Georgia (14-16) vs. Mississippi State (21-10)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 8, 10:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: New Orleans Arena (18,500) -- New Orleans, Louisiana. Television: SEC Network. Home Record: Georgia 11-6, MSU 15-3. Away Record: Georgia 2-9, MSU 3-6. Neutral Record: Georgia 1-1, MSU 3-1. Conference Record: Georgia 5-11, MSU 8-8. Series Record: Mississippi State leads, 52-51.
GAME NOTES: The Mississippi State Bulldogs will try to put a disappointing end to the regular season behind them on Thursday night, as they close out first- round action in the 2012 Southeastern Conference Tournament against the Georgia Bulldogs at New Orleans Arena.
Mississippi State saved some face in winning its last two games of the regular season after a mighty fall from the top echelon of the SEC with an untimely five-game slide. As a result, the team picked up the sixth seed in this event as it went 8-8 in league play. The Bulldogs have a rather lackluster 27-48 all-time record and .360 winning percentage in this tourney, but have found success recently. MSU had a memorable run to the conference championship in 2009, winning four games and dethroning Tennessee in the title tilt for its third tournament crown. Each of the Bulldogs' three championships have come in the last 15 years, with the program making six all-time appearances in title games -- tied for fourth in SEC history. MSU lost to Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals last year after falling to Kentucky in the 2010 championship -- a 75-74 heart-breaking overtime loss.
Georgia picked up a bit of momentum heading into the postseason by winning two of its last three games, finishing at 5-11 in the SEC to pick up the No. 10 seed. The Bulldogs own a 39-49 overall record in the SEC Tournament with two championships, the last coming in 2008 against Arkansas. Georgia has also made six appearances in the SEC title game but has failed to make it past the quarterfinals since its run to the '08 crown. UGA lost in the quarterfinals for a second straight year in 2011, falling in overtime to Alabama.
The winner of this bout will take on No. 3 seed Vanderbilt in the quarterfinals on Friday.
Georgia has handled MSU pretty well over the years in SEC postseason play with an 8-3 lead in the series. The two programs last met in the first round of the 2009 tournament, as Mississippi State began its run to the championship with a 79-60 triumph. UGA began MSU's fall from grace this season with a 70-68 overtime win in Starkville on Feb. 11, with the Bulldogs ranked 20th in the country then. Mississippi State leads the all-time series by the slimmest of margins, 52-51, with UGA holding a 9-2 edge in neutral-site affairs.
Mississippi State has one of the SEC's better offenses, averaging 71.6 ppg on 45.8 percent shooting. The driving force behind those numbers is the play of both junior Arnett Moultrie and senior Dee Bost, who sit fourth and fifth, respectively, in the SEC in scoring. Moultrie puts up 16.1 ppg and leads the league in rebounding with 10.7 per contest. His .559 field goal percentage ranks second in the SEC. Bost, meanwhile, is as good a second option as you'll find at 15.8 ppg, while leading the conference with 5.3 apg. He also tops the Bulldog roster with 70 three-pointers on 34.8 percent shooting. Freshman Rodney Hood has been a nice addition, chipping in 10.5 ppg, 4.8 boards and 44 triples on 37.6 percent shooting. Renardo Sidney gives MSU a quartet of double-digit scorers by contributing 10.1 ppg while securing 5.3 rpg. Adding still further depth is Jalen Steele's 8.1 ppg and 61 threes on 38.1 percent accuracy. The Bulldog defense could use some improving, allowing 66.6 ppg on 43.1 percent shooting. MSU is able to hold down a decent plus-3.1 margin on the glass, which is good for third in the SEC.
Georgia's offensive struggles are well documented, as the team ranks last in the SEC with a scoring average of only 61.3 ppg. UGA also owns the league's second-worst scoring margin (minus-1.8), and shoots a league-low 39.4 percent from the field. The defense is the only thing keeping the Bulldogs competitive, as they limit teams to 63.0 ppg -- third-best in the conference -- and 42.0 percent shooting. Senior Gerald Robinson and freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are in charge of an inconsistent and unbalanced offensive attack, registering 14.3 and 13.6 points per game, respectively. Caldwell-Pope is also a big part of the Bulldogs' rebounding game, hauling in 5.2 boards per contest. Donte Williams and Dustin Ware do their best to back up the aforementioned duo, kicking in with an identical 7.9 ppg. Williams is also the club's leading rebounder at 5.3 per game, but overall Georgia typically suffers on the glass with a minus-1.5 margin and an underwhelming 33.3 boards per outing.
Mississippi State has had some time to re-group and ponder its new-found position in the bottom ranks of the SEC. The talent is certainly there and the Bulldogs are very capable of making a deep run if they can put the regular season behind them. Georgia has significantly less ability in terms of lasting multiple rounds, but showed it's capable of pulling an upset by beating a pair of ranked teams during the regular season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Mississippi State 71, Georgia 64
03/08 10:30:49 ET