A stingy defense is the Bulldogs calling card. During its SEC Tournament run, MSU limited its three opponents to just 53.7 points per game and 35.8-percent from the field. Over their current nine-game winning streak, the Bulldogs held every opponent except Arkansas to under 60 points. Entering the NCAA tournament, Mississippi State opponents averaged 66.9 points and managed to hit just 41.1-percent from the field and an even more measly 29.9-percent from beyond the arc. On the season, Mississippi State outrebounded opponents by over seven boards, 39.3-32.2.
Mississippi State has a similar playing time rotation to Texas. Seven Bulldogs average in double digits in minutes played -- Mario Austin, Marckell Patterson, Timmy Bowers, Derrick Zimmerman, Michal Ignerski, Michael Gholar and Ontario Harper -- and five more average over six minutes per. Nine Horns average over 10 minutes per game. Four Bulldogs -- 6-9, 265--pound Austin (25), 6-2 G Zimmerman (10), 6-5 G/F Patterson (20) and 6-2 sixth-man Bowers (11) -- managed double figures in points and combined for all but four of MSU's 70 total points in the McNeese game.
The Bulldogs are a pound-it-in-the-paint team, as evidenced by their performance against McNeese State in their tournament opener. After falling behind by eight early, Mississippi State stormed back to take a six-point halftime lead by feeding the ball to big men Austin, who scored from the field and from the foul line in MSU's 18-4 half-closing run. He finished with 25 points and nine rebounds against the Cowboys. The second-team all-SEC pick is a scoring and rebounding force in the middle, averaging 16 points (on 55.6-percent shooting) and 7.6 boards per game, both team highs. McNeese coach Tic Price called Austin the "most skilled post player" his team faced all season. Whichever Texas big man draws Austin as his defensive assignment (it will almost certainly be James Thomas for the majority of the game barring foul trouble for the Texas F/C) will have his hands full. It could well be the match-up that determines the outcome of the game. The Bulldogs have a couple of other big body bit players in 6-9, 270-pound reserve Lincoln Smith (averages 2.4 points and 2.1 rebounds in 8.4 minutes per game) and 7-0, 265-pound Marcus Campbell (2.8 points and 2.1 boards in 6.8 minutes).
Point guard Zimmerman, swingman Patterson and off-the-bench shooting guard Bowers will present a defensive challenge to the Longhorn perimeter players. Zimmerman is a master at distributing the ball in Bulldogs' offense, averaging over six assists a game plus 9.2 points and four rebounds. The athletic Patterson is MSU's second-leading scorer, averaging 12.6 per game going into Sunday's contest. During Mississippi State's recent 9-1 run, Bowers ranked as the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer at 12.1 points per game and, along with Ignerski, is MSU's most consistent significant three-point shooter at 37.5-percent (reserve 6-5 swingman Ontario Harper leads the team with a 44.7-percent accuracy mark from beyond the arc). Against Boston College Friday, Texas opened the game with 5-10 T.J. Ford guarding 6-5 swing man Kenny Walls, 6-3 Royal Ivey (and later 5-10 Fredie Williams) shadowing 6-1 guard Troy Bell and 6-4 Brandon Mouton on 6-2 guard Ryan Sidney, so the defensive match-up possibilities vs. MSU are numerous. Ivey and Williams generally draw opponent's most dangerous perimeter players, which in this case may be Zimmerman (although all three guys listed above can do serious damage) .
Starting F Ignerski injured his hand early in the McNeese game, returned briefly in the first half but sat the entire second half with a large ice pack on his right hand. His status for Sunday's game is unknown. The 6-9, 225-pound Ignerski is the Bulldogs fifth-leading scoring at nine points per game. "I hope that Iggy is ready to go," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said Friday night. "He is really a big part of what we do. I really thought that he came into this tournament playing about as well as anybody that we have. We just won the SEC Tournament and he was a big part of that. Because of his skill level, we need him back in that. If he isn't able to play, then we will have to make an adjustment and have some young men step up."