*Mississippi State began conference play with a best ranking so far of #15. A loss at Arkansas cost five slots, but the Bulldogs remain in the top-twenty for a sixth-straight week.
*Bulldog teams won their SEC home opener from 2004 through 2010, with Alabama spoiling the streak last January. But for his career Rick Stansbury is 11-2 in the first SEC home game of a season.
*Stansbury now ranks 9th in career victories among all SEC coaches with 285, and is second of active league coaches. He needs 297 wins to tie for 7th place.
*This is the earliest State has played Tennessee since 2007.
*Tennessee has won six of the last eight meetings, including the last three trips to Humphrey Coliseum. This means the series is tied in all-time Starkville games at 26-26.
The Opponent: Maybe the shock of that abrupt divorce is fading, finally. Because after a woeful start, admittedly against a stout pre-SEC schedule, Tennessee is finding its footing. Cuonzo Martin was hired out of Missouri State to pick up Bruce Pearl’s pieces and while fans were frustrated by early losses an impressive performance against Florida sends an encouraging signal. And now that super-signee Jarnell Stokes is newly eligible the Vols could really shake things up. The rookie’s status for tonight is unsure, not to mention unscoutable anyway, so the Bulldogs will prepare for known quantities. Such as seniors Cameron Tatum and Renaldo Woolridge, who’ve been in Knoxville long enough to vote there. Why, Tatum already has his degree, though he needs 49 points more to reach a career 1000. He’s stuck at least one trey in the last six games and actually a bit more accurate long-range than overall. Woolridge, the 6-9 stringbean, wasn’t put in the starting lineup until the Florida game (hmm, coincidence?) and while he isn’t an offensive force he does go to the glass effectively. That wasn’t the only lineup change by Martin. While Woolridge replaced Kenny Hall, freshman Josh Richardson took over for Jordan McRae at guard. Interestingly, the two new subs were better off the bench with 23 combined points. On an otherwise-lanky sort of lineup, 265-pound Jeronne Maymon has provided a needed muscle at both ends. He’s not only fifth in SEC rebounding and has four double-doubles, but Maymon is shooting 55%. Then again this is an attack led by the backcourt, in particular point guard Trae Golden. He’s throwing in almost 15 points per, but not at the cost of passing as Golden has 81 assists as well. All this after busting his nose in a December practice badly enough to need surgery. The Vols love the longball, making 38% with four shooters having knocked down twenty treys or more already. That includes 30 off the bench by Skylar McBee…yeah, he’s still here, too. And here’s an oddity: the guards have blocked more shots than the big men, part of the pressure that creates more typical turnovers. Yep, really makes one wonder what a team written off by foes and, honestly, fans alike a month ago could become if Stokes lives up to billing.
Projected Starting Lineups:
TENNESSEE: F Renaldo Woolridge, SR 6-9 215, 6.2ppg, 4.2rpg; F Jeronne Maymon, JR 6-7 265, 11.2ppg, 7.8rpg; G Trae Golden, SO 6-1 209, 14.6ppg, 5.4apg, 26 3ptrs; G Josh Richardson, FR 6-6 186, 3.2ppg, 1.5rpg; G Cameron Tatum, SR 6-7 193, 9.5ppg, 4.0rpg, 25 3ptrs.
Top Reserves: G/F Jordon McRae, SO 6-5 174, 10.8ppg, 25 3ptrs; F Kenny Hall, JR 6-9 222, 7.0ppg, 4.9rpg; G Skylar McBee, JR 6-3 199, 6.5ppg, 30 3ptrs.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Rodney Hood, FR 6-8 200, 12.6ppg, 5.4rpg, 33.8mins; F Arnett Moultrie, JR 6-11 249, 16.2ppg, 11.3rpg; C Renardo Sidney, JR 6-10 285, 10.1ppg, 4.8rpg; G Dee Bost, SR 6-2 175, 16.2ppg, 69 asts, 33 3ptrs; G Jalen Steele, SO 6-3 195, 7.4ppg, 25 3ptrs.
