Kevin Stallings is willing to bet that Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado never has had a game in college in which he has not blocked at least one shot.
Vanderbilt’s coach, likewise, makes it sound like a sure thing that nothing will change Wednesday when his Commodores face Varnado’s Bulldogs in a matchup of Southeastern Conference division leaders.
Vanderbilt, ranked 18th, is 5-1 (16-4 overall) and tied with Kentucky for first place in the Eastern Division and Mississippi State is 4-2 (16-5) and alone atop the Western Division. Tip-off is 7 p.m. at Memorial Gymnasium.
“He’s going to block some shots,” Stallings said. “That’s all there is to it. He probably has never had a game where he didn’t block any.
“The worst thing you can do in that situation is get in there and start double-pumping and falling away and doing crazy things. You just go in there and shoot your ball. If he blocks it, he blocks it.”
Varnado, a 6-foot-9 senior out of Brownsville, Tenn., has led the NCAA in blocked shots each of the last two seasons and is a two-time conference Defensive Player of the Year. He currently leads the SEC and is second nationally with an average of 5.05 blocks per contest and needs 35 blocks to become the NCAA’s all-time leader.
He has, in fact, blocked at least one in every game this season and three weeks ago had a season-high 10 in a conference game against Arkansas.
“A shot blocker — the best in the country,” Festus Ezeli, one of Vanderbilt’s post players said. “It’s going to be fun. It’s just like playing against every other big man. You just play.”
Varnado has five blocks in three career games against the Commodores, one each as a freshman and a sophomore. He had three in last season’s meeting, a 73-66 Mississippi State victory but also was limited to just 25 minutes of playing time because of foul trouble.
With Ezeli, A. J. Ogilvy and Steve Tchiengang, the Commodores have three players they can — and will — send at him.
“I don’t think that you can plan differently,” Stallings said. “You just know he’s going to block some shots. You hope that you do a good enough job of getting the ball down there enough times that you create some fouls.
“… Hopefully that’s something that plays out for us again.”
There’s no way to know for sure whether it will — unlike whether Varnado will block any shots.
• Vanderbilt has spent the last three days dealing with a loss, its first a 76-69 defeat to Western Kentucky on Dec. 11. The Commodores responded to that one with a 10-game win streak.
“We had a week after the Western Kentucky game,” Stallings said. “So that gave us a great chance to drive home some real important points. … We did not have our best game on Saturday (an 85-72 loss at Kentucky), but we’re not going to lie around and sulk about that.”
• With 12 points at Kentucky, Ogilvy became the 21st player in school history with at least 1,300 career points. He enters this contest with 1,301 and needs 11 to move into the top 20 on the Commodores’ career scoring list. With 17 he will move into 19th place.
• Wednesday’s game is the first of a stretch in which three of the Commodores’ next four will be at home. Vanderbilt is 10-0 at home this season.
• With a victory Wednesday, Vanderbilt will improve to .500 all-time against teams currently in the SEC. At present, its mark is 620-621.