As a team, Mississippi State enters this week's league action leading the SEC in scoring defense (61.0 ppg), field-goal percentage defense (39.5%) and rebounding margin (+8.2) for all games, despite Kentucky's 70-point effort on 54-percent shooting and MSU being outrebounded (37-25) for just the third time on the year this past weekend. Offensively, the Bulldogs rank third in the conference in both field-goal percentage (48.1%) and scoring margin (+11.7).
Individually, MSU continues to be led offensively by the junior inside-outside tandem of Mario Austin and Timmy Bowers, who presently rate as the highest scoring Bulldog duo since Darryl Wilson and Dontae' Jones during the team's 1995-96 Final Four campaign. Most recently named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches Division I All-District 6 First Team, Austin is averaging a team-leading 16.9 points and 8.5 rebounds per contest following his 20-point, eight-board effort against Kentucky. Owner of a club-high 20 double-digit scoring outings on the season, Bowers averages 14.6 points per game and shoots 41 percent from three-point range to rank 12th and eighth, respectively, among the SEC's current statistical leaders. Presently ranking second on the school's all-time lists for both career assists (460) and steals (191), senior point guard Derrick Zimmerman contributes a productive 9.0 points, 5.1 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 steals a game.
Picked by many preseason prognosticators to win the SEC's Western Division race and once ranked as the No. 1 team in the country earlier this season, the Alabama Crimson Tide sports a 15-8 overall record and 5-7 league mark to stand in third place in the division behind front-running MSU and Auburn. The Tide most recently claimed a 76-71 road triumph over the Tennessee Volunteers this past Saturday in Knoxville. Guided by fifth-year head coach and former Crimson Tide standout guard Mark Gottfried, Alabama is paced by the talented duo of Maurice "Mo" Williams and Erwin Dudley, who average 15.6 and 15.0 points per game, respectively. A former Jackson Murrah all-stater, Williams tops the league in free-throw shooting (82.3%), while Dudley - the reigning SEC Player of the Year - leads the conference in rebounding (9.7 rpg) and co-leads the SEC with seven double-doubles on the season.
Dating back to the 1987-88 season, Mississippi State and Alabama have split the regular-season series 12 times in the last 15 basketball campaigns.