*State has won or shared six West titles, most of any Division member.
*With a Wednesday victory Mississippi State can score the 16th twenty-win season in program history, and the 8th in just these last nine years. Coach Rick Stansbury can score his ninth 20-win campaign in his 12-season tenure at State.
*Stansbury is the 20th SEC coach to score 100 regular-season league wins, and just earned his 250th career victory at State this past Saturday.
*Alabama 112-71 against Mississippi State, with two-straight wins. But before that the Bulldogs had won five-straight. State is 54-34 in home games with the next-state neighbors.
About the Crimson Tide: The struggles were sure to happen over the course of the campaign as much rebuilding remains. And a series of second-half collapses have dimmed the initial excitement. Still the selection of Anthony Grant has been a big-picture success and bodes well for the program's return to prominence in time. For that matter the team he inherited has proven quite competitive under new management and given comparable and better SEC clubs all they can handle, before lack of bench help around the basket and limited outside scoring takes its toll. As a whole the offense can be efficient, shooting 40% or better in five of the last six games. That's because no defense is going to shut down big forward JaMychal Green for long. He's having to carry a disproportionate load though and has taken 35 shots in the last three games, not to mention 20 free throws as the soph works his way to the line often. Junior Justin Knox certainly has a physical presence in the paint and for a stretch was contributing good numbers; but in the last four contests he's only scored nine total points with six rebounds. That points to this team's curious problem as despite those twin towers Alabama is losing too many rebound battles. Thus the guards have to crash the glass more often than is good for transition coverage. The only practical solution is getting more points from the backcourt and that too can be erratic. Oh, the percentages are respectable at 34% accuracy for SEC season. But the Tide just doesn't choose to throw up a lot of longballs. Mikhail Torrance's 17 trey-makes in SEC games leads the whole team while Anthony Brock has popped 14, and off the bench Charvez Davis contributed 14 as well. It's worth wondering what might happen if the green light was given earlier, as happened when State was stung by a couple of quick treys in round-one at Tuscaloosa. Alabama does defend the arc well, or for that matter the entire backcourt with a physical approach that throws opponents literally off their own game. And while the big bodies don't block many shots they do make foes work hard for position. That's how Grant's first Tide team is able to stay close in just about every contest; but finishing the job has been more problematic as the season has played on. But then it also adds up to a team that nobody wants to play on the first day at Nashville.
Projected Starting Lineups:
ALABAMA: F JaMychal Green, SO 6-9 220, 14.9ppg, 7.3rpg, 48 blks, 51%fgs; F Justin Knox, JR 6-9 240, 5.6ppg, 3.1rpg; G Anthony Brock, SR 5-9-165, 6.1ppg, 35 3ptrs; G Mikhail Torrance, SR 6-5 210, 15.0ppg, 31 3ptrs, 137asts; G Tony Mitchell, FR 6-6 185, 9.1ppg, 5.3rpg, 15 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G Charvez Davis, JR 6-3 190, 5.4ppg, 39 3ptrs; G Senario Hillman, JR 6-1 190, 7.9ppg, 62 asts.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.0ppg, 5.6rpg, 25 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.2ppg, 10.9rpg, 134 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 13.8ppg, 3.3rpg, 69 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.3ppg, 69 asts, 56 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 12.2ppg, 142 asts, 48 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 6.0ppg, 4.7rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 5.0ppg, 2.9rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 1.7ppg, 13 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE (Full Season Stats):
Scoring: MSU 72.9, ALA 67.9
Scoring Defense: MSU 63.1, ALA 63.7
FG Shooting: MSU 43.2%, ALA 44.6%
FG Defense: MSU 37.2%, ALA 42.3%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.0%, ALA 35.0%
3-point Attempts: MSU 678, ALA 406
Rebounding: MSU 40.9, ALA 33.7
Rebound Margin: MSU +3.7, ALA -0.8
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.4%, ALA 70.3%
Turnovers: MSU 13.1, ALA 12.7
BULLDOG NOTES: G Barry Stewart and C Jarvis Varnado hold the program record for career games played with 132 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 seven wins the Bulldogs are 62-of-179 at the arc, or 35%. In the losses they are 34-of-136 or 25%.
*Whether the shooting runs hot or cold, Dog defense has been consistent as no SEC foe has reached 45% shooting and six were held under 40%. Perimeter defense is even more impressive at 30.0% for SEC season with only 72 treys allowed in a dozen games.
*Dog defense has centered around shot-blocking much of the year. State is averaging eight blocks per-game for the year, better than the 7.5 pace of last year when those Dogs set the SEC season record with 271 in 36 games.
