*State remains atop the West despite Saturday's loss at Alabama, a game-up on Ole Miss. The 3-2 Rebels also play Thursday, at Auburn.
*The Bulldogs are back among the unranked, having made a one-week return to the polls at #23 (A.P.) prior to the weekend loss. State began this season ranked as high as 18th only to fall out immediately. Going back to the 2005 NCAA tournament, the last five times MSU has carried a ranking into a game they have lost.
*Coach Rick Stansbury can become only the 20th SEC coach ever to win 100 regular-season league games with a State success Thursday. He is 99-81 in 12 SEC seasons, along with 14-9 in SEC Tournament action.
*Old Dog Barry Stewart will make program history tonight. He needs just ten minutes on court to break the career mark of 3,851 minutes played by Jeff Malone (110 games) that has stood since 1983. Stewart will be playing in his 125th career game.
*That will leave Stewart, and C Jarvis Varnado, two games away from matching the career record of 127 games played by Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).
*The Bulldog starters have accounted for 83% of scoring in SEC season. In fact only two backups, G Phil Turner and F Romero Osby, have scored a point off the bench these four games.
The Last Time (January 14): What was looking like and easy SEC home-opener got a little too interesting at the end, before Mississippi State's Phil Turner—naturally--picked off an inbounds pass to clinch an 82-80 victory. The Bulldogs were in control most of the evening behind the play-making of point guard Dee Bost with 20 points, a couple of treys made and six assists. Center Jarvis Varnado added to his record-setting resume as well, posting only the fourth ‘triple double' in program history and his second with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and ten blocked shots. The latter matched his own career-high and MSU standard. This outside/inside combination dominated play as State hit 11 of the first dozen Dog shots, led by as much as 19 in the first half and 51-39 at intermission. But the Razorback frontcourt of Marshawn Powell and Mike Washington worked around a tiring Varnado through the second half to chip away at the deficit, until the scoreboard read 80-76 with half-a-minute left. Cue Turner for his well-timed jump to intercept the UA throw-in, as the Dogs got a couple of icing free throws. Powell led all scorers with 25 points and Washington had 16, with Courtney Fortson producing 20 points on some amazing moves through the lane. Arkansas had more field goals but the Bulldogs won this won at the stripe with 20 free throws to UA's ten.
About the Razorbacks: Enough pieces are present, and the scores have been sufficiently competitive—well, other than that trip to Lexington—that SEC folk are antsy about Arkansas. Because this has the look of a squad that, while a long way from contention themselves, is going to have a sizable say in who does, and does not, win the West. Not surprisingly the return of triggerman Courtney Fortson from a half-season suspension has wrought an entirely different team. State folk saw him at his best, recklessly attacking the rim no matter how tall the timber or sticking it from long range. Kentucky showed how best to handle him, with in-shirt defense by long-armed guards, but usually the soph will find some way to deliver. His presence has only made for a more effective frontcourt too as now Marshawn Powell and Mike Washington are finding a little more inside room to operate and combine for 29 points on the typical night. But if the Razorbacks are to win Rotnei Clarke has to be on his game, i.e. throwing in the threes at around a 50% clip. Hold him very far under that and Arkansas has to scratch for other options. Getting to the foul line is one way as Clarke and Fortson are a mutual 80% there. Veterans Stef Welsh and Marcus Britt are available for extra outside punch yet the Hogs have looked to rookie Julysses Nobles more often at times. Arkansas can score the points again; what is missing is the sort of defense to make those buckets really count, as opponents are shooting and scoring without great trouble. Rebounding remains another UA issue this year despite the size around the goal. And then there's a general dissatisfaction shown by once-unthinkable unused seats (which anticipated weather Thursday won't help either). The Razorbacks can surely play hard and well, they just need a big win or two to re-rouse the faithful. And no SEC visitor wants to be in the house on the wrong night.
Projected Starting Lineups:
ARKANSAS: F Marshawn Powell, SR 6-7 220, 15.4ppg, 6.7rpg, 51%fgs; C Mike Washington, SR 6-9 240, 13.4ppg, 5.9rpg, 51%fgs; G Jemal Farmer, JR 6-5 213, 7.6ppg, 4.5rpg; G Rotnei Clark, SO 6-0 184, 18.0ppg, 68 3ptrs, 48% 3ptrs; G Courtney Fortson, SO 5-11 180, 17.2ppg, 4.4rpg, 36 asts.
Top Backups: G Stef Welsh, SR 6-3 185, 6.1ppg, 11 3ptrs; Marcus Britt, JR 6-3 198, 3.9ppg, 7 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.1ppg, 5.8rpg, 20 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.8ppg, 11.rpg, 100 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 13.7ppg, 3.6rpg, 54 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.2ppg, 47 asts, 35 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 12.1ppg, 102 asts, 32 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 6.1ppg, 4.9rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 5.0ppg, 2.9rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 1.8ppg, 10 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 74.4, ARK 75.3
Scoring Defense: MSU 61.3, ARK 74.2
FG Shooting: MSU 44.9%, ARK 45.1%
FG Defense: MSU 36.6%, ALA 42.1%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 39.0%, ARK 36.0%
3-point Attempts: MSU 451, ARK 331
Rebounding: MSU 41.8, ARK 34.6
Rebound Margin: MSU +6.4, ARK -3.2
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 67.6%, ARK 67.5%
Turnovers: MSU 13.4, ARK 13.3
BULLDOG NOTES: Though held to a season-low pair of three-pointers at Alabama, the Bulldogs remain on the fastest perimeter-pace in program history. With 176 treys made this team is averaging 9.2 per-game, compared to the 8.2 of last year's squad that set the record with 296 treys.
