*State has won or shared six West titles, most of any Division member.
*Mississippi State has just scored the 16th twenty-win season in program history, and the eighth in the last nine years. Coach Rick Stansbury's teams have won 20 or more games nine times in a dozen years.
*These programs never played until SEC expansion for 1992. State holds a 13-8 lead overall and is 5-4 in Columbia. This is the only SEC program State owns a winning road record against.
About the Gamecocks: A season that began with such promise is grinding down to a frustrating finish, and a team that might have been a SEC contender can only play a spoiler's role the rest of the way. Certainly Coach Darrin Horn has to wonder how his second season in Columbia might have developed had senior F Dominque Archie not been lost to a knee injury in mid-December; or had matching big body Mike Holmes not been booted from the team two weeks later. Both were averaging double-digit points and keeping defenses honest, allowing a splendid backcourt to operate more freely. Now? The Gamecocks can only hope that the senior tandem of Devan Downey and Brandon Raley-Ross will make enough individual plays and shots to keep competitive over forty minutes. It can happen, with the shining highlight that home-court upset of Kentucky. But one big January win can't gloss over the current reality of a four-game losing streak that has taken South Carolina out of the post-season picture. It's not for lack of Downey effort of course, and the electrifying senior deserves league POTY recognition for carrying on in face of defenses that can focus all their attention on him. And Downey isn't just a green-light gunner, he is closing in on 100 assists and is a relentless ball-hawk defensively when most of his peers would be saving their legs for shooting. Career classmate Raley-Ross has more than doubled his three-point output of last year in a stronger supporting role, trying to make up for lack of frontcourt scoring. Sam Muldrow has tried to fill Archie's void, going from 5.6 points last winter to almost ten this time around, and his shot-blocking provides some defensive presence in the paint. But the fact is newcomers like freshman Lakeem Jackson and junior Johndre Jefferson are trying to do more than they are capable of on most SEC evenings. The team's overall and outside shooting both are only average by league standards, and rebounding is a definite weak point that is showing up increasingly as the schedule plays out. No, the Gamecocks won't go dancing in year-two under Horn; in fact they were denied a bid last year despite tying for the East championship, reflecting the low opinion of the SEC. But any team that can put the ball in Devan Downey's hands is capable of knocking off anyone, too, which makes South Carolina a true spoiler of other hopes as the calendar page flips to March.
Projected Starting Lineups:
SOUTH CAROLINA: F Lakeem Jackson, FR 6-5 215, 7.1ppg, 4.4rpg; F Sam Muldrow, JR 6-9 215, 9.9ppg, 6.4rpg, 85 blks; G Ramon Galloway, FR 6-2 175, 6.9ppg, 2.5rpg, 30 3ptrs; G Brandis Raley-Ross, SR 6-2 190, 11.1ppg, 3.6rpg, 57 3ptrs; G Devan Downey, SR 5-9 175, 22.9ppg, 61 3ptrs, 95 asts, 77 stls.
Top Backups: F Johndre Jefferson, JR 6-9 210, 2.4ppg, 3.4rpg; F Evaldas Baniulis, SR 6-7 215, 2.5ppg, 1.6rpg, 19 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.1ppg, 5.6rpg, 27 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.3ppg, 10.9rpg, 142 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 13.7ppg, 3.3rpg, 71 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.3ppg, 74 asts, 57 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 12.6ppg, 145 asts, 51 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 5.8ppg, 4.6rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 4.8ppg, 2.9rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 1.7ppg, 14 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE (Full Season Stats):
Scoring: MSU 72.9, SC 72.4
Scoring Defense: MSU 63.2, SC 70.4
FG Shooting: MSU 43.3%, SC 41.6%
FG Defense: MSU 37.4%, SC 44.8%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 35.9%, SC 32.3%
3-point Attempts: MSU 705, SC 597
Rebounding: MSU 40.6%, SC 35.3
Rebound Margin: MSU +3.5, SC -4.7
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.4%, SC 65.0%
Turnovers: MSU 13.2, SC 12.4
BULLDOG NOTES: February was a red-letter month for Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado. The two seniors now hold the program record for games played with 133 and counting, surpassing the 127 of Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).
