While Vanderbilt leads the nation in field goal percentage defense (.359), Mississippi State is not too far behind (.369 -- good for second in the SEC).
Stellar defense has been a common trait of Rick Stansbury’s teams. Last year, the Bulldogs led the conference in scoring defense (65.5), field goal percentage defense (.370), rebounding offense (40.7) and blocked shots (7.85).
Even if it ends up being the storyline of tonight's matchup, expect a different pace of play compared to the Commodores' 50-40 win over Georgia.
“Mississippi State’s a four guard (lineup), and Georgia is a big, powerful inside team. Mississippi State’s a fast, fast, fast four-guard team that shoots 3s and really makes the game fast when they’re on offense. I think it’ll be a much, much different game.”
The Bulldogs have taken advantage of the opposition with their smaller lineup, especially from three-point range. MSU is shooting 41-for-92 (.445) during its four-game winning streak, and overall, they’ve converted the most 3’s in the league (130) with junior guard Ravern Johnson (36) and sophomore guard Barry Stewart (31) leading the way. Freshman point guard Dee Bost can also hit the trifecta, hitting 7-of-17 behind the arc during the streak.
Stansbury weighed in on his team’s style of play during Thursday’s teleconference:
“Playing small probably helps defend that dribble a little bit better than playing big. Then we give up some other things on the post ups and rebounds. We've gotten better. We're not going to be great just because of our physicality, or lack of physicality I should say. We have basically one guy in our starting lineup who weighs more than 180 pounds (Jarvis). Those other four guys are basically 180 pounds and under.
“So, we're not a very physical team, but we have to utilize our quickness the best we can and continue to develop some attitude about us defensively, some determination, some grit. That's gotten better. It's not where you want it to be, but it's gotten better. That'll be a work in progress until the end."
Taylor better than advertised
Freshman guard Jeffery Taylor has been nothing short of impressive in his freshman campaign. Taylor is second on the team in points (12.3), rebounds (6.3), and steals (21), and also third in blocked shots (9).
“Jeff Taylor has been better at everything than I thought he would be at this point in the season,” Stallings said. "He’s been a better defender, a better rebounder, a better scorer. He’s a consistent practice player. Jeff Taylor has been an absolute bright spot for our team.”
Will the streak continue?
No, I'm not talking about Vanderbilt’s 3-point streak (which was almost in jeopardy against Georgia until Lance Goulbourne connected on one at the 17:21 mark of the second half).
Mississippi State has won seven straight against the Commodores at Humphrey Coliseum and nine out of the last 10. The last time Vanderbilt walked away with a win at the Hump was on Feb. 27, 1993 when Eddie Fogler’s squad routed the Bulldogs, 80-39. Fogler eventually guided the Commodores to a conference title and a NCAA Sweet 16 appearance.