*Coach Rick Stansbury takes a third shot at becoming only the 20th SEC coach to win 100 regular-season conference games. He is 99-82 in 12 SEC seasons, along with 14-9 in SEC Tournament action.
*These teams have played three games against two common foes. LSU has already dropped a pair of games to Alabama, and at home to Ole Miss. State also has lost once at Alabama but defeated the Rebels on the road. In pre-SEC play the Tigers took a home win over Western Kentucky, who defeated the Dogs on the road in December. Both teams beat Southeastern Louisiana at home.
*The Bulldogs have lost a two-game lead in the West standings, but are even with Ole Miss (4-2) for first place in the loss column and have a win over the Rebels on the books.
*When they take tipoff Saturday, G Barry Stewart and C Jarvis Varnado will both play their 126th career games at State. That leaves them one short of tying the career record set by Derrick Zimmerman in 2000-03.
*Bulldog starters are accounting for 85% of State's scoring in SEC play.
*LSU leads the overall series 103-93, and won in their last visit to Humphrey Coliseum though it took two overtimes. But State is still 56-36 at home against Tiger teams. Rick Stansbury is 14-11 against LSU, his margin three wins in SEC Tournament games; always the semifinals.
*Varnado has averaged 13.1 points over his seven career games against LSU.
About the Tigers: Talk about your proverbial penthouse-to-outhouse change. If anyone needs proof just how volatile the college game has become, look to LSU. The defending SEC champions—a squad even rivals respected for the gritty, no-frills way they earned that crown—has transformed into this winter's cellar-dwellers. Yet this is not a huge surprise, since even during their title run Tiger insiders forecast a much tougher second season as Trent Johnson totally revamped the program. The evidence was not cluttering the roster too soon and focusing more on this year's recruiting, relying on good will gained in the form of a SEC trophy. Of course at the time few figured Tasmin Mitchell would come back for a senior season after a 16.3 point junior year that earned first-team All-SEC. He did, and now Mitchell is leading his undermanned team in, well, just about everything. He's even chunked in 18 treys midway of this year after making just 10 last season, though his shooting has dropped from 52% overall as defenses naturally swarm. Junior guard Bo Spencer is the other returning starter and is having a nice year but not quite as good as the soph season when opponents had to worry about Marcus Thornton. Johnson is giving a couple of second-year Tigers starting jobs now and forward Storm Warren has jumped from a 2.0 scorer off the freshman bench to over 13 points now on team-best 59% shooting. Chris Bass has already far surpassed his rookie assist total 2/3s of the way through this second year. But that hasty first signing class isn't giving a lot yet, other than the 6-10 height skinny Dennis Harris brings to the post. Frosh G/F Aaron Dotson has had some starting chances himself, though realistically the lineup has changed so often nine Tigers have taken at least one tipoff and only two have started every game. LSU will play hard on defense and at times well, though they're last in SEC steals and merely average in rebounding. It's on offense this team is really hurting, dead-last in league scoring at 58 points-per and just 19 (!) three-point buckets in six games. They are also last in three-point defense, showing how far this backcourt has fallen, and 11th in turnover margin. Oh, well, they still have that 2009 championship to look back on and better teams to look ahead for. Because in today's college game a program can climb almost as fast as it can fall.
Projected Starting Lineups:
LSU: F Tasmin Mitchell, SR 6-7 235, 17.5ppg, 9.6rpg, 18 3ptrs; F Dennis Harris, FR 6-10 195, 4.7ppg, 3.1rpg; F Storm Warren, SO 6-7 220, 13.3ppg, 8.3rpg, 59%fgs; G Bo Spencer, JR 6-1 185, 14.8ppg, 34 3ptrs, 55 asts; G Chris Bass, SO 6-0 180, 2.7ppg, 2.5rpg, 66 asts.
Top Backups: G/F Aaron Dotson, FR 6-4 200, 3.7ppg, 1.8 rpg; G Zach Kinsley, SO 6-5 200, 3.7ppg, 1.3 rpg, 12 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.1ppg, 6.0rpg, 20 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.6ppg, 11.2rpg, 102 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 14.0ppg, 3.8rpg, 55 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.2ppg, 47 asts, 38 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 11.9ppg, 108 asts, 32 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 5.9ppg, 4.9rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 4.7ppg, 2.8rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 1.9ppg, 11 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 74.4, LSU 64.2
Scoring Defense: MSU 61.3, LSU 66.1
FG Shooting: MSU 44.9%, LSU 42.0%
FG Defense: MSU 36.6%, LSU 43.2%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 39.0%, LSU 28.1%
3-point Attempts: MSU 451, LSU 295
Rebounding: MSU 41.8, LSU 36.8
Rebound Margin: MSU +6.4, LSU +3.2
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 67.6%, LSU 68.3%
Turnovers: MSU 13.4, LSU 13.0
BULLDOG NOTES: In their first three SEC games, all wins, the Dogs hit 26 treys in 70 tries. In the two following losses they have shot a combined 7-of-44 at the arc.
