*State is 5-0 at home in league play, one of three teams—Kentucky and Vanderbilt are the others—who haven't lost a SEC home game.
*MSU's last game with a #2-ranked team was against Memphis in the second round of the 2008 Little Rock Regional. The Tigers, then coached by current UK coach John Calipari, won 77-74. Rick Stansbury's 12 teams are 2-14 against teams ranked in the top-five.
*The Bulldogs own a three-game win streak in the series, the longest such success string for State ever. MSU took a first-round SEC Tournament win in 2007, then won the regular-season meetings in 2008 (Starkville) and '09 (Lexington). Kentucky still owns a healthy 84-20 lead in the series, and is 30-12 playing in Starkville.
*Coach Rick Stansbury is going for his 250th career victory. He is the 20th SEC coach to score 100 regular-season league wins.
About the Wildcats: Meet the new boss, etc. and so on… It's been five years and a couple of coaching changes since their last SEC championship, but these Wildcats are making up for all that lost time. And doing so with a mostly-revamped team that typifies the current college game, powered by first- and potentially only-year talent. In fact half of the six-man signing class John Calipari brought with him is starting, and a couple of these are as good as any veterans in the country. Both guard John Wall and big man DeMarcus Cousins are among the league's top-ten scorers for SEC season, for examples. Of course their respective games go beyond putting up points, too. Wall can both distribute at a five-assist-per pace or attack the tall timber off his own explosive moves. And just because he's only accounted for 24 treys, it doesn't mean defenders dare back off and leave an open look. Classmate Eric Bledsoe and soph Darius Miller—one of the few returnees whose stats have improved under the new regime—take care of the outside offensive needs. Fact is though that contrary to most conference trends Kentucky is not reliant on three-pointing. The Kats can score from long distance if necessary with 38% shooting that leads this league, but then it usually isn't. Not with the potent presence of Cousins and Pat Patterson on the front line. Junior Patterson has had to sacrifice some of his own numbers and is down three points and two rebounds off his All-SEC soph season averages, but the tradeoff is more freedom to roam outside the lane and show the jumpshot or drive at the goal instead of just backing-in. That's if there is any room open around the rim not blocked by his own teammate, the 6-11, 260 pound Cousins. Only State's Jarvis Varnado is getting to more rebounds, and if the new kid doesn't block a lot of shots it's because he gets far fewer chances as foes hesitate to come inside very often. That is what makes this Kentucky club truly dangerous in NCAA terms; sure, they are first in SEC-game scoring and third in shooting, but the real strength is superb all-court defense (both outside and inside the arc) and brutal boardwork. Which includes, by the way, the best offensive rebounding in the SEC, setting up all those second-chance buckets. Kentucky also sets the pace in steals, and depth—remember former starters Perry Stevenson and Ramon Harris?—is there if needed. Weaknesses? Hmmm, maybe a tendency to turn the ball over. And free throw accuracy is just average, though they do offset that with a heckuva lot of chances at the stripe every game. The youth angle is probably overblown by national commentators. If this does indeed prove to be a one-and-done team, it sure is setting up as one worth remembering.
Projected Starting Lineups:
KENTUCKY: F DeMarcus Cousins, FR 6-11 260, 15.9ppg, 10.2rpg, 44 blks; F Patrick Patterson, JR 6-9 235, 14.7ppg, 58%fgs, 7.3rpg; G Darius Miller, SO 6-7 223, 6.3ppg, 32 3ptrs; G Eric Bledsoe, FR 6-1 190, 10.9ppg, 29 3ptrs, 82 asts; G John Wall, FR 6-4 195, 17.0ppg, 24 3ptrs, 154 asts.
Top Backups: G Darnell Dodson, SO 6-7 215, 7.3ppg, 37 3ptrs; F Daniel Orton, FR 6-10 255, 3.6ppg, 3.6rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 8.8ppg, 5.6rpg, 21 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.3ppg, 11.3rpg, 125 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 13.7ppg, 3.4rpg, 65 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.4ppg, 61 asts, 52 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 12.0ppg, 130 asts, 44 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 6.0ppg, 4.9rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 5.1ppg, 2.8rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 1.7ppg, 12 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE (Full Season Stats):
Scoring: MSU 73.3, UK 81.3
Scoring Defense: MSU 62.6, UK 65.3
FG Shooting: MSU 43.4%, UK 48.6%
FG Defense: MSU 37.0%, UK 37.9%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.5%, 37.8%
3-point Attempts: MSU 25.6, UK 17.2
Rebounding: MSU 41.4, UK 42.2
Rebound Margin: MSU +4.8, UK +10.0
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.0%, UK 67.8%
Turnovers: MSU 13.3, UK 15.3
BULLDOG NOTES: G Barry Stewart and C Jarvis Varnado hold the program record for career games played with 130 and counting in four seasons. They erased the mark set in 2003 of 127 by Derrick Zimmerman.
