Why The Bulldogs Can Surprise: Not long ago Jarvis Varnado was a complimentary player who blocked a lot of shots. He is still one of the best shot blockers in the nation and totaled an incredible 163 blocked shots on the season and is the NCAA’s all-time leader in that category, but he does so much more than that. Varnado was a solid rebounder as well and this year is no different. However, now he is also emerging as a consistent scoring threat under the basket. Quite a few of his buckets are easy put-backs off of offensive rebounds, but Varnado is an efficient scorer and the frontcourt’s best scoring option.
Kodi Augustus has stepped into the starting spot at the power forward position. While he is a capable outside shooter, Augustus has struggled in that department for much of the season. Yet, Augustus’ presence under the basket has nullified the Bulldogs poor rebounding of a year ago. That allows Ravern Johnson to move back to the small forward spot. And Johnson has thrived. He is a great shooter from long range no matter which position he is playing and his 6-7 frame has helped the team turn rebounding from a problem to a strength.
Why The Bulldogs Can Disappoint: Turnovers are Mississippi State’s biggest problem. Dee Bost did not look like a freshman last year and with a year of experience under his belt he has only gotten better. On a team that loves to play tough defense, it is often not necessary for Bost to force the action. That is especially true this season when Varnado can create offense under the basket in the half-court offense. But Bost will still force a few too many passes. The lack of depth is also a concern, but Coach Rick Stansbury does a good job keeping the minutes manageable so nobody gets too tired down the stretch and only one team in the nation commits fewer fouls than the Bulldogs so that is rarely an issue.
Who To Watch for Mississippi State: Barry Stewart is the unsung star of this team. He is not as prolific of a shooter as Johnson or as great of a playmaker as Bost, but he is a nice mix of the two. Stewart averages 11.7 points per game and is a staple at the shooting guard spot. When Stewart’s shot is falling, Mississippi State has four great scorers and that makes them very difficult to defend. Phil Turner is the one player off the bench who makes an impact every game. The 6-3 guard is a great rebounder for his size and, again, has helped turned the Bulldogs into a solid rebounding team. Turner is a tough player and a tough defender, who could be very dangerous if his jumper was more consistent.
Mississippi State By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 72.8 (92nd in nation, 7th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 64.4 (77, 1)
Field-Goal Percentage: 43.4 (183, 10)
Field-Goal Defense: 38.4 (10, 2)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 9.2 (6, 1)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 35.9 (92, 3)
Free-Throw Percentage: 68.3 (198, 7)
Rebound Margin: 2.8 (87, 3)
Assists Per Game: 13.0 (176, 10)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.0 (107, 6)
Joel’s Bracket Says: Second Round loss to William & Mary
By Joel Welser
CollegeSports-fans.com Senior Basketball Writer