*State began the week 6th in the NCAA for treys-per-game, and 28th in outside shooting; both leading the SEC.
*The Bulldogs were the best defensive squad in the league for pre-SEC season, and still for the year as a whole lead in scoring defense. But in the four league games State is 5th in SEC shooting defense, 6th in scoring.
*State continues to lead the nation in fewest-fouls per game. Florida and Kentucky join the Dogs in the current NCAA top-twenty in that category.
*No SEC team ranks in the top-50 of the NCAA in free throw shooting.
*The Bulldogs have blocked 38 shots in four SEC games and are 2nd in the NCAA for the whole year.
*C Jarvis Varnado is also 2nd nationally in shot-blocking, at 5.3 per-game. He has more blocks himself than seven other SEC teams.
*Varnado just posted his third 100-block season at State; in fact he has exactly 100 through 19 games.
*His current pace means Varnado would need eight more games to become the all-time college shot-blocker. He is already #2 in NCAA history with 494, having just passed Colgate's Adonal Foyle (492). The mark to shoot—or swat at rather—is 535.
*He has blocked a shot in 36 straight games now.
*Varnado is about to join the top-twenty of Bulldog scorers. He has 1,170 points and needs 30 more to pass Mario Austin (1,199, 2001-03) for the 20th spot.
*His 936 career rebounds are 4th-most in MSU history, as he closes in on #3 Wiley Peck's 964. Varnado is leading the SEC in rebounding at 11 per-game and is #8 in the NCAA this week.
*And he is on track to become only the third Bulldogs with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds, joining Bailey Howell (1957-59) and Rickey Brown (1977-80).
*Varnado can become the next Bulldog to average a double-double for a season, and the first since Lawrence Roberts in 2005.
*He has two of the four recorded triple-doubles in program history, including his t-d against Arkansas two weeks ago.
*SEC play has taken a toll on Varnado's shooting though. After hitting almost 65% of his shots in pre-conference play, he has made just 44% in four league games. He would still rank #2 in SEC overall shooting at 59.2% except he falls short of the 5.0 makes-per-game required for listing.
*For the first time since last March's SEC Tournament semifinals, G Ravern Johnson was unable to drop a three-pointer in a game as he missed the only two tries taken.
*But the junior is still 7th in the NCAA, and second in the SEC to Arkansas' Rotnei Clarke, in three-point shooting. Johnson has hit 46.2% from the arc this season despite being 1-of-10 in the last two games.
*And his current shooting is still the second-best season in program history, both for a season and a career.
*With 54 treys in 18 games Johnson has dropped off the regular-season pace needed to break Darryl Wilson's season record of 97, in 34 games. But there's time to get back up to speed and become the first Bulldog to make 100 treys in a season.
*His 144 makes in three years already rank him 8th on the MSU career list.
*Johnson still has never fouled out of a college game. In fact he has just 21 personals through 19 games.
*PG Dee Bost is second for another week in SEC assists (29th nationally) at 5.4, behind only Kentucky's freshman John Wall's 6.9.
*Bost is up to 102 assists already this year, after distributing 156 last year to set the MSU freshman record.
*With 258 assists in two years Bost is on track to make the MSU career top-ten before this sophomore season is out. He needs 314 for 10th place.
*Bost has scored double-figures in all his SEC games so far and averaged 17.5 points, best on the squad. And while he's shot just 40% for SEC season that's actually better than his all-year accuracy of 37.2%.
*Bost is 0-of-8 at the arc the last two games, after hitting 4-of-10 his first two league contests.
*He is getting to the foul line a lot this league season, 36 times (center Varnado by contrast has taken 24). But Bost is shooting just 61% at the stripe, ten points under his rookie rate.
*Bost has started all 55 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*As he closes in on the career-minutes record, G Barry Stewart is not getting many breaks. Only once has he played less than 30 minutes this year, and in the last two games he has spent 39 and 38 minutes on the court.
*Stewart has scored double-digits in his four SEC games.
*He now has 1,391 career points to rank 12th on the MSU list.
*One of only two Dogs with over 200 career treys, Stewart (237) is working towards the record of 258 by Darryl Wilson. And he has put up more long shots, 657, than any Bulldog ever.
*He is 7-of-20 at the arc for SEC season.
*Stewart has made 304 career free throws, 10th-most in MSU history; and he has made 74% of his chances.
*Junior G/F Phil Turner is working his way to the foul stripe this SEC season, having made 9-of-10 in the four games. He is 29-of-35 for the season.
*Turner's 15 points against Georgia were a season-high, and his highest offensive output since…last year's 19-point outing against Georgia.
*Junior PF Kodi Augustus has 28 rebounds in four SEC games, second-best on the squad.
*Augustus is 9-for-9 at the foul line in SEC season.
*G Riley Benock has taken 29 shots this season, 26 of them from the arc with ten makes. But he has only put up one shot in the last five games.