*Despite a Saturday stumble on the home court, Mississippi State remains right where they went into the weekend in the SEC standings. The Bulldogs are still third overall, just a game back of 7-3 Florida and even with 6-4 Vanderbilt. State also has the tie-break on the Commodores for the third seed in the SEC Tournament.
*But the Bulldogs lost their A.P. ranking, ending a 13-week stay in the writers poll. They were #20 last week, and reached a high ranking of #15 so far.
*The Georgia loss was the first time State had a SEC setback by single-digits. The six league wins have come by an average of 4.5 points.
*The closest win, in overtime with Vanderbilt, is also State’s lone SEC road win so far. Last year’s Dogs had four league road wins, including at LSU.
*LSU leads the all-time series 104-97, but Bulldog teams have won their last two trips to Baton Rouge.
*Coach Rick Stansbury is 18-12 against the LSU Tigers, his second-most wins in any league rivalry.
*The MSU coach has 291 career wins and ranks 9th on the SEC list needing 297 to tie for 7th place.
*Mississippi State is averaging the second-fewest fouls called in the NCAA, at 13.6 personals per game. Probably not coincidentally, the top four SEC teams also are among this week’s NCAA leaders with Kentucky 11th-best, Florida 26th, and Vanderbilt 30th.
The Opponent: Don’t write these Tigers off just yet. Sure, those five January league losses dug LSU into a hole, and we’ll never know how the season might have developed if not for a hand injury to the key freshman big cat. But Trent Johnson’s team has coped admirably with setbacks and is playing the sort of ball seen back in December when LSU went on a six-win tear. And they’re doing so without a lot of outside offense. State fans still shaken by that late-game barrage of treys will be startled to hear that in the four games since the Tigers are just 8-of-54 at the arc. Of course given how teams seem to find their aim against MSU this in-accuracy would be dangerous to count on tonight. Certainly freshman Anthony Hickey has shown he can stick the longball under pressure, though his real impact has been improving Tiger ball-movement with a strong assist-to-turnover rate. He also has a knack for picking pockets with two steals-per. This is a backcourt for the future, too, as fellow starters Andre Stringer and Ralston Turner are both sophomores. If any two of these Tigers should find the outside range on a given night it will be trouble, because already defenses have to focus most attention on the big bodies filling paint space. Lots of paint space at around 260-pound apiece. Frosh Johnny O’Bryant III seems over his broken left hand with a dozen points against Kentucky and 17 more against Alabama. Besides boosting the rebound numbers he’s also getting to the foul line more often lately. No, 7-0 Justin Hamilton isn’t the most agile center in the league. But he’s grindingly efficient playing off O’Bryant or other posts, and only Kentucky has held him to single-digit points in SEC season. Add in big forwards Storm Warren or Eddie Ludwig and LSU can throw a series of bodies against State’s thinner frontcourt. And this doesn’t even factor in oft-suspended Malcolm White who is back on the active list again. Scouting LSU is all the more difficult because even the Tigers are just now figuring out who does what best and when. It’s probably too late to put a NCAA team together, though in the fragile SEC one never knows. But there is assuredly every chance for LSU to upset some opposing plans and work for some sort of post-season opportunity. And, to set the stage for better things next winter.
The Last Time: January 25, Starkville – Mississippi State had everything nicely under control until a late-game stretch of desperate shooting put the Tigers in striking distance. The Bulldogs saw a 12-point lead evaporate under the combination of their own missteps and a hail of three-pointers by Anthony Hickey, by increasing distances too. LSU even got the ball back with a 74-71 scoreboard and a few seconds left for a last heave, but Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie jumped the inbounds pass and forced a fumble. Bost recovered the loose ball and flipped to Moultrie for a foul and free throw to settle it 76-71. Besides his clutch defense, Moultrie had a career sort of offensive game by scoring 28 points with a dozen rebounds to boot. Starting forward Rodney Hood added 13 points while guard Jalen Steele came off the bench for 15 points. Bost only scored nine but was close to a triple-double with 10 assists and seven rebounds. LSU was led by alternate guard Andre Stringer’s 17 points while Hickey got 16 on four three-pointers. Center Justin Hamilton came in the league’s scoring leader but struggled with 11 points and five rebounds without much help from the rest of the frontcourt. Rookie forward Johnny O’Bryant’s return to action after a hand injury produced six points and four boards off the bench with a pair of missed long shots. Still the 11 made-treys were the most by LSU so far this SEC season, while State had an slower night at the arc going 5-of-14.
Projected Starting Lineups (full season stats):
LSU: F Johnny O’Bryant III, FR 6-9 260, 8.3ppg, 6.6rpg, 40%fgs; C Justin Hamilton, JR 7-0 260, 13.7ppg, 7.5rpg, 35blks, 53%fgs; G Andre Stringer, SO 5-9 178, 10.2ppg, 29 3ptrs, 88%fts; G Anthony Hickey, FR 5-11 182, 9.7ppg, 34 3ptrs, 93 asts; G Ralston Turner, SO 6-6 205, 8.8ppg, 34 3ptrs, 35%3ptrs.
Top Reserves: F Storm Warren, SR 6-7 230, 8.0ppg, 4.7rpg, 19 blks; F Eddie Ludwig, JR 6-9 210, 2.6ppg, 2.2rpg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Rodney Hood, FR 6-8 200, 11.1ppg, 5.0rpg, 38 3ptrs; F Arnett Moultrie, JR 6-11 249, 16.8ppg, 10.8rpg, 57%fgs; C Renardo Sidney, JR 6-10 285, 11.1ppg, 5.0rpg, 53%fgs; G Dee Bost, SR 6-2 175, 16.0ppg, 126 asts, 56 3ptrs; G Brian Bryant, SR 6-3 168, 6.5ppg, 4.5rpg, 46 asts.
Top Backups: G Jalen Steele, SO 6-3 195, 8.2ppg, 50 3ptrs; C Wendell Lewis, SO 6-8 253, 4.0ppg, 4.0rpg, 24 blks.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 73.4, LSU 66.4
Scoring Defense: MSU 66.6, LSU 63.2
FG Shooting: MSU 46.4%, LSU 40.8%
FG Defense: MSU 42.9%, LSU 40.9%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 36.7%, LSU 31.9%
3-point Attempts PG: MSU 19.4, LSU 16.3
Rebounding: MSU 36.9, LSU 37.6
Rebound Margin: MSU +3.4, LSU +0.8
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 69.7%, LSU 70.9%
Turnovers: MSU -0.8, LSU +2.6