This Saturday, the Georgia Bulldogs (8-7) travel to Starkville in search of their first SEC win of 2010 to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (13-3). Finally! The Dawgs get to play an unranked team (although Miss St is receiving votes in both polls).
Mississippi State returns all five starters from last year’s team that accomplished the following: won the SEC Tournament, earned an NCAA Tournament bid and beat Georgia twice (once in Athens and once in the SEC Tourney). Needless to say, expectations of a bigger season in 2010 are alive and well in Starkville (upsetting in-state rival Ole Miss last Saturday probably helped too).
Miss State is led by 7th-year senior center (just kidding) Jarvis Varnado, who is most famous around the conference for his shot-blocking ability. This year has been no different. Varnado is swatting 5 shots a game and has already had two 8-block games. Remember his 10 block performance he had against UGA in 2008? Let’s hope that he doesn’t come close to that total again this Saturday.
Varnado sets the tone for this Mississippi State defense which is tops in the SEC, surrendering only 59.6 points per game (this ranks #23 in the country in team scoring defense) and holding opponents to 35.9% from the field (also best in the conference). Guess what? Those are not the only two categories that State is leading the SEC in…they are also grabbing 42.2 rebounds a game. So they play great defense and rebound well (which means they are limiting teams to only one shot), sounds like the Dawgs have their work cut out for them.
On offense, Miss State uses Varnado’s size inside to play a high-low game and open up the perimeter for shots. The Bulldogs are (once again) leading the SEC in team 3-pointers made at nearly 10 a game, and in 3-point percentage at 41%.
State’s 3pt gun-slingers include juniors Ravern Johnson (14.6 pts), Kodi Augustus (9.5pts), Barry Stewart (11.1 pts) and sophomore point guard Dee Bost (11.6 pts). Augustus is the only player mentioned above that is listed as a “forward”, but even he tends to lurk outside the blocks and look for jump shots. But hey, when you have Jarvis Varnado owning the paint (13.9 pts/10.9 rbds a night) I guess that’s a luxury the other players enjoy.
What Georgia Should Look to Do:
1. Take Jarvis Out of the Game – In their win over Ole Miss last Saturday, the Bulldogs (MSU) used a 2-3 zone defense in the second half to control the tempo of the game and outscore the Rebels 43-33 en route to an 80-75 win. The Dawgs cannot allow this to happen. Mississippi States wants a slow-paced game so that they can pack in their zone and let Varnado have ownership of the paint. UGA needs to get Travis Leslie and Ricky McPhee running the court from the start – the quicker the balls transitions to the other end, the less time Jarvis has to get back on defense.
2. Man Defense, give it to my man – Should Rick Stansbury be so bold and allow his Bulldogs to play man-to-man against Georgia, UGA should look to get the ball to Thompkins nearly every time. If Trey can get the ball and square up to the basket from about 15′-18′ out, I don’t think that Varnado can guard him off the dribble in space.
Las Vegas has Mississippi State favored over the Dawgs by a whopping 14.5 points! Guess the odds-makers think UGA is heading to Starkville to lay an egg.
The game tips off at 3:00pm EST and will be televised on ESPN2. If you don’t have a TV or you haven’t paid Comcast in a while you can always listen for free on 750AM.