Tuesday, January 17
Kentucky 86, Arkansas 63
LSU 65, Auburn 58 (OT)
Wednesday, January 18
Ole Miss 75, Mississippi State 68
Georgia 57, Tennessee 53 (OT)
Thursday, January 19
Vanderbilt 69, Alabama 59
Saturday, January 21
Arkansas 66, Michigan 64
Tennessee 60, Connecticut 57
Florida 76, LSU 64
Mississippi State 78, Vanderbilt 77 (OT)
Ole Miss 66, Georgia 63
Kentucky 77, Alabama 71
Auburn 63, South Carolina 52
The Southeastern Conference took so many twists and turns this past week, it’s hard to keep your head on straight. Arkansas stunned Michigan to bolster the league’s nonconference profile. Tennessee looked awful at Georgia in a horrible loss and then defended with maniacal intensity in an upset of defending national champion Connecticut. Georgia’s win against Tennessee was followed by a terrible home-court loss to Ole Miss. However, the biggest turnabout this past week in the SEC was the one that occurred on Saturday night in Nashville, Tennessee, as Mississippi State – on a late three pointer by troubled, underperforming big man Renardo Sidney – shocked Vanderbilt by a point in overtime to rescue its season.
It is at once the great possibility and the great problem with Mississippi State basketball: The Bulldogs own an appreciable degree of talent. MSU teams usually field impressive physical specimens, uncut gems who can do so much on a 94-foot-long court. That’s a great problem to have, but when the Bulldogs don’t fulfill their potential, it becomes a bad problem.
> Browse a great selection of SEC Team merchandise and apparel online through SEC-Fans.com!
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury pulls in quality athletes but can’t ride them to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Mississippi State hasn’t made one Sweet 16 since Stansbury arrived in 1998. The Bulldogs simply look disorganized and fail to play with the cohesiveness that breeds winning basketball. This season, MSU had been on schedule… not to thrive, but in terms of giving their fans a strong dose of very familiar anxiety. In November, Mississippi State looked like a near shoo-in for the Big Dance when it took down Texas A&M and Arizona at Madison Square Garden in New York. However, the twin collapses of the Aggies and Wildcats have taken away the value of those wins. They’re still top-150 wins on a neutral court, but they’re not top-50 or top-25 wins. MSU’s best non-conference win heading into Saturday’s game at Vanderbilt was a victory over West Virginia. Moreover, the beginning of SEC play had showcased Mississippi State at its worst. The Bulldogs managed to lose at Arkansas, and then they fell to lowly Ole Miss in the kind of loss that takes an NCAA bubble team to the NIT, wrecking what had been a promising season. Mississippi State had to get off the canvas at Vanderbilt and slow down the Commodores, who – after losing four of their first 10 games – had captured eight straight contests, including a Thursday night win at fading Alabama to solidify their place in the NCAA Tournament pecking order. Vanderbilt had all the momentum going into this game, and the Commodores – behind hot perimeter shooting – took a 39-28 halftime lead. It seemed that Mississippi State was sinking into the morass, while Vanderbilt’s ship was going to sail ever more steadily.
Then, everything turned around in a heartbeat. Mississippi State outscored Vandy 18-2 in the first five minutes of the second half to create an even-steven affair, and when Vanderbilt missed a game-winning layup at the end of regulation, the Bulldogs were given a new lease on life. Sidney – the mercurial and hot-tempered young man who has often clashed with Stansbury in the past – shrugged off a generally poor performance to stun the Nashville crowd with his late trey. Vanderbilt missed at the buzzer, and suddenly Mississippi State is back in the NCAA hunt.
It’s amazing how many ups and downs are part of a college basketball season. Just look at the SEC – and Mississippi State – for proof.
DFN Sports Senior Staff Writer