*With two league, and Division, games left for each club, this week is crucial in settling the top four seeds out of the West in the upcoming SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs can still finish in a tie for second with two wins, but on tiebreaks would still almost certainly be seeded third. One more win locks up the #3 spot out of the West. Arkansas is currently fourth and can only reach third by winning both games this week, and with State losing twice.
*All six West seeds are still undecided as of Monday, according to the SEC's projected scenarios and tiebreaks. But, according to the league office, only Alabama or LSU can finish first or second; State and Arkansas third or fourth; and Mississippi and Auburn fifth or sixth. In the East, Kentucky and Florida have clinced the first and second seeds and Georgia is locked into sixth.
*Regardless of this week's outcome, Mississippi State has achieved a program milestone already by scoring a fourth consecutive 20-win season for the first time since Bulldogs picked up a basketball. In the past four seasons MSU has won 27, 21, 26, and so far 20 games, easily the most successful such span ever in Starkville.
About the Razorbacks
It took three seasons, but Stan Heath's program has taken a big step ahead by clinching the first winning year in Fayetteville since 2001. Now the Razorbacks are scrambling for a chance to take a second step in the same campaign, by earning a postseason bid. Preferably a NCAA berth, of course, and with a shot at 20 regular-season wins and the anything-goes opportunities of SEC Tournament play there is at least some reasonable hope there. There is no margin for error left, though, due to a miserable non-strength of schedule and lackluster RPI. The Hogs just have to win their way in. They've got a team that can do it, too, though getting a good read on this lineup isn't easy…partly because no matter who starts there is a near-constant rotation of nine Razorbacks shuttling in and out. The one constant is super-soph Ronnie Brewer, the 6-7 guard who shoots (31 treys), scores (16.6 points), passes, rebounds, everything. He's notching 35 minutes per SEC game, the only Arkansan over 30 minutes. He plays very well off point guard Eric Ferguson, a playmaker just as likely to pull the trigger himself with 41 three-pointers. Mix in starting swingman Olu Famutimi (40 treys) and might-as-well-be-starting guard Jonathan Modica and UA can field a backcourt of unusual size, typical Razorback speed, and proven perimeter punch. The challenge has been finding some balance in the offense; the Hogs shoot 35% at the arc in SEC play but only 43% overall. And a lineup with all that scoring potential has scored in the 70s only twice this league season and is averaging just 66 points through 14 games. The 70 points against Tennessee was the team's best output since January 22. Post play is the obvious wild card, and after starting 7-0 Steven Hill early in SEC season Heath is putting more minutes on Darian Townes (8.9ppg) alongside forward Charles Thomas, a couple of 240-pound bookends on the frontcourt. It's a solid defensive lineup, giving up 66 SEC points, so the Razorbacks are comfortable playing close games. And while the pace has dropped since taking advantage of a bunch of pre-league lightweights, this is the best bunch of shot blockers in Fayetteville in several years. So the parts seem to be there to put together a end-of-schedule run into tournament time. If, as always, the outside shots are falling.
Tentative Starting Lineups
Arkansas: G Ronnie Brewer, 6-7 SO, 16.6ppg, 4.9rpg, 31 3ptrs; G Eric Ferguson, 6-1 JR, 8.9ppg, 4.2apg, 41 3ptrs; C Darian Townes, 6-10 FR, 9.8ppg, 4.4rpg; F Charles Thomas, 6-7 FR, 5.7ppg, 2.7rpg; F Olu Famutimi, 6-5 SO, 9.7ppg, 4.2rpg, 40 3ptrs.
Razorback Alternates: C Steven Hill, 7-0 FR, 2.5ppg, 2.5rpg; G Jonathan Modica, 6-4 JR, 10.1ppg, 2.8rpg, 27 3ptrs; F Michael Jones, 6-9 SR, 4.2ppg, 13 3ptrs; F Rashad Sullivan, 6-8 JR, 2.5ppg, 3.4rpg.
Mississippi State: G Gary Ervin, 5-11 SO, 8.0ppg, 4.9apg; G Shane Power, 6-5 SR, 11.6ppg, 4.0rpg, 53 3pts; C Marcus Campbell, 7-0 SR, 6.5ppg, 5.4rpg; F Lawrence Roberts, 6-9 SR, 17.5ppg, 11.2rpg; F Ontario Harper, 6-5 SR, 8.0ppg, 4.9rpg.
Bulldog Backups: G Winsome Frazier, 6-4 SR, 12.6ppg, 3.5rpg, 44 3ptrs; G Jamall Edmondson, 5-9 JR, 4.8ppg, 25 3ptrs; G Dietric Slater, 6-3 SO, 3.2ppg, 2.1rpg; F/C Walter Sharpe, 6-9 FR, 2.5ppg, 2.0rpg
Scoring: MSU 73.5, ARK 73.4
Scoring Defense: MSU 65.9, ARK 62.4
Rebounding: MSU 41.2, ARK 34.6
Rebounding Margin: MSU +9.6, ARK +2.3
Shooting: MSU 45.5%, ARK 46.6%
Shooting Defense: MSU 41.1%, ARK 41.1
Three-Point Shooting: MSU 33.8% (160/473), ARK 39.0% (168/431)
Three-Point Defense: MSU 31.0% (189/609), ARK 29.3% (137/468)
Arkansas holds a 22-15 lead in Mississippi State's youngest Western Division rivalry. There was a series here even before Arkansas signed on with the SEC, with the schools playing nine times at five sites between 1952 and '78. Now that they play twice annually the Razorbacks have had the better of things, though the margin was built entirely from 1998-2000 when the Razorbacks won seven-straight meetings, including one at the '99 SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs have been gaining ground, though, by winning five of the last six meetings, and they have a three-game win streak going. That includes last year's victory at Fayetteville, only the second time State has succeeded on UA's home court(s) in 15 tries. Rick Stansbury is 6-8 against Arkansas, while Stan Heath is 1-4 against Mississippi State.
