Bulldog Basketball Scouting Report

The Game: Mississippi State (21-8, 9-5 SEC) opens the final week of the regular season by visiting Auburn (14-15, 5-9). The West Division matchup tips at 7:00 for telecast on the SEC Network, with the broadcast on XM channel 242.

*With two league games left, Mississippi State is assured of no worse than a tie for the SEC Western Division title. And since the only teams that can catch the Dogs, Ole Miss and Arkansas, play each other this weekend it can only be a two-way tie for the West title. Also, Mississippi State would have the tiebreak on either for the #1 seed out of the West as well.

*State has won or shared six West titles, most of any Division member.

*Stansbury teams are 13-8 in March regular-season SEC games, but 5-1 in the last three years.

*Auburn leads the series 69-63, and is 41-22 in home games against State. Though, from 2002-08 the Bulldogs won five times in Beard-Eaves Coliseum.

About the Tigers: It may be…no, check that, it indisputably is a dump by today's standards. But it's their dump, and there surely will be some sentimental aspects to the final game in Beard-Eaves Coliseum. The Tigers certainly don't have much else to play for at this point beyond the slim hopes of a break-even record. Whether that would suffice to earn Jeff Lebo a chance to open the new arena next November is the current question, as he has a 95-91 record in the sixth season with a lone NIT trip on the resume. Still no contending team welcomes playing his squad in a must-win situation because the Tigers do have the firepower to spoil anyone's evening. Yes, there really is a SEC squad that chunks up more treys than the Bulldogs. And Auburn even makes more, averaging 9.0 per league game compared to State's 8.2. Of course they give up a lot of longballs too but the point is this is a team entirely comfortable with shootouts. Or for that matter end-to-end games as the best Tiger defense is to play pressure and encourage mistakes; they are producing eight steals per game and quite a few other turnovers, while taking OK care of the ball themselves. Whoever is coaching Auburn next winter will do so with a mostly-new lineup as four seniors are booked to start their home-court finale and another might as well be a starter. That would be center Brendon Knox who is the ‘scoring' postman in rotation with better-defender Johnnie Lett. Undoubtedly the most-improved Tiger on the team is forward Lucas Hargrove, going from 8.1 points as a junior to over 13 in his senior year. He can be the difference-maker in this game since not only can he step outside and pop jumpers but Hargrove has a knack for working around shot-blocker inside to get points. But of course that is much easier when the guards are throwing in the threes and making defenses play straight-up. DeWayne Reed is going out in style, his scoring up three points even if his three-point pace is down a bit. That's because Frankie Sullivan, the lone underclassman starter, has upgraded his game markedly all over the court. He's making more long shots on offense and setting the steals pace defensively. Oh, and in a late-game fouling situation this is not the Tiger to tap as he knocks down 85% of free throws. Then there is Tay Waller who is ending his career on a true tear at the arc with 21 treys the last three outings and 43% arc-accuracy for the season. Not to mention 124 assists, which means doubling-him in the backcourt is a risky call as he can find the open teammate. Auburn's lack of success these last few years is surely frustrating as the teams have been fun to watch and dangerous to play. Lack of true post-prowess though has kept them from breaking out…and made a change in-charge increasingly likely. After all, it will be a new gym and new team next winter anyway, so…

Projected Starting Lineups:

AUBURN: F Lucas Hargrove, SR 6-6 220, 13.1ppg, 7.0rpg, 26 3ptrs; F Johnnie Lett, SR 6-8 210, 1.9ppg, 3.3rpg; G Frankie Sullivan, SO 6-1 195, 12.8ppg, 3.8rpg, 59 3ptrs, 55stls; G Tay Waller, SR 6-2 190, 15.4ppg, 77 3ptrs, 78%fts; G DeWayne Reed, SR 6-1 175, 16.0ppg, 124 asts, 44 3ptrs.

Top Backups: C Brendon Knox, SR 6-10 230, 8.4ppg, 3.9rpg, 65%fgs; G Earnest Ross, FR 6-5 210, 3.0ppg, 3.1rpg, 14 3ptrs.

MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.3ppg, 5.7rpg, 28 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.5ppg, 10.9rpg, 143 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 13.8ppg, 3.4rpg, 74 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.5ppg, 79 asts, 62 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 12.5ppg, 152 asts, 52 3ptrs.

Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 5.6ppg, 4.4rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 4.6ppg, 2.8rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 1.7ppg, 14 3ptrs.

HOW THEY COMPARE (Full Season Stats):

Scoring: MSU 73.0, AUB 76.0

Scoring Defense: MSU 63.2, AUB 73.9

FG Shooting: MSU 43.5%, AUB 44.5%

FG Defense: MSU 37.6%, AUB 45.3%

3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.3%, AUB 33.4%

3-point Attempts: MSU 726, AUB 745

Rebounding: MSU 40.4, AUB 35.1

Rebound Margin: MSU +3.7, AUB -0.4

Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.4%, AUB 65.7%

Turnovers: MSU 13.1, AUB 14.0

BULLDOG NOTES: Naturally there is a direct link to Bulldog perimeter shooting and MSU success. This SEC season the Dogs are 81-of-227 at the arc in victories, 36%; while in the five losses they are 34-of-136 or 25%.