Top Backups: C Wendell Lewis, SO 6-8 253, 5.5ppg, 4.5rpg, 17 blks; G Brian Bryant, SR 6-3 168, 7.8ppg, 5.0rpg, 24 asts; G Deville Smith, FR 5-11 165, 6.3ppg, 38asts.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 75.6, TENN 74.5
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.2, TENN 68.7
FG Shooting: MSU 47.4%, TENN 46.5%
FG Defense: MSU 42.0%, TENN 43.4%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 35.6%, TENN 37.5%
3-point Attempts PG: MSU 306, TENN 328
Rebounding: MSU 37.9, TENN 36.3
Rebound Margin: MSU 4.5, TENN 3.0
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 70.2%, TENN 69.7%
Turnovers: MSU +0.2, TENN -1.0
BULLDOG NOTES: The Bulldogs went 15 games without giving up more than 75 points, and just once more than 70. Then Arkansas stung State for 98, the most scored on MSU since a 2005 loss at Alabama.
*Stansbury teams have given up 90 or more points only nine times in 14 seasons, but are 2-7 in those games.
*State’s emphasis on the post game didn’t show as much in the SEC opener, as for only the second time in a six-game stretch did they throw up 20 trey-tries. Nine went in.
*Still after averaging eight made-treys per game the past two seasons, these Dogs are just hitting 6.8 so far.
*The very good reason for less outside emphasis is the inside strength of PF Arnett Moultrie, who is averaging a double-double for his first State season. Moultrie has eight double-doubles in his 13 games, though in two of the last three contests he’s been limited to eight and nine points.
*His average of 16.2 points is still #5 in the SEC this week.
*And Moultrie has muscled for double-digit rebounds in eleven games, including his last seven. It makes him the SEC’s top glass-man at 11.3. He is trying to become the third Bulldog in eight years to average a double-double for a season. Jarvis Varnado did it in 2010 and Lawrence Roberts in both 2004 and ’05.
*In a six-game stretch, twice interrupted by sitting out contests, Moultrie shot 43-of-60. But in his last two contests he is ‘just’ 13-of-27 from the floor.
*Still he’s been outstanding at the foul line with a 87% average.
*Until the Arkansas trip Moultrie was averaging less than two fouls per game. Then he fouled out at Fayetteville, with a technical included.
*PG Dee Bost has made the next cut for the Cousy Award given the country’s top hardcourt quarterback. The senior is among 20 finalists for the honor now.
*Bost has 69 assists through 16 games, and has just become the all-time career leader at MSU passing the 514 by Derrick Zimmerman. He has 519 now.
*But in 17 games last season, he had 106 assists, so the pace has slowed this year.
*His shooting pace is off as well. In the last five games Bost is 18-of-65 overall, and 5-of-27 on three-pointers.
*Bost still ranks 5th all-time at State in made treys, with 195. He needs two makes to catch Timmy Bowers for 4th place.
*Bost has started all 105 games of his four State seasons.
*Bost hasn’t fouled-out since his sophomore season.
*He is on the way to a best career year in steals, with 37 already. He had 52 as a rookie. Bost has just moved up to fourth in total steals at 164, one behind Chuck Evans for 3rd place.
*Bost is now 15th in career scoring at 1,379 points.
*Until this season Bost was the most recent true freshman to start a season-opener. SF Rodney Hood now claims that status, and has more than met the opportunity. The rookie has scored double-digits eleven times, including his first four contests.
*That had not been done by a Bulldog since Rickey Brown back in 1976-77.
*He just passed 200 points for his first college season. But maybe the rookie has hit something of a shooting-wall, as in the last four games he is 19-of-49 overall.
*Yet at the arc Hood is much more on target, 8-of-17 in the same stretch.
*Hood is second only to Bost in minutes per-game.
*C Renardo Sidney did not start at Arkansas, coming off the bench for the first time in the 13 games he has played. Yet he played the same average minutes as in his typical start, and drew just 3 fouls in the process.
*Sidney hasn’t dominated around the goal but has been quietly efficient. In the last seven games he has shot 35-of-44, almost 80%.
*With Moultrie muscling to the glass, Sidney has gone from 7.6 rebounds last season to 4.8 so far this year.
*Sidney has 21 turnovers against seven assists.
*But he also has made seven treys, in just 12 tries.
*G DeVille Smith exploded for 25 points off the bench at Arkansas, not just his highest output of the freshman season but as many points as he’d scored in the previous six games.
*Smith had season-highs for treys (3) and free throws (10) in his SEC debut.
*G Jalen Steele has hit a three-pointer in the last nine games. In fact he’s made two in each of the last three contests. But he hasn’t been to the foul line in that latter stretch.
*And overall Steele is just 12-of-37 shooting the last six contests.
*Since scoring 14 points against Northwestern State, C Wendell Lewis has made just one basket in three games. Of course he has taken only five shots in that stretch, over 52 minutes’ playing time.