Mississippi State's men's basketball team stand 3-0- in SEC play after winning a couple of nail-biters at home this past week.
It took some nerve-wracking moments inside Humphrey Coliseum last week, but Mississippi State
is 3-0 in Southeastern Conference play and firmly atop the early Western Division race. It wasn't always destined to be that way. After jumping out to a big lead over Arkansas on Thursday, the Bulldogs nearly watched the game slip out of their grasps before escaping with an 82-80 win. Two days later, Georgia came into town and led by 13 with 4:16 to play before State closed the game on an 18-2 run to escape with a 72-69 win. Whew!
State is 3-0, sure, and knocking on the door of the Top 25. But it doesn't mean that this team doesn't have problems. Georgia badly outrebounded State, which exposed a hole and perhaps a concern over who is manning its power forward spot. Defense remains a concern, and if State isn't knocking down 3-pointers, it can be vulnerable. Still, 3-0 is 3-0. State has the week to work on things, too, as it has the midweek portion of its schedule off before traveling to Tuscaloosa to take on rival Alabama on Saturday.
NOTES, QUOTES:State's hallmark this season has been good defense, even if there have been some lapses at times. The Bulldogs lead the Southeastern Conference in points allowed per game at 61.2.
State leads the nation in fewest fouls per game, 12.9.
State's next two games are on the road before it returns home to face LSU. Then, a vitally important road trip: At Vanderbilt and at Florida in the first week of February. That'll be a good time to determine if this Bulldog team is ready to contend for the league title.
ON THE SPOT:
Phil Turner scored all of his 15 points in the second half in State's comeback win over Georgia. He started last year but was benched for Kodi Augustus. Now, Turner's energy, combined with Augustus' underwhelming stats, has some wondering if Turner should regain his starting spot at the power forward.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I never saw any quit. I saw another level of energy. I saw some competitiveness in those huddles. That's what you have to have." -- MSU coach Rick Stansbury, on his team's comeback against Georgia.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:SEASON RECAP: Some early-season losses to mid-majors led this team in a new direction. Since starting 3-2, State has won 12 of its last 13 games to become a contender for a top-25 ranking. More than that, it has opened up an early two-game lead in the Southeastern Conference's Western Division.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Kodi Augustus, C Jarvis Varnado, G Ravern Johnson, G Dee Bost, G Barry Stewart. Key Subs -- F Romero Osby, G Riley Benock, G Phil Turner, C John Riek.
GAME REVIEW:Mississippi State 80, Ole Miss 75
Mississippi State 82, Arkansas 80
Mississippi State 72, Georgia 69
GAME PREVIEW:at Alabama, Saturday, Jan. 23
at Arkansas, Thursday, Jan. 28
vs LSU, Saturday, Jan. 30
at Vanderbilt, Wednesday, Feb. 3
at Florida, Saturday, Feb. 6
State has the midweek portion of the schedule off before heading to Alabama. The Crimson Tide looks solid in Anthony Grant's first season, but more than that, Mississippi State has always had some spirited games at Tuscaloosa's Coleman Coliseum. Aside from Ole Miss, Alabama is State's biggest rival.
ROSTER REPORT:Barry Stewart's defense continues to draw coach Rick Stansbury's praise. Stewart shut down Arkansas' Rotnei Clark Thursday night, holding him to six points, and he blocked a critical 3-pointer late in Saturday's win over Georgia.
State center Jarvis Varnado is 46 blocks away from breaking the national record for blocked shots in a career. Varnado is second in the nation in blocks this season, a tenth of a block behind Marshall's Hassan Whiteside.
State continues its pursuit of freshman big man Renardo Sidney's eligibility. The NCAA ended its investigation into his status earlier this month, and State was to have completed its response to those findings last week.