With athletic slashers, shooters and shot blockers, the Bulldogs try to make the game a racehorse affair, and often succeed in doing so.
Led by guard Jamont Gordon (So., 6-4, 225 lbs.) the Dogs play uptempo, averaging 78.9 points per game. Gordon, who tallies 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while dishing out 178 assists, has continued to improve his decision making abilities, which has made him a more dangerous overall performer. He shot selection from three-point range (35%) means he can't be unattended on the perimeter, but guarding him outside can open avenues to the basket, where he uses his muscular frame to good use. He has taken 79 more free throws than anyone else on the team.
Joining Gordon is Reginald Delk (So., 6-4, 175 lbs.). He tallies 9.6 points per outing, and he and Gordon are the only two Bulldogs to start every game this season. Delk is one of five players who has taken more than 113 threes, and tops the team in attempts with 174.
In the frontcourt, Richard Delk (Reginald's twin, and the elder by 30 minutes) gives way in scoring to his younger brother, as he averages just 5.6 points per game. Richard (So., 6-4, 175 lbs.) handles the ball well, however, and is the best passer along the front line. Dietric Slater (Sr., 6-3, 200 lbs.) is the lone final-year player that sees any appreciable time for MSU. He averages 10.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game, but is not among the better shooters on the team. Charles Rhodes (Jr., 6-8, 240 lbs.) rounds out the front line, and is by far the best player in the group. He records 13.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, and is second on the team in blocked shots with 63.
Key reserves include guard Ben Hansbrough (brother of North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough), but little brother didn't get a scholarship due to his name. He sports nearly a two-to-one assist to turnover ratio, and knocks down 41.6% of his three pointers. While lacking Gordon's overall size, Hansbrough (Fr., 6-3, 200 lbs.) is an accomplished director of the offense who keeps the Bulldogs churning when Gordon takes a break. Like Hansbrough, precocious guard Barry Stewart (Fr., 6-2, 165 lbs.) gets almost as many minutes as the starters, and puts them to good use. He averages 9.8 points and 3.2 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game. High jumping forward Jarvis Varnado (Fr., 6-9, 195 lbs.) has blocked 66 shots in just 462 minutes this year, and influenced again that many or more. On the offensive end, he tallies 5.1 points per game, and chips in 4.3 boards as well.
It will be West Virginia's patience versus Mississippi's slashers on Broadway – or will it?
|Tue Mar 27
|Sirius Channel: None|
On the flip side, Mississippi State, noted for its speed and quickness, might be a bit more patient against the Mountaineers. The Bulldogs would love to get the ball inside against West Virginia's 1-3-1 zone and post up Rhodes against smaller defenders, or have the strong Gordon try to overpower the Mountaineer guards. To do that, however, MSU will have to work the ball, via both the pass and the dribble, to find the gaps in the 1-3-1 defense. Again, that doesn't mean that State won't run the break or push the ball when it can, but if things settle into the halfcourt, it will likely run the shot clock down, albeit not by design) in the search to exploit WVU's weaknesses.
In such a game as this, which probably won't feature big partisan crowds for either school, the emotional factor could be downplayed as well. Both teams rode big swells of homecourt support to three consecutive wins to get to New York, but it would be a shock if either team had more than 1,000 fans in attendance. Putting aside the likelihood of support from Big Apple natives (will they support WVU because it's a Big East school?), the team that is able to adapt to what could be a sterile environment might well be the one to move on to the finals.
Just in case you hadn't noticed, Jamie Smalligan is making 46.7% of his three-point attempts. Mountaineer fans should be salivating when West Virginia runs a fade screen for the big guy, which often frees him up on the left wing. He has been absolutely money from that spot this year.
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Mississippi State is quietly forging a reputation for itself in the postseason. With this year's participation in the MasterCard NIT, the Bulldogs are making their seventh postseason tournament appearance (4 NCAA & 3 NIT) under current ninth-year head basketball coach Rick Stansbury. Prior to Stansbury's hiring as MSU's head coach in 1998, Mississippi State had made seven total postseason tournament appearances (4 NCAA & 3 NIT) in its 86 years of basketball competition.
West Virginia, under John Beilein, appears to be on track to match or surpass that mark – which makes this head-to-head battle of two programs on the rise that much more intriguing.
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WVU is likely to set another school record in the NIT semifinals. The Mountaineers' 946 three-point attempts this season are just 21 short of the school record of 967, set last year. How many years will it be before WVU tops the 1,000 mark in that category? Odds are it won't be long.
On the individual front, Darris Nichols is on pace to break Jerry West's record for minutes played in a season. In 1959, West played 1,210 minutes. Nichols, currently at 1,183 minutes, needs just 28 minutes to become the new record holder.
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Mississippi State play-by-play man Jack Cristill is in his fiftieth year of announcing the Bulldogs' action.