Only Mississippi State can trump the youth of fellow SEC West member Auburn. The Bulldogs lost their entire starting five at the end of last year, including SEC POTY Lawrence Roberts.
As a result, State is struggling. MSU is 11-6, having lost at home to Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana State and Northwestern State, and on the road to Akron, Florida and Ole Miss.
But the Bulldogs aren't toothless. Superstar freshman Jamont Gordon, you may recall, was -- and then wasn't -- headed to Tennessee when Buzz Peterson still coached the Vols. Then, he was -- and then wasn't -- headed to a prep school. He landed in Starkville, and has made the most of his time. Gordon co-leads the team in points (14 ppg), and pulls down a team-high 6.5 boards per game...all while playing the point. He also averages a team-high 32 minutes.
Senior Jamall Edmonson also averages 14 points a game, and he missed State's first two conference games with a groin injury. In SEC play, sophomore forward Charles Rhodes averages 17 points and eight rebounds a game, and is shooting 60% from the field.
In addition to Tennessee native Gordon, MSU coach Rick Stansbury also signed Tony and Richard Delk, standout twin guards from Cleveland, TN. Lots of SEC-level programs were interested in recruiting them, but few had enough scholarships available to sign both. Alas, MSU did not have that problem.
But the rebuilding plan took a big step back this week, when Stansbury dismissed sophomore Walter Sharpe and freshman Jerrell Houston from the team. Sharpe, from Birmingham, often started at State, and averaged 9.3 points and 5.0 rebounds a game.
But the 6-foot-7 forward was reportedly voted off of the team by his own teammates for his bad attitude and his propensity for skipping practice. He was suspended for the first seven games of the season anyway, so Sparke's loss may be addition by subtraction for State.
State doesn't stack up well in the conference. They rank in the bottom third in the SEC in scoring offense, scoring defense, scoring margin, free throw shooting, field goal percentage, and 3-point shooting percentage. Suffice it to say, this is not a well-oiled offensive machine.
They are, however, second in the conference in field goal percentage defense, allowing just 39% from the field. That is second only to LSU, which has the best frontcourt in the SEC. On average, they out-rebound their opponents by more than five boards a game, second only to the Tigers.
The Bulldogs have won the last five regular-season games with Vandy, including back-to-back road wins over VU for the first time in school history. They have won their last two games in Nashville, and also beat Arkansas earlier this month. Vanderbilt fell to the Razorbacks last week after being man-handled on the boards 39-20.
This is a rebuilding year for Coach Stansbury, and with Gordon, the Delk twins and three other newcomers on the roster, the Bulldogs are simply looking to make steady team progress in the conference schedule. They have little to lose tomorrow, and Gordon will want to make an impressive showing in his debut homecoming appearance.
On paper, once again, this should be a total mismatch. Vanderbilt has everything State doesn't: Experience, depth, postseason opportunities and a home court advantage. But we've played this broken record many times this year, and though VU has a 11-4/2-2 record, most of their wins came with flawed performances against out-manned teams.
VU had flirted with disaster all season long and got bit on Wednesday, losing to South Carolina -- what most believe is the worst team in the East. After leading twice by double digits and by 10 with four minutes left, VU disappeared down the stretch on both ends of the court, and fell in overtime. Vandy came into the SC game as the league's best free throw shooting team, and saw three different players miss free throws in the last minute that would have sealed the deal.
Vandy continues to be led in scoring by Foster and Byars, and in rebounding by Terrell and Carroll. But the sum of the team's parts just isn't greater than the whole. Once again, Vanderbilt's guards allowed a career performance, as Tre Kelley lit the 'Dores up for 29 points -- including an uncontested, back-breaking drive at the end of overtime to give Carolina the win.
While we're on the bad news, starting center Ted Skuchas put in the most unimpressive performance of the year Wednesday; He had no points, rebounds, free throw attempts or blocks in 21 minutes of PT against the completely out-manned Gamecock front line. That said, Skuchas will face senior Wesley Morgan of Nashville's Gallatin High, who poses a similarly unimposing threat.
Coach Stallings sat stunned in the post-game press conference Wednesday. But don't expect the mercurial coach to just sit and watch his team underachieve. There's too much at stake this season for both him and the program.
This is a team that is teetering on the edge, and a loss to State after the stunner to Carolina -- especially after defeating UK at Rupp -- would be nothing short of devistating. Coach Stallings faces his tallest coaching challenge of the season. A win might not right the Commodores' ship, but a loss could certainly sink it.
1 - Mario Moore, G, 5-11, 181, Sr., Nashville, Tenn. (6.8 ppg, 2.0 apg)
Scored 12 points on 5-of-7 FG shooting against South Carolina.
32 - Shan Foster, G/F, 6-6, 200, So., Kenner, La. (16.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
Averaging 19.0 points and shooting 45.6 3FG% (36-of-79) in last eight games.
4 - Derrick Byars, G/F, 6-7, 223, Jr.-Tr., Memphis, Tenn. (11.4 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.9 apg)
Leads team in assists (3.9 per game) while shooting 44.8 3FG% (26-of-58).
33 - Julian Terrell, F, 6-9, 248, Sr., Nashville, Tenn. (10.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.6 bpg)
Has scored in double figures in nine of the past 11 games.
54 - Ted Skuchas, C, 6-11, 250, R-Jr., Audubon, Pa. (4.4 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
Has started every game this season.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
44 - Jamont Gordon, G, 6-4, 225, Fr., Nashville, Tenn. (13.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3.9 apg)
Recorded double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds against LSU.
24 - Reginald Delk, G, 6-4, 170, Fr., Jackson, Tenn. (7.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
Has started 12 of the last 13 games for the Bulldogs.
