*Coach Rick Stansbury's teams are 13-9 in March regular-season SEC games.
*Tennessee leads the series 74-39, and until last March's SEC Tournament title game upset had won five-straight regular season meetings. Mississippi State is 26-25 against the Vols in home games, with the last win in 2004. Stansbury is 5-8 against Tennessee.
About the Volunteers: They won't be adding to their East championships stockpile (three in the previous four years) this winter, nor scoring another thirty-win season…probably. But then again don't rule out a long March run for these Volunteers, given how Bruce Pearl has put together a more impressive coaching performance than any of those bigger and better seasons. Just to survive the mid-year dismissal of top all-around player Tyler Smith and keep winning is remarkable in itself. Naturally this has put more burden on the remaining roster and they have responded, first and foremost by playing outstanding defense. For SEC season only Kentucky has been better in scoring, shooting, and three-point defense than the Vols; and last week everyone saw what Tennessee could do on their court in a head-to-head meeting with the Wildcats. The defensive work begins before opponents get in shooting spots, too, as UT is strong at either outright steals or just forcing turnovers. This is all the more necessary because the offense can be erratic and no Volunteer ranks among the SEC-season's top fifteen scorers. Or does that just mean different guys rise to the opportunity in different games? The constant factor has been senior Wayne Chism with his face-to-the-basket talent and back-to-the-goal physique. He's contributing around 13 points and seven boards, as well as leading his team in blocked balls. Not that his 43 total will impress State, mind, but then lots of Vols have gotten a hand on shots without having too many of their own attempts rejected. Brian Williams doesn't bring much to the box score but his 270-plus pounds are priceless for a lineup that can be overpowered by some matchups. Traditional muscle certainly is not the calling-card of either J.P. Prince or Scotty Hopson, but these 6-7 stringbeans get in and out of the lane before defenders know what hit ‘em. They're a well-matched pair with outside-inside skills, each able to shoot, drive, dish, and given just the least seam to dunk spectacularly. Such high-percentage shots contribute to 46% team accuracy, as does veteran guard Bobby Maze's knack for finding the open teammate. He's not a big scorer himself but will take and make the long shot as needed. Naturally depth has been the two-month issue at Tennessee and lack of first-class bodies off the bench is another reason why they are battling for a #3 East seeding instead of challenging at the top. Still it's been entertaining watching kids like Skylar McBee and son-of Steven Pearl scrambling around SEC courts with the sort of flair and frenzy that remind us this is supposed to be a game, after all. Besides depth, things like mediocre free throwing and often-unreliable outside shooting seem certain to catch up with this club down the March line. Then again…who really wants to have to play these Vols in a do-or-die tournament situation? Not many.
Projected Starting Lineups:
TENNESSEE: F Wayne Chism, SR 6-9 245, 12.8ppg, 6.9rpg, 43blks, 27 3ptrs; C Brian Williams, JR 6-10 270, 4.7ppg, 4.9rpg; G/F J.P. Prince, SR 6-7 205, 8.8ppg, 3.9rpg, 87asts; G Scotty Hopson, SO 6-7 200, 13.1ppg, 3.5rpg, 44 3ptrs; G Bobby Maze, SR 6-3 195, 9.5ppg, 2.7rpg, 22 3ptrs, 92asts.
Top Backups: G Steven Pearl, JR 6-5 230, 1.5ppg, 13rpg; G Cameron Tatum, SO 6-6 197, 7.4ppg, 2.4rpg, 193ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Kodi Augustus, JR 6-8 220, 9.1ppg, 5.8rpg, 29 3ptrs; C Jarvis Varnado, SR 6-9, 13.5ppg, 10.8rpg, 146 blks; G/F Ravern Johnson, JR 6-7 175, 13.8ppg, 3.3rpg, 76 3ptrs; G Barry Stewart, SR 6-3 170, 11.7ppg, 82asts, 66 3ptrs; PG Dee Bost, SO 6-2 170, 12.9ppg, 160 asts, 57 3ptrs.
Top Backups: G/F Phil Turner, JR 6-3 170, 5.4ppg, 4.3rpg; F Romero Osby, SO 6-8 230, 4.6ppg, 2.8rpg; G Riley Benock, JR 6-4 180, 1.6ppg, 14 3ptrs.