The Last Time: MSU 80, Arkansas 55
Mississippi State, holding its highest ranking of the season (#11 AP), bounced back from a midweek loss at Tennessee to thrash visiting Arkansas in Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs had been rattled by the injury absence of starting guard Winsome Frazier at Knoxville, but a couple more days helped them settle down. It showed, as State exploded to a 21-2 lead and held the Razorbacks to a lone bucket for the first seven minutes of play. Arkansas never managed to cut the lead under double-digits, getting no closer than ten points (thrice) with the Dogs always able to re-inflate the cushion as needed. Only three Dogs scored in double-figures, led by Lawrence Roberts with 17 points and ten rebounds. Marcus Campbell had a 15-point performance, making six-of-seven shots in his 19 minutes' action. Ontario Harper came off the bench for ten more points. All 13 healthy Dogs played and eleven of them got on the scoreboard, while Arkansas got 14 points from Jonathan Modica. MSU only beat the ‘Backs on the boards by 39-37, but out-shot them 48% to 30.4% and scored 30 points from the foul line. The Dogs needed just two three-point goals this day, provided by Harper and Roberts.
Did You Know?
*UA starting forward Charles Thomas is a native of Jackson, Miss., and played at Lanier High School. There are no Arkansans on the Bulldog roster.
Bulldog Game Notes
*Seniors Winsome Frazier and Marcus Campbell officially became the ‘winningest' Bulldogs ever with 93 career victories (regardless of actual participation in the games) when State won at Georgia. They surpassed the 92 wins belonging to 2004 senior Timmy Bowers. While the pair extend their record with every extra win this year, they are also shooting to become the first Dogs to play on four-consecutive NCAA Tournament teams.
*Coach Rick Stansbury now has fielded four-straight 20-win teams with Mississippi State. Last year he became the first Bulldog coach of three consecutive 20-win clubs. His 1998-99 debut MSU team also won 20 games, meaning that of the 11 State squads to win 20 or more contests Stansbury has been in charge of five.
*Mississippi State has won the ‘battle on the boards' 24 of 28 games this season, and doubled Mississippi in rebounds Saturday 38 to 19…though that total actually ate into the season average which now stands at 41.2 per game. That is still four full boards ahead of the next-best SEC club, Florida, for the season as a whole. So the Bulldogs are in great shape to become the first program to lead the league in rebounding for five consecutive seasons. The team's rebound margin of +9.3 also tops the league.
*At the opposite end of the statistical spectrum, State ranks last in the SEC in turnover margin, and just tenth in assist/turnover ratio. Interestingly, though, the 10th- and 11th-worst clubs in turnover margin are Alabama and LSU.
*Senior Lawrence Roberts is the ‘central' reason State pounds the boards better than anyone in the SEC, and his 11.2 average for the season means Roberts is running away in the rebounding race. He is two boards ahead of LSU's Glenn Davis in second. Roberts led the SEC in rebounding as a junior with a 10.1 average.
*Roberts' scoring had dropped off in mid-February, and a thigh bruise at Kentucky threatened further damage down the stretch. But Roberts has bounced back with 19 and 20 points his last two outings, and his average is back up to 17.5. That still trails Florida's Anthony Roberson (18.5) and Alabama's Kennedy Winston (17.7) in SEC play, and Roberts is basically neck-and-neck with LSU's Brandon Bass.
*A large portion of Roberts' scoring this season has come at the foul line, where he has hit 158 of 245 attempts. He needs two more free shots to tie Darryl Wilson's 160 free throws made for most by a Bulldogs since the Babe McCarthy Era.
*One can guess that Mississippi will be glad if they never see Roberts again, after he has put together games against them of: 11 points/8 rebounds and 24/9 as a junior, and 23/7 and 20/15 this year.
*Counting his two years at Baylor, Roberts has totaled 1,856 points and 1,112 rebounds for his college career. His MSU totals are 962 points and 594 boards.
*Senior forward Shane Power is making a strong late-season bid for all-conference honors as well. He has scored 119 points in his last seven SEC games, a 17.0 average. Power has also scored 21 three-point goals in the last seven contests giving him 53 for the year and 91 for his two-year MSU career. His accuracy of 45% in this span is the best in Bulldog history.
*After missing eight complete games with broken foot, senior Winsome Frazier has scored 40 points off the bench in four games. He has scored double-digit points 15 times this year, starting or subbing. Frazier has also scored 145 three-point goals, sixth on the MSU career list.
*Frazier now has 139 career steals in the 100 games he has played in, and is tied with Terry Lewis (1980-83) on the MSU list, one behind Darryl Wilson (1994-96).
*Senior Ontario Harper should play in his 100th career game this Tuesday.
*Senior Marcus Campbell has 82 career blocked shots, rnaking seventh and seven swats back of Derrick Zimmerman (2000-03).
*State's win over the Rebels was watched by a crowd of 10,242 at Humphrey Coliseum, the first five-figure gate of the season. It was the tenth-largest crowd in Hump history, and the 20th 10K attendance at the 30-year-old facility. Of those, nine have been for MSU-UM contests.
The Bulldogs wrap up the regular season Saturday with a homecourt finale against Alabama a 1:00. Arkansas is at Auburn.