22 - Dietric Slater, G, 6-3, 200, Jr., Waynesboro, Miss. (10.1 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
Shooting 53.3 FG% (57-of-107).
23 - Charles Rhodes, F, 6-8, 240, So., Jackson, Miss. (11.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg)
Ranks first on team in points (17.0) and second in rebounds (8.0) in SEC play.
25 - Wesley Morgan, C, 7-2, 240, Sr., Gallatin, Miss. (5.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
Shooting 55.6 FG% (40-of-72).
TV: CBS Sports (WTVF- Ch. 5 - Nashville)
Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM (Nashville)
Tommy Crockett (Reno, NV), VandySports.com basketball board moderator
The Mississippi State Bulldogs are surely experiencing a down year. Shall we call it a rebuilding season? For all the early victories the Vanderbilt Commodores experienced against bad competition now that the conference schedule is in play things are beginning to even out.
Stansbury has kicked a couple of marginal contributors off the team for this game. The ousted players are Walter Sharpe, an excellent player when he's there, but a troubled career along with a two point or so a game guy in Jerrell Houston. As long as Gordon, Edmonson and Rhodes are still on the team Vandy is going to have its hands full.
The Sagarin predictor seems to think we'll win this game by just over seven points. Unfortunately the computer doesn't take into account spot defense in situational conditions. Then again who can predict if the Bulldogs commit double digit unforced turnovers as they did at Oxford?
If Vandy shoots in the mid-forty percentile range for the game in both field goals and three point field goal attempts they win by ten. When it comes to free throws I have no idea of what to expect.
I know Coach Stallings has told the Vandy guards to play up on their man on defense. Since it isn't getting done I am beginning to believe they may not currently have the quickness to get it accomplished for whatever reason.
Ed note: I certainly hope I'm way off base, but I can't shake the feeling that Vandy play has a long way to go to qualify for the NIT this year. Vanderbilt has the look of the '04-05 Arkansas squad that fell so far short of its goals. The talent is there, but something is amiss as they just aren't firing in the correct order just yet.
My prediction: Mississippi State 66, Vanderbilt 64
Danny Sawyer (Nashville, TN), VandySports.com basketball board moderator
For the first time this year, Vanderbilt finally catches a break in the schedule by getting the perfect mix of VU's desperation and their opponent's impotency.
Forget all the 'sky is falling' talk and forget what any of us jaded VU fans will tell you...there is no way short of a miracle that Mississippi State wins this game. Book it! Since I'm into this kind of thing, consider a few stats:
In 15 games, the Dores have only turned the ball over 179 times. Compare that to Mississippi State who, in 17 games, has only dished out 172 assists while turning it over an astonishing 309 times! That's the mark of a young team and a bad sign for Rick Stansbury as he brings his
puppies into Memorial. The Bulldogs have the lowest Offensive Efficiency rating in the league and they are reeling from the loss of two more players just last week.
This game is similar to Auburn in many respects and I expect the outcome to be similar. Vanderbilt still has a lot to play for and this one is a must win. The 'Dores take care of business in this one. Bet the farm.
My prediction, strictly by looking at the numbers: Vanderbilt 72, Mississippi St 62
P.S. For reference, if you used Ken Pomeroy's rating system the expected outcome would be very similar: Vanderbilt 74 Mississippi St 64
David Vorhaus (Nashville, TN), VandySports.com basketball board moderator
I cannot bring myself to talk about the men's basketball team right now.
I am so disgusted with Wednesday, and I believe that could cost us an NCAA berth. We have no leader on the floor right now and as many of us predicted free throws would kill us one day.
I am very disappointed.
My prediction: Mississippi State 68, Vanderbilt 63
Mike Rapp (Franklin, TN), VandySports.com publisher
This is the time of year when you really get to size up where teams really stand, and if so, things are not looking good for the Commodores. For the past two months, fans have shrugged off lackluster defense and three-point-shot-happy offense by pointing to the Ws. A huge win at Rupp gave everyone a sense of hope that things were turning around.
It doesn't take much to send things crashing back to earth in the SEC. Just seven days later, you can hear Vandy fans let out a unified gulp. Even the bad teams are pretty good in this conference, and if VU can lose at home to a team as limited as Carolina, they can most certainly lose to MSU.
VU needs to play well much more than it needs a win. Unfortunately, time and again this season Vanderbilt has played just well enough to win against teams that are similar to MSU talent-wise. But no matter what the attitude(s) may be on this team pre-Carolina, there is no illusion about what a loss to State would mean to this team's season: Sayonara.
Gordon is a physical brawler who will get his points and rebounds. Though he's nowhere near the outside shot Kinsey or Kelley are, you have to worry about him going off on the Commodores. Since he now plays the point for State, you wonder if Stallings might move Byars back to the one on defense. There's no way Moore or Alex Gordon can guard Jamont off the ball.
The loss of Sharpe really hurts MSU going against Terrell and Carroll under the boards. But VU clearly has no one else who is willing to do the dirty work in the paint, and you need more than two bangers to win in the SEC. MSU (albeit with Sharpe) out-rebounded LSU by seven in a game where Gordon had 13 rebounds. All of this sounds ominously familiar to anyone who has scouted VU's games thus far and predicted an easy win: Look out below.
The hope is that the Carolina loss got the team's attention and sent them a message that leaves a lasting impression. Count me among the skeptics; That's a message that should have been received a month ago. If there isn't big improvement tomorrow afternoon, this may be the last time I pick the 'Dores for a long time.
Contender or pretender?
My prediction: Vanderbilt 73, Mississippi State 69