at Vanderbilt (16-4, 5-1) 2/3/10 @ 7pm (SEC Network)
Last Season – W, 73-66 (in Starkville)
Last MSU win in Nashville – February 28, 2004, 72-69
Outside of Rupp Arena, Vandy’s Memorial Gymnasium is the toughest place to play in the SEC. The design and the benches being on the baselines seem to rattle teams. The fact that Vanderbilt is usually unbeatable complicates things for opposing teams. Vandy has lost only four games at home dating back to the 2007-08 season. MSU had a chance to win in Nashville in that ’08 season, but Shan Foster decided to go into sniper mode and shoot the cover off the ball. I said earlier MSU would win at Vandy, and I still think they will. The shooters are coming out of a slump somewhat. The three is not falling as frequent as it has in earlier games this season, but with as many as they take they will make enough to stay in the game.
The key for success, as always for the Bulldogs, is to keep turnovers to a minimum. In four of State’s five losses, they have lost the turnover battle. Jarvis Varnado has to put in more work than usual against Vandy, banging against 6-foot-11, 250 pound A.J. Ogilvy and his 6-11, 255 pound backup Festus Ezeli. Varnado has been able to contain Ogilvy in past match-ups, and neither Ogilvy nor Ezeli will be dominant factors if Varnado can stay out of foul trouble. Stansbury has been playing Kodi Augustus at center for a little bit trying to give Varnado some rest. Varnado is averaging 30 minutes-per-game and has logged over 32 minutes in every conference game. Barry Stewart will defend John Jenkins or Jeffrey Taylor, both averaging over 10 PPG. Stewart has done a great job defending the other team’s go-to guards this season.
at Florida (15-6, 4-3) 2/6/10 @ 12:30 pm (SEC Network)
Last Season – W, 80-71 (in Starkville)
Last MSU win in Gainesville – March 1, 2008, 68-59
Just like Mississippi State, Florida has been hard to figure out this season. The Gators have the marquee win over Michigan State at a neutral site, but needed a hail mary to beat a North Carolina State team that is near the bottom of the ACC and lost to South Alabama at home and Richmond. I said MSU would lose to Florida, but it depends on which MSU team decides to show up to the O’Connell Center. Florida’s three SEC losses are from teams ahead of them in the standings: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Their wins are against Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and LSU, teams MSU has beaten at least once with the exception of South Carolina. So if MSU plays like the team it is fully capable of, winning this game should not be an issue. But if the Dogs cannot put together the complete effort: shooting, defense, rebounding, and more importantly not letting one player take over a game, expect a loss to the Gators.
The Gators are led by two outstanding young guards, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton. Boynton leads the team in scoring and is second in assists. Walker is second in scoring and first in assists. They have length inside with Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons. Augustus is the best player on the team when he is on his game, but Ravern Johnson is built to pose a match-up problem for Florida. He can shoot over the short guards and can put the ball on the floor past the taller but slower forwards. He’s been in a three-point shooting slump as of late, but he has found other ways to score. His added versatility makes him that much harder to defend, especially when he is hot from behind the arc. Varnado is always going to find a way to get his points, whether it is from the free throw line, grabbing loose rebounds or having an efficient post offense. MSU needs more quality wins if they are to make Selection Sunday a little less nerve racking. This week is the perfect week to do that.