*And in their last three wins the Dogs are 29-of-77 at the arc, 38%.

*Think last year's State squad was a bunch of fearless gunners? That squad averaged almost 23 trey-tries per game; this team is throwing up over 25 each contest.

*This week the Bulldogs are the nation's #3-rated shooting defense. Not surprisingly, because they are also the #3 team in shot-blocking at 7.9 per-game.

*In the win at South Carolina, the MSU bench did not score. The five regular starters are providing 85% of scoring this SEC season.

*The next time-out after setting the NCAA career blocks record, C Jarvis Varnado only got one swat at South Carolina. He has 537 for his four seasons and will spend the remainder of this senior year pushing the standard beyond future reach.

*Varnado has 143 blocks this year and is averaging 4.93 per game. That is better than his 4.72 rate of last winter when he set the SEC record with 170 blocks.

*Varnado is still #2 in blocks-per-game nationally on the latest NCAA report.

*He has blocked a shot in 46-straight games now.

*The big Dog is back on pace turning in double-doubles with consecutive such efforts. He has notched a D-D in 17 games this senior season, and 32 for his college career.

*He needs one more point to tie Timmy Bowers (1,300 2001-04) for 14th place on the MSU career scoring list.

*His SEC lead in rebounds has slipped somewhat, as at 10.9 per game Varnado is ahead of Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins at 10.3 and #9 nationally. Varnado can be the first Dog to pace the SEC in boarding since Lawrence Roberts in 2005. Roberts was also the last Dog to average a double-double for a season.

*With 1,043 career rebounds Varnado is chasing #2 all-time at MSU, that currently belonging to Rickey Brown (1977-80) with 1,092.

*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.

*In State's SEC wins he is shooting 55-of-87, or 63%. In league losses Varnado is 22-of-56, 39%.

*Varnado is tied with classmate and roommate Barry Stewart for most games played by a Bulldog, now at 134 and counting. But Varnado's 112 starts are the most tipoffs ever taken at State.

*Stewart might trail in starts with 99, but no Bulldog has ever worked as many minutes as this senior. The only State player ever to top 4,000 minutes on-court, Stewart now has 4,196 to his account.

*Stewart also now owns the MSU three-point records for both makes (264) and attempts (730). His 1,214 career shots are 10th-most at MSU.

*After going 2-of-12 at the arc in two games, Stewart ripped the Gamecocks with 5-of-7 accuracy.

*With 1,511 career points Stewarts now stands 8th on the MSU scoring chart, having just passed Jerry Jenkins (1,503 1973-75). Next-up is the 1,558 by former teammate Jamont Gordon (2006-08).

*Stewart has made the 9th-most free throws by a Bulldog, 321; and is a career 74% shooter at the stripe.

*He has 157 steals and is now #5 all-time at MSU. A dozen of these thefts have come in the last four games.

*If the season lasts long enough Stewart could become the 12th Dog with 300 career assists. He has 276.

*Top-ten status though is farther away thanks to teammate PG Dee Bost. The sophomore already has 308 in just two seasons and needs six more to match Ray White (314, 1976-79) for the #10 slot.

*Bost is second in SEC assists rate this week at 5.2, one whole assist behind Kentucky's John Wall.

*He has issued 19 assists in the last three games.

*With 152 assists this year, he's just four back of the 156 as a freshman when he set a MSU class record. He needs 168 for a top-ten year at State.

*Bost has scaled-back on his shooting since going wild in the two overtime games. It's paid off in better accuracy as he is 11-of-19 overall the last two wins and 4-of-8 at the arc.

*And in these games he is also 7-of-7 at the foul line.

*Bost has started all 65 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.

*After missing one whole game and two more starts, G Ravern Johnson has come back nicely with 43 points in three games.

*And his shooting is much sharper going into March. After a five-game stretch of 5-of-24 arc-accuracy, he is 16-of-41 in the last six games played.

*Where Johnson has really upgraded his game in SEC season is on shorter shots. Inside the arc he is 36-of-56 or over 64%.

*Johnson has made 74 treys this junior season, after hitting 83 as a sophomore. Only Darryl Wilson has made more longballs than that in a year doing it twice, in 1995 (94) and '96 (97).

*And in three years Johnson has made 164 longballs, which ties him for 5th place on the MSU list with current coach Marcus Grant (1992-95).

*PF Kodi Augustus is again coming on strong at the end of a regular season. He's scored double-digits in three of the last four games and averaged just under a dozen points in this span.

*He just missed a double-double at South Carolina with 13 points and nine boards.

*In the last five games Augustus has 33 rebounds and has raised his season average to 5.7.

*And he is 3-of-5 at the arc the last two wins.

*Even better is his 12-of-15 accuracy at the free throw line in the last four outings. He is shooting 78% at the stripe this season.

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