*Varnado also holds the record for career starts, with 111 tipoffs taken.
*While Stewart holds the mark for the most minutes played by a Bulldog, now at 4,057.
*And Wednesday night both achieved statistical benchmarks. Most notably Varnado as he finally reached the NCAA record for blocked shots. He needed eight to surpass the old mark of 535 set in 2002 and got exactly that giving the senior 536.
*For his part Stewart broke his tie, with Darryl Wilson (1994-96) for three-pointers made. He hit one trey against Alabama to give him 259 longballs.
*Varnado now has 142 blocks for his senior season and is averaging 5.1 per game. That's better than his junior year rate of 4.7 when he set the SEC record of 170 swats.
*But as of this week the NCAA's career leader is just #2 in the nation, trailing Marshall U's Hassan Whiteside who has 146 blocks.
*He has blocked as shot in 45-straight games now.
*After two games of single-digit scoring, Varnado is back on his previous pace with 17 points against Alabama. He also had ten rebounds in the win, his 16th double-double of the season and 31st of his career.
*In State's SEC wins he is shooting 47-of-74, or 64%. In league losses Varnado is 22-of-56, 39%.
*With 1,280 career points Varnado now ranks 15th on the MSU list. He needs 20 points to catch Timmy Bowers (2001-04) for the next rung on the State scoring ladder.
*The SEC's leading rebounder, Varnado has 304 for the year. He is third on the MSU career rebounds list with 1,031. 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.
*Stewart can add the record for made-treys now to his mark of three-point attempts set earlier this month. He has now put up 723 such long shots. And Stewart's 1,202 field goal tries are 10th most in MSU history.
*Stewart just moved up a notch on the MSU scoring chart. With 1,493 he passed Tony Watts (1,491 1989-92) for 9th place. And he's just ten points behind Jerry Jenkins (1,503 1973-75) for 8th.
*Stewart's 154 career steals are tied with Watts for fifth-most in MSU history.
*A 74% career free-throw shooter, Stewart has made 320 chances at the stripe; 9th most in MSU history.
*PG Dee Bost just became the latest Bulldog with 300 career assists. He has 301 in less than two full seasons already, and needs only 13 more to make the career top-ten as a sophomore.
*Bost has issued 31 assists in the last six games, including a SEC-season most nine at LSU.
*Bost has been a more selective outside shooter in these past two wins and it has paid off. He was 2-of-4 at the arc against LSU, and came back to make 3-of-4 against Alabama. Before this, Bost was 18-of-66 at the arc for SEC season.
*Bost has scored a career-high 32 points (Auburn), 22, and 22 in three of the last four games.
*Bost has started all 64 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*Missing one game and three starts seems to have focused G Ravern Johnson's offensive mind, as he has scored 16 and 12 points off the bench in two Bulldog wins.
*And after going 5-of-24 at the arc in a five-game stretch, Johnson is 13-of-33 in the last five times he's played.
*Though he's just shooting 33% from long range in SEC season, Johnson has hit 34-of-53 on shots taken inside the arc.
*Johnson has made 71 treys this junior season, after hitting 83 as a sophomore. Only Darryl Wilson has made more longballs in a year doing it twice, in 1995 (94) and '96 (97).
*Johnson did just move up a notch on the MSU made-treys list. He has 161 and passed Winsome Frazier (2002-05) for 7th place.
*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; then back on the home court against Alabama he had 11 points.
*Augustus has hit the boards hard his last four games with 24 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 77% of chances in the same stretch.
*G/F Phil Turner has 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 three games.
*G Riley Benock made his first long shot of the month at LSU, then came back to hit a trey against Alabama.