Mississippi State Bulldogs
Mississippi State Bulldogs 22-10 (12-4)
Key Wins: Kentucky, Ole Miss, Arkansas, at Florida
Key Losses: N-Southern Illinois, N-Miami (OH), at South Alabama, at Ole Miss
Key Stat: 7.9 Blocks Per Game
Biggest Strengths: Defensively the Bulldogs are one of the best teams in the country. They are holding opponents to 65 points-per-game and 36-percent shooting from the floor, which ranks them first in the SEC in both categories. Jarvis Varnado, the nation’s leading shot blocker with 4.6 per game, is the key to the Mississippi State defense. He has long arms and is lightning quick in contesting shots but also has the ability to stay on his feet on pump fakes and remain in good defensive position. Varnado is not the only legitimate shot-blocker for the Dogs as they average nearly eight a game as a team, which ranks near the nation’s best.
Offensively they have a lot of weapons as well. Jamont Gordon is as tough a match-up as there is up top and he has two great shooters on the wings (Barry Stewart, Ben Hansbrough) to distribute it to along with two threats underneath in Charles Rhodes and Varnado.
Biggest Weaknesses: Despite their 12-4 conference record it is really difficult to look at their victories and find one that stands out. Their two losses to Southern Illinois and Miami (OH) on neutral courts also must concern head coach Rick Stansbury a little bit entering tournament play.
The Bulldogs’ biggest issue is forgetting about Rhodes underneath. Gordon is an incredible player but at times he tries to do everything by himself. He has to ability to score at anytime from anywhere but when he turns the game into one on five and forgets about his big man underneath, or his shooters on the wing, the Bulldogs struggle to get points.
Most Important Player: Jamont Gordon may physically be the strongest point guard in the country. At 6’4”, 230-pounds he creates huge match-up problems and the main strength of his game is his strength. He has the ability to split double-teams with ease by ripping through them and get to the rim and find his big guys. Defenses can’t pressure him or move him around by putting a hip on him because he is so big. Despite his size you also can’t check him 40 to 50 feet away from the basket as he has the ability to go right around defenders.
He is also a fantastic rebounder at the guard position with 6.3 rebounds-per-game. When he pulls down defensive rebounds he will surprise you with his quickness, he is so good and pushing the ball up the court and leading the break.
Gordon is a closeout player because he genuinely understands how to close out games. He demands the ball in clutch situations and he comes through, more often than not, with the game on the line.
X-Factor: One of the main reasons for the Bulldogs’ improved play this year is the performance of Charles Rhodes underneath. In his first three seasons Rhodes was effective and at times showed the ability to take over games. This year it seems that he has finally learned to play hard on every possession and give maximum effort. His improved motor could have a lot to do with the fact that he has not been forced to deal with ankle issues this year.
The senior is gifted with broad shoulders and if he gets deep touches underneath it is really difficult to keep him from getting the ball in the basket. If you do stop him you will more than likely put him on the line for freebies
Might Lose When: Mississippi State is so aggressive underneath on defense that they are tough to beat when referees allow them to play. If games are called close it could be a definite issue for the Bulldogs and limit their shot blocking. They also must continue to play as five. If Gordon relies on his individual talents and tries to win games by himself their season could come to an abrupt halt.
Might Surprise You With: The Bulldogs will stay in games because of their defensive intensity. Their ability to remain in games allows them to opportunity to put the ball in Gordon’s hands in clutch time. Head coach Rick Stansbury will take his chances with Gordon at the end of regulation and an opportunity to win every time.
Predicted finish in the NCAA’s: 2nd Round