Previewing Mississippi State

Mississippi State is considered by many to be the favorite to win the NIT, and the Bulldogs are hosting the Tar Heels in Saturday's second-round matchup. Tip-off in Starkville, Miss. is scheduled for noon (ET) and will be televised by ESPN.

North Carolina (17-16, 5-11) vs. Mississippi State (24-11, 9-7 SEC)
Starkville, Miss. -- Humphrey Coliseum
12:00 p.m. (ET) -- ESPN (Dari Nowkhah, LaPhonso Ellis)

Quotables

"Those teams don't come to Starkville, that's just the way it is. So, for them to be coming here, it's a pretty important thing, them coming here, and we're at home… That's one of those games that would be hard just to schedule. To pick up the phone, call somebody, say, 'Do you want to do a home and home?' That doesn't happen much." – Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury on North Carolina

"My general impression is that they've got a lot of guys that can score from the 3-point line and I do believe that they can really guard you. I think that's something that people overlook. Their defensive field goal percentage (38.6) jumps out at me, so I'm impressed." – UNC head coach Roy Williams

PREGAME NOTES

Season to Date: Mississippi State enters Saturday's contest with a 24-11 (9-7 SEC) record. The Bulldogs' signature nonconference win was a 69-55 victory over Old Dominion on Nov. 28, with losses occurring against Rider, Richmond and Western Kentucky. Stansbury's squad posted a 5-6 mark against the teams playing in the NIT (2-0) and NCAA Tournament (3-6).

NIT First Round: First-team All-SEC forward Jarvis Varnado notched his 18th double-double of the year with a team-high 21 points and 11 rebounds in leading Mississippi State to a 81-67 victory over Jackson State on Tuesday night. Second-team All-SEC sophomore Dee Bost recorded 18 points, 6 assists and 3 steals and junior Kodi Augustus added 13 points. The Bulldogs led by as many as 22 points in the second half.

Dangerous Territory in the Paint: Varnado was named first-team All-SEC and to the All-Defensive Team for the second season in a row after averaging 13.8 points and 10.3 rebounds. He was also a unanimous selection for defensive player of the year, an award he's won three-straight years. The Sporting News tabbed the Brownsville, Tenn. native the nation's top defender two weeks ago. Varnado is four blocks shy of the SEC record he set last year with 170. Against Auburn on Mar. 3, the senior became the first player in NCAA history to have 1,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 blocked shots for a career.

Guard Trio:Junior Ravern Johnson (13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg), senior Barry Stewart (11.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg) and sophomore Dee Bost (13.0 ppg, 5.3 apg, 4.4 rpg) carry the weight of Mississippi State's scoring responsibility. Each member of the triumvirate has led the team in scoring at least five times this season, while combining for 13 20-point or more games. All three are shooting 34.9 percent or better from 3-point range, while also having attempted 190 or more 3-pointers.

Bombs Away, Part II: Mississippi State will be the third team North Carolina has faced this season that ranks in the top-10 nationally in made 3-pointers, including the second straight. The Bulldogs are connecting on 9.1 3-pointers per game (6th) at a 36.0 percent rate (87th). Johnson leads the way with a 39.9 percentage from beyond the arc on 83-of-208 shooting.

Turnover Battle Brewing? Despite the SEC's top-rated scoring defense (64.5), Stansbury's squad has struggled to create turnovers (5.6 spg ranks 274th) and therefore owns a minus-1.6 turnover margin (263rd). North Carolina, on the other hand, ranks 282nd nationally in coughing up 15.4 turnovers per game, and are firmly entrenched in a dead heat with the Bulldogs in turnover margin (minus-1.6, 264th).

Minimal Bench Production:In the Bulldogs' 34 games, the starters have averaged 82.0 percent of the team's scoring (2,089 of 2,548).

Random Fact of the Day: Mississippi State has been whistled for just 14.2 fouls a game, good for third fewest in the nation.

Last Meeting: North Carolina defeated Mississippi State, 84-80, on Dec. 18, 1964, in a battle between former Southern Conference members in the Virginia Tech Tournament in Blacksburg, Va. Saturday marks UNC's first game ever played in the state of Mississippi and only the second between these two programs in the past 82 years.

Series History: The Tar Heels lead the series with Mississippi State, 4-0.

Projected Starters:
3 Dee Bost (6-2, 170, So.) – 13.0 ppg, 5.3 apg
22 Barry Stewart (6-3, 170, Sr.) – 11.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg
2 Ravern Johnson (6-7, 175, Jr.) – 13.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg
24 Kodi Augustus (6-8, 220, Jr.) – 9.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg
32 Jarvis Varnado (6-9, 230, Sr.) – 13.8 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.7 bpg

Top Reserves:
25 Phil Turner (6-3, 170, Jr.) – 5.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg
5 Romero Osby (6-8, 230, So.) – 4.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg
15 Riley Benock (6-4, 180, Jr.) – 1.7 ppg

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