*Tomorrow, Bulldog seniors Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado will set the program record for games-played. Both have played 127 contests at State, which ties the mark set in 2003 by Derrick Zimmerman.
*Florida owns a 56-47 lead in the series, but State has taken the last two meetings including a 2008 triumph in Gainesville. Florida still leads 35-13 in home games. Rick Stansbury is 6-7 against Florida.
About the Gators: Anyone in need of reminding just how volatile this here sport can be, look no farther than Gainesville. Where a program that won consecutive national championships in 2006-07 is now coming off two-straight NIT trips. Some drop-off was inevitable due to near-total graduations, and the rebuild was delayed at least a year by a couple of more recent early departures. But the SEC's ranking coach has his program working their way back up again. And even if Florida is not yet on another title-track (note their current status in the East is directly due to losses to those in front of them) the pieces are here for a NCAA berth this March and a stronger bid next year…if everyone on this all-underclass starting lineup hangs around of course. There is one senior left from the glory years and all-purpose forward Dan Werner has started a lot of the season. But now in SEC season the Gators have gone even bigger on the front line, centering around redshirted junior Vernon Macklin. The junior picks his shots wisely for 60% accuracy and has done much to make this a better rebounding club, a weakness last winter. Junior forward Chandler Parsons has improved both his scoring and boarding and gives an outside-shooting matchup as needed. But the real frontcourt headliner is still junior Alex Tyus who is having an outstanding SEC season. He might only be third in overall team scoring but in the last three league wins has taken charge with 60 combined points, and his 58% SEC accuracy is best this week. What makes this all-junior frontcourt so much more effective are the contributions of young guards. It didn't take Erving Walker long to make his SEC presence known last year with 10.1-point scoring and 70 treys; if he isn't any bigger this year his impact is at 13-plus points (17.5 for SEC season) and 49 treys while also taking on the play-making duties left by departed Nick Calathes. Then there's freshman guard Kenny Boynton balancing the outside shooting with 45 treys to-date. This is a case where a quick read of all-season stats would deceive as Florida doesn't show up early in three-pointing columns. Look more closely, because since chucking up a lot of long shots in losses to Kentucky and Vanderbilt the Gators have become much more selective. They've taken 15-to-17 treys in the last six games (five wins) and hit 43% as a result. The defense is only average numbers-wise, and for all the frontcourt size this squad has the fewest blocks of any SEC team. But the Gators are far-and-away first in assist/turnovers and offensive confidence just continues to increase with each game. And win. The slow start might have put them behind a little too far, too fast to catch up in the East race, but Florida is surely going to have a say in who does ultimately come out on top while they themselves continue to mature. Which places all the more importance on Saturday's inter-Division matchup for a pair of teams that can't afford giving up any more NCAA credit.
Projected Starting Lineups:
FLORIDA: F Alex Tyus, JR 6-8 220, 13.0ppg, 6.9rpg; F Chandler Parsons, JR 6-9 215, 10.6ppg, 6.5rpg, 25 3ptrs; F/C Vernon Macklin, JR 6-10 240, 9.6ppg, 5.1rpg, 60%fgs; G Kenny Boynton, FR 6-2 180, 14.5ppg, 45 3ptrs; G Erving Walker, SO 5-8 170, 13.2ppg, 49 3ptrs, 114 asts.
Top Backups: G Ray Shipman, SO 6-5 210, 2.7ppg, 1.9rpg; F Dan Werner, SR 6-8 230, 5.2ppg, 4.3rpg, 17 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.2ppg, 5.8rpg, 20 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.4ppg, 11.2rpg, 115 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 13.7ppg, 3.5rpg, 58 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.3ppg, 49 asts, 42 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 11.5ppg, 114 asts, 35 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 6.2ppg, 4.9rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 4.9ppg, 3.0rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 1.8ppg, 12 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE (Full Season Stats):
Scoring: MSU 73.4, FLA 72.4
Scoring Defense: MSU 61.7, FLA 63.2
FG Shooting: MSU 43.6%, FLA 44.6%
FG Defense: MSU 36.8%, FLA 42.0%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 37.0%, FLA 31.8%
3-point Attempts: MSU 24.2, FLA 20.0
Rebounding: MSU 41.6, FLA 37.5
Rebound Margin: MSU +5.9, FLA +2.8
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.3%, FLA 71.0%
Turnovers: MSU 13.3, FLA 12.5
BULLDOG NOTES: Live by the longball, or lose by lack thereof…that's the story of the Bulldog offense so far—again—this SEC season. In their three-win streak to start league play State was 26-of-70 at the arc. Since then they are 23-of-100 and have lost three of four games. Meanwhile the opponents are hitting 36% at the arc in the four-game span.
*40% of the shots taken by Bulldogs the last four games have been trey-tries.
*State is shooting 43% on attempts inside the arc. And even in their three league losses, the Dogs have allowed just 33% combined shooting by the winners.
*But the Dogs are minus-15 in assists-turnovers for SEC season, where the opposition is plus-one.
*Only once in six SEC games has State topped 70 % at the free throw line.