*Live by the longball, or lose by lack thereof. That is the Mississippi State offense this SEC season. In their six wins the Bulldogs are 52-of-150 at the arc, or 35%. In the four losses they are 24-of-101 or 24%.
*State has given up 80 SEC points just once this year, and that was a win over Arkansas. Six league foes, win or loss, have scored under 70 points against MSU.
*Naturally that defense is based upon blocking short shots, where State continues to lead the league with 82 swats in SEC play and 204 for the year. At this pace the Bulldogs could still break their own SEC-season record of 271 blocks in 36 games (7.5) set just last March.
*After struggling with under-40% shooting for a five-game stretch, C Jarvis Varnado is getting back in a rhythm. He's 8-of-13 in the last two wins. In fact, in State's six league wins the senior is 31-of-54; in the losses he is 18-of-48.
*Being more selective about his shot hasn't stopped Varnado from posting five-straight double-doubles, giving him 15 for the year and 30 for his career. Varnado is averaging a double-double for his senior season, the first Bulldog to do so since Lawrence Roberts in 2005.
*Varnado now belongs to the MSU top-twenty scorers club with 1,239 points. He just passed Erick Dampier (1994-96) for 17th place on the career list, and needs eight points to catch Jerry Graves (1959-61) for the next slot.
*The SEC's leading rebounder, Varnado has 283 for the year and is closing in on his second 300-board season.
*He also just became the third Bulldog ever with 1,000 rebounds; now with 1,008 in four seasons. Varnado, Bailey Howell (1957-59) and Rickey Brown (1976-80) are the only other State players with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.
*But Varnado is not just the only Bulldog with a double-thousand and 500 career blocks; he's the only known NCAA player to ever reach this statistical plateau.
*And within the next few games he will become the all-time NCAA shot blocks leader. Varnado goes into tonight with 519 swats; the record is 535. On his current rate he'll break the mark next week at home, against Alabama.
*Varnado's current 5.0 game average is #2 in the country this week, and ahead of last year's 4.7 pace when he set the SEC season record with 170 blocks, in 36 games.
*He has blocked a shot in 42-straight games.
*With 254 treys made in his four seasons, G Barry Stewart is one big game away from matching the Bulldog career record of 258 set in 1996 by Darryl Wilson. He has 700 career attempts which already is the record.
*Stewart is the only Bulldog to score double-digits in all ten SEC games.
*Meet the newest member of the top-ten scorer's club. With 1,463 career points Stewart just surpassed Cameron Burns (1,460 1989-91) for 10th place on the MSU list.
*Stewart is 17-of-43 at the arc the last six games.
*His 145 steals rank 7th on the Bulldog career list.
*Stewart is the only Bulldog ever to play 4,000 career minutes. He now has put in 4,054 minutes in four seasons.
*Stewart has played 37, 38, 38, and 41 minutes the last three games.
*SEC season has been a struggle for PG Dee Bost, as far as his outside shooting. But he came back with a vengeance Saturday, scorching Auburn with seven treys—one why of the game record—in 12 tries and scoring a career-best 32 points. In the previous seven SEC games he was 5-of-34 at the arc.
*He was also 11-of-19 on all shots against the Tigers. That was as many field goals as the soph had scored in the previous five total games.
*Bost added four assists Saturday, giving him 130 for the year. He had 156 scoring passes as a freshman, setting a MSU class record.
*With 286 career assists soph Bost should move into the MSU top ten (he needs 314) before the regular season is over.
*Bost has started all 61 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*G Ravern Johnson had been heating-up from the arc the previous two games, shooting 6-of-11 and scoring 38 total points. He had to leave the Auburn game early in the second half after a blow to the face, and was 1-of-5 on longballs at the time.
*Though he's just shooting 33% at the arc in SEC season, Johnson has hit 30-of-48 tries inside the arc.
*Johnson still has made 65 treys this junior season, though his chances of catching Darryl Wilson's record of 97 (1996) for the year are shrinking.
*Johnson now has 155 treys in three seasons and is 8th already on the MSU career list. Next-up is the 160 by Winsome Frazier (2002-05).
*F Romero Osby is making his case for more February playing time after providing key points and defense in the last two wins. The soph has scored 20 total points off the bench in these contests and shot 6-of-12.
*Osby is 8-of-10 at the foul line in these two wins, also. Before that he had taken just seven free throw attempts in the previous eight SEC games.
*F Kodi Augustus has gone into another shooting slump. In the last three games he is 6-of-23 overall and 1-of-8 at the arc.
*But his rebounding has been strong with ten boards in the last two games.
*G/F Phil Turner has been even more of a rebounding presence, sneaking in for 11 rebounds the last two games and averaging 4.7 in SEC season.
*Though the junior might need to lay off the outside shooting, as he is 0-of-12 at the arc the last four games.
*Turner's most productive offensive spot is the free throw line. He is 24-of-27 there in SEC play and was 4-of-4 against Auburn.
*Osby and Turner combined for 21 points off the bench against Auburn; the most relief-points for State in SEC season so far.