*Mississippi State already owns a pair of victories over Eastern opponents after beating South Carolina and Georgia. The 2-0 SEC start is best since the 2010 opened 3-0.
*Saturday’s victory at Georgia was the first true road win for the Bulldogs this season.
*State is 6-0 in the Hump this season.
*Mississippi State is Alabama’s most-played opponent with 188 games. The Crimson Tide leads 115-73, but Bulldog teams are 56-35 playing on campus.
The Opponent: They aren’t ranked and the RPI is well outside NCAA consideration for now. Yet there’s something about this Alabama team that should keep opponents on their guard. Or guards more accurately, thanks to a talented and experienced backcourt. Coach Anthony Grant certainly relies on the guards and most of the lineups—he’s used eight of them to date—start from the outside/in. Such as the group that started last Saturday’s win, with four shooters who account for 78 of the team’s 87 total treys. Preseason All-SEC Trevor Releford is a fine beginning-point, and while a junior his 83 career games are most on this roster. He has averaged over 20 points to start SEC season. Though Releford is the quarterback cohort Trevor Lacey has more assists, to go with his team-leading treys. This isn’t just a gunner either as Lacey uses his strength to lane-life advantage. So do taller guards Levi Randolph and Rodney Cooper as they score inside while attacking the glass routinely. And then there is the oft-injured Andrew Steele (yep, he’s still here) who might not have big numbers but does offer intangible. Coincidence or not Alabama is 7-1 when he plays. So what of the frontcourt? Soph Nick Jacobs is the nominal starter and a 265-pound presence to be sure. But the Tide can and will go bigger off the bench with 7-0 juco Moussa Gueye. And the one to watch, as well as for the home-court fans to welcome, is Mississippian Devonta Pollard. He’s off to a slower start at five points and four boards with 44% shooting, but when he puts some pounds on the 6-8 frame he’ll fit Grant’s gameplans just fine. For that matter if the frontcourt accelerates its development Alabama can work into post-season contention in a weaker-than-ever SEC. Besides, with the odd exception of Tulane (?) there isn’t a really ‘bad’ loss on the record, something a lot of league teams can’t claim.
Latest Starting Lineups:
ALABAMA: F Nick Jacobs, 6-8 SO, 4.9ppg, 2.9rpg, 15 blks; G Trevor Lacey, 6-3 SO, 12.5ppg, 3.3apg, 28 3ptrs; G Trevor Releford, 6-0 JR, 16.3ppg, 2.6apg, 20 3ptrs; G Levi Randolph, 6-5 SO, 8.1ppg. 3.7rpg; G Rodney Cooper, 6-6 SO, 11.7ppg, 4.4rpg.
Top Reserves: F Devonta Pollard, 6-8 FR, 5.8ppg, 3.5rpg, 15 blks; C Moussa Gueye, 7-0 JR, 1.1ppg, 4.5rpg; G Andrew Steele, 6-4 SR, 4.8ppg, 1.9apg.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: F Colin Borchert, 6-8 JR, 7.6ppg, 4.8rpg, 18blks; C Gavin Ware, 6-9 FR, 8.4ppg, 7.1rpg, 52%fgs, 15 blks; G Craig Sword, 6-3 FR, 9.6ppg, 3.2rpg, 28 stls; G Trivante Bloodman, 6-0 SO, 5.8ppg, 40 asts; G Jalen Steele, 6-3 JR, 11.5ppg, 3.7rpg, 43% 3ptrs
Top Backups: F Rocquez Johnson, 6-7 SO, 12.0ppg, 5.2rpg, 11 blks; G Fred Thomas, 6-5 FR, 10.0ppg, 22 3ptrs; G Tyson Cunningham, 6-3 JR, 2.5ppg, 3.0rpg.
HOW THEY COMPARE:
Scoring: MSU 63.2, ALA 65.9
Scoring Defense: MSU 62.5, ALA 60.9
FG Shooting: MSU 41.4%, ALA 44.6%
FG Defense: MSU 39.6%, ALA 40.7%
3-Point Shooting: MSU 27.6%, ALA 34.3%
Rebounding: MSU 36.8, ALA 32.4
Rebound Margin: MSU +0.4, ALA -0.9
Free Throw Shooting: MSU 65.8%, ALA 70.9%
Turnovers: MSU +0.1, ALA +1.9
BULLDOG NOTES: *State has used six lineups through 14 games, and started the same quintet now in both SEC wins.
*PG Trivante Bloodman is the only Dog to open all 14 games.
*Maybe the most amazing statistic in the league is that despite a limited roster no Bulldog ranks in the SEC’s top-ten for minutes played.
*After going 0-of-10 on three-point goals in their SEC opener the Bulldogs were 9-of-20 at Georgia.
*State failed to make a 3-point basket in the South Carolina game, ending a 262- game streak with at least one trey. But it meant this was the first Bulldog win of the three-point era without a made-trey.
*Through last night’s games, the Bulldogs are now 12th in SEC shooting. Not great of course, but a week ago they were 14th.
*And they are 5th-best in field goal defense now.
*However State is still last in both three-point shooting and three-point defense.
*The Dogs are fourth-best in SEC steals. That’s because G Craig Sword and G Fred Thomas are 5th and 8th in steals individually.
*No Dog is in the SEC top-20 in rebounding as of today; and F Rocquez Johnson barely slides into the scoring top-20 at 19th.
*In the four games since returning since a November 13 wrist injury, G Jalen Steele has shot just 17-of-45 overall. But the junior has been 10-of-23 at the arc.
*Steele has averaged 12.8 points since his return.
*Steele missed his first free throw of the year at Georgia after making 30-straight.
*In 66 games Steele now has 109 career treys. He needs 132 to crack the program’s top-ten.
*G Craig Sword has been a SEC-season surprise with 34 points and 12-of-21 shooting in his two conference games. He was named league Freshman of the Week as a result.
*Going to Georgia, Sword was just 3-of-22 at the arc. He hit 2 of 3 tries in Athens, his first multi-trey game at State.
*Sword has scored double-digits in four of his last five games and raised his season rate to 9.6.
*But after passing out two or more assists in ten-straight games, the rookie went without a scoring pass at Georgia.
*He still has had two steals in four-straight games, and hasn’t been shut-out on defense yet this season.
*F Colin Borchert is 5th in blocked shots per-game.
*And the junior has become a force on the glass. In the last seven games Borchert has averaged six rebounds even.
*C Gavin Ware may have hit a freshman-year wall, standard for big kids. He’s put in 43 minutes through two SEC games.
*He still works his way to missed shots though, with 5.0 rebounds in league play. In the last five games he has grabbed 42 total boards.
*F Rocquez Johnson isn’t getting as many shots as in pre-SEC play. But he’s made five of the eight attempted.
*And State wants the sophomore to get to the line as often as possible. He is 17-of-21 on free throws the last four games.
*Maybe G Fred Thomas is finding the long-range, having hit 2-of-5 at the arc in Saturday’s win. Maybe that’s not an eye-opening rate, but in the previous seven games the freshman was just 10-of-47 there.