February 25, 2009
The Mississippi State men''s basketball team believes it has plenty of players to chose from for the perimeter and that''s how coach Rick Stansbury has been able to use a four-guard lineup this season.
Although Stansbury is comfortable with the depth in the backcourt, the Bulldogs could have had one more guard to work into the mix.
Scotty Hopson was an Mississippi State commitment at one time, but opted to stay closer to his home of Hopkinsville, Ky., and attend the University of Tennessee.
The Volunteers are glad to have him.
"He''s come a long way in playing big games," Tennessee assistant coach Jason Shay said. "He has shown consistency over the last few ballgames."
Hopson and the Vols play host to the Bulldogs in Knoxville at 8 tonight.
Even though Tennessee (16-10, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) lost 77-58 to Kentucky in its last game, Shay was particularly impressed to see Hopson (9.1 ppg) step up to lead the team in scoring with 14 points on 6 of 14 shooting from the field.
"He went into a tough environment at Rupp (Arena) in his home state and played well for us there despite the struggles early in the ballgame," Shay said. "I think he made some plays to get us going and we were able to cut into a lead at Kentucky.
"Defensively he has come a long way and he''s starting to understand where he needs to be and how he needs to stop the opponent. We''re pleased with his progress and I think the future is bright for him."
Stansbury followed Hopson''s career since his freshman year in high school and recruited him to play at Mississippi State.
When Hopson chose Tennessee instead of Mississippi State, Stansbury moved on with no hard feelings.
"He''s just one that got away," Stansbury said. "You just forget it. He''s a good kid and has a good mother.
"If I dwell on all of the what-ifs that transpires in a basketball program, you know what I would be. We''ve got what-ifs all the time. The sooner you can put a what-if behind you, the better off you are in this profession."
The reason Hopson gave for playing for Tennessee was he liked the style of play of coach Bruce Pearl and saw a chance to get immediate playing time.
Shay said the situation was too good for Hopson to pass up.
"Those things were intriguing to him," Shay said. "With what we lost in the backcourt from a year ago, he looked at it as an opportunity for him to come in and play right away. I think that is important for kids now-a-days. He saw Tennessee as a great opportunity to do that."
Mississippi State center Jarvis Varnado got to know Hopson through AAU basketball.
Although he would have liked for Hopson to become a Bulldog, Varnado respects the decision that was made.
"He made the decision that was best for him and his family," Varnado said. "I''m not mad. I told him good luck."
Hopson joins a talented lineup for Tennessee with guards J.P. Prince (9.7 ppg) and Josh Tabb (3.2 ppg), forward Tyler Smith (17.2 ppg) and center Wayne Chism (13.1 ppg).
For Mississippi State, Ravern Johnson (12.4 ppg), Barry Stewart (11.6 ppg), Dee Bost (11.3 ppg) and Phil Turner (8.6 ppg) start at guards and Varnado (13.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg) holds down the fort in the middle.
Varnado, who leads the nation in blocked shots with 134, is only two career blocks shy of tying former Auburn player Kyle Davis for second on the all-time SEC list with 360.
n Ole Miss at Auburn, 7 tonight.: A potential shootout could break out tonight when the Ole Miss Rebels enter the Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum to take on the Auburn Tigers.
The game features two of the top 3-point shooters in the Southeastern Conference in Ole Miss'' David Huertas and Auburn''s Tay Waller.
Waller is second in the SEC with 78 3-pointers, while Huertas is third with 70.
The Rebels won the last meeting 78-59 in Oxford, but coach Andy Kennedy understands it won''t be easy playing inside the Tigers'' coliseum and respects the job Auburn coach Jeff Lebo does.
"It''s a difficult matchup anytime you go on the road," Kennedy said. "Jeff''s team is playing really well having won four of their past five."
Both teams have played better progressing through the conference schedule.
Ole Miss (15-11, 6-6 SEC) has won five of its last seven games.
"I think Ole Miss is the most underrated team in our league," Lebo said.
Huertas leads the Rebels by scoring 18.9 points per game, but the Tigers have three players who have averages hovering around the 13-point mark in DeWayne Reed (13.2 ppg), Korvotney Barber (12.9 ppg) and Waller (12.6 ppg).
Barber, who is second in the SEC in rebounding at 9.3 boards per game, is the only player in the league to average a double-double in conference games only. He scores 13 points and pulled down 10.7 rebounds in SEC games.
n Arkansas at Alabama, 7 tonight.: Alabama interim coach Philip Pearson only has four regular season games left and the Southeastern Conference Tournament to impress administration that he deserves the job permanently.
Wins like the Crimson Tide earned against Mississippi State, an 87-85 double-overtime thriller, certainly boost his cause.
"We just want to give ourselves a chance to win," Pearson said. "Winning will be the biggest help of all so that''s where my focus has been. We''re hoping we can build on a win that we had over the weekend and continue to get better."
Alabama gets another chance at a victory tonight when it plays the Arkansas Razorbacks, another team looking for success.
Pearson has a 2-5 mark after taking over for Mark Gottfried and his first game was an 89-80 loss to the Razorbacks on the road.
Alabama (14-12, 4-8 SEC) bounced back to beat Georgia at home, then lost four-straight before beating the Bulldogs.
"Philip is doing an unbelievable job of keeping the team together," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "I''m sure both teams will make some adjustments from our last meeting."
Arkanssas (13-12, 1-11) has let second-half leads slip away in five of the last six games.
Arkansas is also trying to weather the storm with a young squad.
"We''re just trying to find success as the season winds down," Pelphrey said.
Junior forward Michael Washington (15.9 ppg) and freshman point guard Courtney Fortson (14.6 ppg) are the top two scorers for the Razorbacks. Freshman forward Jason Henry recorded his second double-double in three games with 27 points and 12 rebounds against South Carolina.
Pearson appreciates the competitive nature of Arkansas.
"They are a little like us where they have had some tough games and some close games that haven''t gone their way," Pearson said. "As you watch them on film and television, they have been in every one of those games."
As for Alabama, senior forward Alonzo Gee has led the way in the two wins since Pearson assumed control with 20 points against Georgia and a season-high 28 points against Mississippi State.
Gee, the SEC Player of the Week, averaged 22.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in the last two games. He scores 14.8 points and pulls down 7.3 rebounds for the season.
"Gee presents a matchup problem for everybody," Pelphrey said. "He is a tremendous talent down low. He has a knack of pulling down offensive rebounds and is tremendous in finishing plays around the basket."