Let's continue to add to our notes in the Bulldogs game file we have been putting together this week. For those who are interested you can check out Mississippi State tonight on ESPN 2 (6:30 pm EST) when they take on DePaul Blue Demons (who we beat in last year's Wooden Classic) in 2009 Big-East/SEC invitational. The more I read about these Bulldogs, the more I get the sense that we might have a fairly even matchup on Saturday.
As noted in the information below, it sounds like the Bulldogs have also been dealing with off court distractions and injuries at early point of this season. They are trying to battle through it just like us under the leadership of a pretty solid coach in Rick Stansbury. If can pull out a win, could potentially set us up for a decent finish in what has been a brutal out of conference season. Not going to be an easy task, as these Bulldogs themselves are feeling solid after their recent blowout win and looking to use that to jump start their road trip starting tonight against Blue Demons in a neutral court game in Tampa, and then flying across the country to Anahem.
So speaking of the Bulldogs, I was looking through the Blue Demons official website this am to get their scouting report on our next opponent. Here is the capsule on MSU which not surprisingly is toplined by Jarvis Varnado:
Opponent No. 8 - Mississippi State Bulldogs: Mississippi State enters Thursday's action at 5-2 following a 105-53 win over St. Bonaventure on Saturday... the Bulldogs have also posted wins over Southeast Louisiana, Bethune-Cookman, Texas-Pan American and Old Dominion... the two defeats have come at the hands of Rider and Richmond... Jarvis Varnado leads five players averaging in double-figures with 14.4 points per game... he also leads the club with 9.7 rebounds per outing and 37 blocked shots... Dee Bost adds 13.4 points per game while Ravern Johnson holds a scoring average of 12.4... the duo combines for 39 three-pointers this season as Mississippi State averages 10.1 three's per game... head coach Rick Stansbury is in his 12th season at Mississippi State and holds a 236-130 record with the Bulldogs.
Watching tonight's game could be interesting because DePaul's strategery heading into this game might not be too far off from what Coach Howland has in mind for Saturday:
DePaul (5-2) would like to keep any running Thursday to a minimum with its low-possession, low-turnover style of play. A more deliberate pace combined with solid team defense has the Blue Demons holding opponents to 56.6 points per game---No. 13 in the nation through the first week of December.
"A low-possession game magnifies the importance of free throws," Wainwright said. "It nauseates me to keep talking about it, but missed free throws are the same thing as turnovers. In seven games, we've missed 68 free throws (Mississippi State has missed 38)."
For more on the Bulldogs lets jump over the flip.As for the matchup against UCLA, here is a perspective from the Magnolia state:
Both Mississippi State and UCLA have gotten off to bad starts, losing to mid-majors Rider and Portland, respectively. In addition, off-the-court distractions have caused some damage on the court and in reputation. The NCAA is scrutinizing State freshman Renardo Sidney's finances for the last two years, and UCLA's Drew Gordon has been dismissed for behavior detrimental to the team. Both were expected to be featured players. (Why State has gotten involved in the Sidney fiasco puzzles me, but that will have to be a subject for another day.)
Neither team, though, has begun conference play. Once UCLA adjusts to life after Gordon and the Sidney case is resolved for State, you could see both teams ascend in their weaker conferences. Beating UCLA, the holder of a record 11 national championships, will always help in putting a season back on track. For UCLA, ending a four-game losing streak is the first step.
As with last season, State has struggled to score points. Their base set is four guards around front court "presence" Justin Varnado. "Swat" Varnado is often successful in patrolling the front court (9.7 rebounds per game) alone and is more than adequate on the offensive end (67.3 field goal percentage). Sophomore combo guard Dee Bost distributes the ball well and has gained weight. Forward Ravern Johnson is the outside shooting threat. This year, coach Rick Stansbury hopes he can lead his team beyond the second round of the NCAA tournament. But Bost has stepped forward and told Sporting News that State "can win a national championship."
That was from John Yargo in the Jackson Free Press. Now Yargo referred to how the Bulldogs have also been navigating through some off the court distractions this season. Kyle Veazey from ClarionLedger.com expanded more on those off court distractions for the Bulldogs, which apparently reached a boiling point at very early point of the current season:
It reached a quick boiling point, at least when it comes to perception. Kodi Augustus spouted off about a lack of playing time after the Rider loss, prompting players to say there wasn't a rift in the locker room and Stansbury to suspend Augustus for two games.
Injuries have impacted the team the most, killing its depth. Though State has benefited from the return of guard Riley Benock (foot), it has suffered as forward Elgin Bailey (ankle) has hardly been healthy enough to play.
State is already dealing with the loss of backup guard Twany Beckham (hip) for the season and has yet to see any time from freshman guard Shaun Smith (hip).
Some of State's name players, too, have been hurting. Stewart has nursed a sprained right wrist. Dee Bost has hurt both his groin and ankle. And Jarvis Varnado, the team's shot-blocking sensation, is recovering from dislocated fingers.
The two players State signed to much fanfare back in the spring - 7-foot-1 center John Riek and 6-10 forward Renardo Sidney - haven't played. Riek was suspended nine games after an NCAA amateurism inquiry and will be available for State's game next Wednesday against Wright State.
Sidney has not been cleared on his amateurism inquiry. It's been a saga that has dragged on since shortly after he signed on April 30, and few close to the case this week predicted a quick outcome.
Like I said above, it sounds like it might be a very evenly matched game on Saturday, even though the Bulldogs are the more experienced team returning most of their starters from last season. It will be very interesting to see how they handle the Blue Demons tonight.
I am sure Coach Howland, his staff and our players (if they are done with finals) will probably be playing close attention to the Bulldogs tonight. I will try to look in. If you are around and are watching the game, let us know of your takes. I might put up an open game thread for it. If you guys want one, let me know in the comment thread.