxford for 10 minutes, five points and three boards.
*Osby has hit half his trey-tries this year, 8-of-16.