HOW THEY COMPARE (Full Season Stats):
Scoring: MSU 73.2, TENN 75.0
Scoring Defense: MSU 64.1, TENN 65.4
FG Shooting: MSU 43.7%, TENN 46.0%
FG Defense: MSU 38.0%, TENN 39.3%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.2%, TENN 32.7%
3-point Attempts: MSU 759, TENN 542
Rebounding: MSU 40.2, TENN 36.4
Rebound Margin: MSU +3.5, TENN +0.6
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 68.5%, TENN 66.4%
Turnovers: MSU 13.0, TENN 13.2
BULLDOG NOTES: There are surely some sore shooting arms in the MSU training room these days, after tossing up 33 trey-tries at Auburn. That raised the season average of trey-attempts to 25.3 per game. Last year's State team, which set the program record, only averaged 23 attempts.
*But as long as it works, why not fire away? In their last four games, three of them wins, the Bulldogs have hit 41-of-110 of their three-point attempts or 37.3%.
*With 275 made-treys in 30 games, these Dogs are on pace to surpass their own program record of 296 hit last winter in 36 games.
*After blocking 21 shots in consecutive games, State swatted just six balls in the two games since.
*Mississippi State's five regular starters are providing 86% of scoring this SEC season.
*Since setting the NCAA career blocks record, C Jarvis Varnado's pace has certainly slowed with four blocks in the next two games. He has 540 swats for his four seasons.
*With 146 blocks this year he is averaging 4.86 swats per game, ahead of his 4.72 pace last season when he set the SEC record of 170 blocks for a year.
*He has blocked a shot in 47-straight games now.
*Auburn kept Varnado from adding to his double-double total, at 14 points and seven rebounds. The senior has gotten double-digit points and boards in 17 games this season and 32 for his career. That includes a pair of triple-doubles, too, which is half the program's total.
*The last Dog to average a season double-double was Lawrence Roberts in 2005.
*Varnado had a stretch of rough shooting mid-way of SEC season but he's gotten hot of late. In the last four games he has hit 28-of-42 shots or 67%. And he hasn't shot under 50% since the Florida game.
*Varnado began his senior season just outside the career top-thirty scorers at State. As the regular season comes to an end he's climbed to #12 with 1,313 points, having passed three former Dogs just in the past week. He needs 1,451 points to catch former teammate Charles Rhodes for #11.
*At 10.8 rebounds Varnado is staying in front of the SEC average, and this is two whole boards better than his junior season rate.
*With 1,050 career rebounds Varnado is chasing #2 all-time at MSU, that currently belonging to Rickey Brown (1977-80) at 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.
*His 113 career starts are most-ever for a Bulldog, and Varnado is tied with G Barry Stewart for most MSU games played at 135.
*Stewart might trail in starts with 100, 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 4,223 to his account.
*Having broken the MSU record for three-point buckets and shots Stewart will spend the rest of his senior season pushing those marks farther. He has made 268 longballs, and attempted 741. His *Stewart also now owns the MSU three-point records for both makes (264) and attempts (730). His 1,228 career shots are 9th-most at MSU.
*After managing just two treys in games with LSU and Alabama, Stewart has hit for nine in the last two contests and hit half his attempt.
*With 1,529 career points Stewarts now stands 8th on the MSU scoring chart. Next-up is the 1,558 by former teammate Jamont Gordon (2006-08).
*Stewart has made the 8th-most free throws by a Bulldog, 325; and is a career 74% shooter at the stripe.
*He has 157 steals and is now #5 all-time at MSU.
*If the season lasts long enough Stewart could become the 12th Dog with 300 career assists. He has 279.
*But PG Dee Bost is on a much faster assists pace. With eight at Auburn he now has 160 for the season, surpassing his 156 as a rookie. A 168 count would give him the 10th-best year ever for a Bulldog quarterback.
*And Bost now has 316 career scoring passes, which means he is already in the MSU top-ten. He just moved past Ray White (314 1976-79) for the #10 spot. Next up is the 326 for #9 Rich Knarr (1973-76).
*He has issued 27 assists in the last four games.
*Bost has started all 66 of his college games, the only Dog on this roster who has never come off the bench.
*With 76 treys-made this junior season, G Ravern Johnson ought to soon match and surpass his sophomore total of 83 longballs made. That was the third-best season ever at the arc by a Bulldog.
*And with 166 treys to his credit in three seasons Johnson can think about chasing Stewart's career record next winter. He is already tied with Tony Watts (1989-92) for 4th-most in MSU history.
*Johnson has hit 11 treys in the last four games. But, he's had to take 33 attempts to do it and his season accuracy is down to 41.3%.
*Still he has averaged almost 15 points in this stretch.
*Johnson is also moving his offensive game inside the arc this year and it's working very well. On non-treys in SEC games he is 41-of-64, or 64% accurate.