As intimidating as Jarvis Varnado can be – andthe nation’s leading shot blocker will always give opponents pause – the Mississippi State junior center is not exactly a rock in the paint.
He packs only 210 pounds onto his 6-foot-9 frame, and that has put him at a disadvantage against meatier foes. Varnado will face a brawny counterpart Thursday when the Bulldogs play Washington in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Portland, Ore.
The Huskies’ Jon Brockman, a 6-7, 255-pound senior, has been a force in the paint for four seasons now. He was all-freshman and since then has been named first-team All-Pac-10 twice (second team once). He led the nation in rebounding last year and is eighth this season (11.2). He has 58 career double-doubles.
In other words, Brockman is a full-grown man.
MSU coach Rick Stansbury said he’d rather Varnado match up with someone his own size but noted that his improvement against bigger centers. Varnado is, after all, a two-time SEC Defensive Player of the Year.
“That’s a matchup that you don’t sit back and lose sleep over,” Stansbury said. “We have a decent matchup there.”
Varnado had to battle two bigger opponents in Sunday’s SEC championship game. Tennessee’s Wayne Chism (6-9, 242) and his backup, Brian Williams (6-10, 267) made it tough for him to get close to the goal, and Varnado suffered a groin strain.
But he finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in the Bulldogs’ 64-61 victory.
“He’s a big guy. I think it’s tough to play four games in four days like that,” MSU guard Barry Stewart said. “He’ll be all right. He’ll recover.”
The No. 13-seeded Bulldogs (23-12) will need a Herculean effort from Varnado against fourth-seeded Washington (25-8) and Brockman, who’s arguably the best big man State will have faced this season.
Brockman is averaging 14.9 points per game, so Varnado will have to match him on the offensive end as well. It’s been a breakout year for Varnado offensively, going from 7.9 points per game last season to a team-leading 13.1 this season. He also averages 9.0 rebounds and 4.7 blocks.
That last stat will be the one clear advantage he has on Brockman, who has blocked three shots all season. But Washington won’t let the slim but swat-happy Varnado curb its aggressiveness.
“I think it’s important that we’re not tentative,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. “If we’re fearful of getting our shot blocked, it will get blocked more than it would be if we were just aggressive.”
Brad Locke/Daily Journal