*C Jarvis Varnado was within one block of his third career triple-double (and the fifth in MSU history) Wednesday night at Vanderbilt. The senior still added nine swats to his career total which now stands at 509, leaving him 27 shy of setting the all-time NCAA record. That should take no more than six games at his current pace and likely less.
*He has blocked a shot in 39 straight games now.
*Varnado is a half-point ahead of his junior scoring pace, now getting 13.4 points-per game despite a SEC shooting slump. He is just under 45% for league season, though Varnado has gotten back in double-digits the last two games. He shot almost 65% in pre-SEC play.
*In State's SEC wins Varnado is 23-of-41; in the losses he is 12-of-32.
*He has a dozen double-doubles this season, 27 for his career. And Varnado intends to become the next Bulldog to average a d-d for the season, the first since Lawrence Roberts in 2005.
*Varnado is about to break into the MSU top-twenty career scorers. He has 1,202 points in four seasons, and needs 1,219 to catch both Dave Williams (1966-68) and Leland Mitchell (1961-63) for the 20th slot.
*Varnado remains the SEC's leading rebounder and is 10th nationally at the moment. He has grabbed 38 boards in the last three games.
*That gives him 974 career boards and places him 3rd on the all-time MSU list, having just surpassed Wiley Peck (964, 1975-79). 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 has been to the foul line 438 times. He needs 456 to make the MSU top-ten.
*Varnado is averaging 35.1 minutes in SEC play, tied for tops on the team.
*For the first time in his college career, junior G Ravern Johnson has fouled-out of a game. He drew five personals at Vanderbilt to earn that first-ever disqualification. Prior to Wednesday he'd drawn just 27 whistles in 21 games.
*With a season-low 20 minutes played, Johnson took only seven shots at Vandy and did not secure a rebound for the first time all year. He had a three-game scoring streak of double-digits snapped.
*Johnson did raise his outside accuracy a bit by going 2-of-6 at the arc, making his SEC-season rate just under 29% now. He is 8-of-22 at the arc in State's league wins; 3-of-16 in the three losses.
*This has slowed Johnson's chances of becoming the first Bulldog to hit 100 treys in a season. He now has 58 in 22 games. The annual record is 97 by Darryl Wilson (1996) in 34 games.
*His 150 makes in three years already rank him 8th on the MSU career list, and he needs ten more to make #7 place.
*With the long-shooting in a slump, Johnson has worked closer to the rim for his points and shot 14-of-20 inside the arc the last three games.
*Though he has just 13 assists all season, Johnson did get two Wednesday night; the most since December 5.
*Where Johnson has unexpectedly struggled this SEC season is free throw shooting, at 8-of-14.
*But no Dog has had the offensive frustrations of PG Dee Bost. He began league season brilliantly averaging 20.0 the first three wins; since then he's scored 32 points in four games.
*It's not for lack of shots either, as in this four-game slump he has tossed up 41 total attempts. But he's made good on just 9 of those, or 22%.
*And it's been worse at the arc where he was 0-of-13 in a four-game span before hitting 3-of-12 at Vanderbilt. He was 38% on trey-tries in pre-conference play.
*He has regained his touch at the foul-line though, 7-of-9 the last three games after going 13-of-24 in one stretch.
*His assists rate took a hit Wednesday with just one basket-producing pass credited. He'd issued 5.3 per-SEC game prior to that.
*Bost has 114 assists for the sophomore season after setting the MSU freshman record with 156. He is on-track to reach the career top-ten here in just two years, needing 314 assists to get there.
*Bost has started all 58 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*Having set the program record last week, G Barry Stewart will become the first Bulldog ever to clock 4,000 minutes on court soon. He now has 3,937 in his 127 career games.
*Stewart has scored double-digits in all seven SEC games. And in the last three games he is 7-of-19 at the arc, best on the team.
*Stewart now has 244 career treys, as he creeps up on the MSU record of 258 by Darryl Wilson (1994-96). Stewart's 676 career attempts already is the MSU record.
*He now has 1,427 career points to rank 12th on the MSU list, needing 1,451 to catch Charles Rhodes (2005-08) for 11th and 1,461 to take top-ten status.
*Stewart has made 311 career free throws, 9th-most in MSU history; and he has made 74% of his chances.
*He just moved up two rungs on the career steals ladder with 142, passing both Terry Lewis (139, 1980-83) and Wilson (140) on the same night to take over 7th place.
*His field-shooting hasn't been sharp lately, 4-of-20 the last three games. But G/F Phil Turner has been reliable at the line making 10-of-12 there. He is 19-of-22 on SEC free-throwing, best in the league standings this week.
*He has been busy on the boards since the calendar flipped, at 4.6 SEC rebounds.
*PF Kodi Augustus is even better at 6.6 boards per SEC game, after netting 4.7 in pre-league season.
*And he was the team's best SEC free-thrower until Wednesday when he was 3-of-6 at Vanderbilt. Augustus is still 23-of-28 for league season, barely behind Turner.
*Of his 36 shots this season, G Riley Benock has fired 33 from behind the arc with a dozen makes.
*F Romero Osby has shot 5-of-8 from the floor the last two games with nine combined rebounds off the bench.
*And he was 2-of-2 at the arc against Vanderbilt.
*For SEC season, Bulldog backups have scored just 18% of the team's points and played 23% of the minutes.