*This has slowed the run to another season-record for longballs, set only last winter with 296 in 36 games. These two setbacks mean State has 181 treys in 20 games. That's still way ahead of last year's 8.2 game pace but also likely means a long post-season stretch will be needed to reach the record.
*The Bulldogs were the best defensive squad in the league for pre-SEC season. That too has taken a hit, though for five league games the allowed-shooting of 39.4% is still strong.
*What cost State in their defeats was shooting just 32% and 31% by comparison. And, the Dogs had 15 assists against 26 turnovers in the last two games.
*Only for this team would blocking ‘just' 15 shots in the last two games be a letdown. State continues to run away another year with the league-lead in swats, now with 168 for the season.
*And while coming out of Fayetteville with just a pair of blocks credited, C Jarvis Varnado remains on track to claim the NCAA career record for himself. Already the #2 shot-blocker in college history at 496, he's 40 blocks from the mark of 535; or eight games' work at his current pace.
*He has blocked a shot in 37 straight games now.
*With 1,179 points Varnado is closing in on top-twenty career status. He needs 40 points to catch a pair tied in 20th place now, Dave Williams (1966-68) and Leland Mitchell (1961-63) at 1,219.
*His 14 boards at Arkansas keep Varnado far-atop the SEC rebounding standings and give him sole possession of 4th place on the MSU career list at 950. He needs 964 to catch Wiley Peck (1975-79) for third place.
*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).
*His last two games have produced just nine points each. Still 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.
*Varnado has been to the foul line 427 times. He needs 456 to make the MSU top-ten.
*But SEC play is really hurting Varnado's accuracy from the field. After shooting almost 65% in pre-league games he is at 40% even in five SEC contests.
*It's been a tough two weeks for G/F Ravern Johnson too, at least with regard to his specialty. After hitting 4-of-10 at the arc in the first two SEC wins, he is 2-of-18 the last three games and did not drop a single trey at Alabama.
*He was a 48.5% long-range shooter in pre-SEC play, and is 21.4% in league games.
*This has seriously hurt Johnson's chances of becoming the first Bulldog to hit 100 treys in a season. He now has 55 in 20 games. The annual record is 97 by Darryl Wilson (1996) in 34 games.
*His 145 makes in three years already rank him 8th on the MSU career list.
*But Johnson is still getting his points with 29 in these two losses by attacking the goal more often than just spotting-up for long shots. And he has got to the glass for 13 boards in the last two contests as well; his best back-to-back total all season.
*Johnson still has never fouled out of a college game.
*There weren't a lot of baskets made at Fayetteville, but PG Dee Bost still compiled six assists to give him a 5.4 league-game average.
*Bost is up to 108 assists already this year, after distributing 156 last year to set the MSU freshman record. And his assist/turnover rate is a healthy 1.6, ahead of his 1.5 freshman rate.
*With 264 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.
*But Bost has struggled with his shooting in SEC season, which is down to 37% after five games and just 5-of-23 the last two games. He is 0-of-10 at the arc in the last three contests.
*His eight points at Arkansas snapped a six-game run of double-digit scoring.
*Bost has made a serious effort to be more than an outside shooter, attacking the goal to draw defenders…and fouls. He has been to the stripe 41 times in five SEC games, yet has converted just 63% of his chances.
*Bost has started all 56 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*Though limited by fouls to a season-low 25 minutes at Arkansas, G Barry Stewart was able to break the career record for time on-court. He surpassed the standard of 3,851 by Jeff Malone which had stood since 1983, and now has 3,867 minutes in 125 games. Malone played just 110 career games though.
*Stewart has scored double-digits in all five SEC games.
*He now has 1,402 career points to rank 12th on the MSU list.
*One of only two Dogs with over 200 career treys, Stewart (240) is working towards the record of 258 by Darryl Wilson. And he has put up more long shots, 664, than any Bulldog ever.
*He is 10-of-27 at the arc for SEC season.
*Stewart has made 306 career free throws, 10th-most in MSU history; and he has made 74% of his chances.
*He ranks 9th in career steals with 136.
*Junior G/F Phil Turner doesn't get fouled a lot but when he gets to the line he delivers. He is 11-of-12 there in SEC season and 31-of-37 for the year.
*Junior PF Kodi Augustus has 38 rebounds in five SEC games, second-best on the squad.
*Augustus is 15-for-16 at the foul line in SEC season.
*His coaches have been on G Riley Benock to take more shots. At Arkansas he did, three of them and all from the arc with one made. Of his 32 attempts this year 29 have been trey-tries and he's made 11.