*Varnado now has 528 career blocks, seven away from matching the NCAA career record. He is averaging 4.96 blocks per game for this season but had nine in two of the last three games. Last year when he set the SEC season record of 170 blocks he swatted 4.72 each game.
*He has blocked as shot in 44-straight games now.
*His scoring average of 13.2 points is a career-best, over the 12.9 of his junior season.
*Varnado has scored double-digits in seven-straight SEC games. But he's been held to just five and six boards the last two games, snapping a string of double-doubles. He has 15 D-Ds for the season and 30 for his career.
*Varnado's shooting has picked up after a slow stretch as he has made 18-of-30 attempts in the last four games. In State's league wins he is 40-of-63; in the losses he is 22-of-56.
*With 1,263 career points Varnado now ranks 15th on the MSU list, having just passed Jack Bouldin (1,257 1970-72).
*The SEC's leading rebounder, Varnado has 294 for the year and is closing in on his second 300-board season. He is third on the MSU career rebounds list with 1,021. It will take 1,092 to catch Rickey Brown (1977-80) for second place.
*He is the third Bulldog ever with 1,000 rebounds, joining Bailey Howell (1957-59) and Brown as 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.
*Senior G Barry Stewart now shares the MSU record for made-treys, as his 258 matches the three-year total scored by Darryl Wilson (1994-96). He already owns the mark for arc-attempts with 718, and has taken the tenth-most field goal attempts of any Bulldog at 1,194.
*Stewart had scored double-digits in the first eleven SEC games, until LSU limited him to five points.
*He has still climbed into the career top-ten Bulldog scorers, and with 1,484 points he is #10 on the list. He is coming up on Tony Watts (1,491 1989-92) for 9th place.
*Stewart's 151 career steals are sixth-most in MSU history. *Stewart is the only Bulldog ever to play 4,000 career minutes. He now has put in 4,029 minutes in four seasons.
*A 74% career free-throw shooter, Stewart has made 316 chances at the stripe; 9th most in MSU history. His 427 attempts are 6th most.
*PG Dee Bost is about to become the next Bulldog to issue 300 assists. In just two seasons he already has 298 scoring passes. He needs 314 to achieve top-ten stature as only a sophomore.
*Bost has issued 28 assists in the last five games, including a SEC-season most nine at LSU.
*After tossing up 40 shots, 14 from the arc, in the previous two games, Bost limited his attempts to seven at LSU and made three. He was 2-of-4 on trey-tries too.
*But taking all those shots in the two-game span also produced a career-high 32 points against Auburn, and 22 against Kentucky.
*His outside accuracy is still not up to par this soph SEC season, 20-of-70.
*Bost has started all 63 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*Sitting out one game, and coming off the bench in the next seemed to do G Ravern Johnson good. The junior shooter provided 16 points at LSU and hit four treys in 10 tries. Last week was first time since Feb. 27, 2008 that Johnson missed a start.
*After a rough stretch of long-range shooting where he was 5-of-24 in five games, Johnson has been 11-of-26 in the last four games played.
*Though he's just shooting 34% at the arc in SEC season, Johnson has hit 31-of-49 tries inside the arc.
*Johnson has made 69 treys this junior season, though his chances of catching Darryl Wilson's record of 97 (1996) for the year have faded barring an incredible, and long, post-season.
*Johnson now has 159 treys in three seasons and is 8th already on the MSU career list. Next-up is the 160 by Winsome Frazier (2002-05).
*Soph F Romero Osby got his first college start in the Kentucky game, in place of Johnson. He started at LSU as well.
*While his offense has been selective as a starter with seven combined points, Osby has given his team eight boards and much-needed defense at small forward.
*Osby is 9-of-12 at the free throw line the last four games. Before that he had taken just seven free throw attempts in the previous eight SEC games.
*When PF Kodi Augustus is on his game, watch out. He scored a SEC-season best 17 points against Kentucky with a season-best four treys. He settled for supporting offensive duty at LSU with six points but was 2-of-5 shooting.
*Augustus has hit the boards hard his last three games with 17 total rebounds.
*And working around the goal gets him to the foul line where Augustus is averaging four appearances in his last eight SEC games. And, converting on 76% of chances in the same stretch.
*Against Kentucky, G/F Phil Turner made his first trey of all February. At LSU he made two including the biggest of the month for MSU, the game-winner at seven seconds.
*Before going 2-of-4 at the arc Saturday, Turner was 1-of-15 in the previous five games.
*But he's been consistent at the stripe, when he gets there, going 24-of-27 for SEC season. Though he hasn't shot a free chance in the last two games.
*G Riley Benock made his first long shot of the month at LSU. Though, the junior had only tossed up three attempts in prior February games.
*State's usual five starters have accounted for 83% of all scoring in SEC season.