Greetings from the 20th floor in Atlanta.
It’s a long time from now until tip, but eventually we’ll get there, and Ole Miss will take on rival Mississippi State on a neutral floor, their third meeting this season.
MSU, like Vanderbilt, has depth issues. The legs will be a factor for the Bulldogs, but that may be off-set by two things: the simple thrill of winning last night — 82-68 against Vanderbilt — and breaking a 13-game losing streak and the idea of playing Ole Miss.
I’m not sure how this one will turn. State hasn’t been a very good perimeter shooting team, just 29.9 percent from 3 for the season, but the Bulldogs knocked down some 3s last night (6-for-13, 46 percent). That no doubt led to some of the success they had in the paint where they scored 46 points.
I saw Vanderbilt media tweeting during the game about uncontested looks the Bulldogs were getting. Well, that’s how games get out of hand, and a team that has been struggling starts to believe it’s about to win. Emotion takes over.
Here’s what our MSU writer Logan Lowery had to say last night.
There are matchups here that favor the Rebels if they play with fire and hit shots. While MSU has been average at defending 3-pointers — seventh in the league — the Bulldogs are last overall in field goal defense, which means teams have been getting off good shots in the lane.
Now, shots in the lane may be of no particular advantage for an Ole Miss team that has struggled to finish at the rim.
For a guard-heavy team like the Rebels, it will come down to what it usually does — hitting 3s. After a strong first half in Starkville — Remember Derrick Millinghaus got off to a fast start — they were just 4-for-16 from 3 in the second half in a four-point loss.
In Oxford the Rebels flipped the script. They were 2-for-11 from 3 in the first half and 5-for-10 in the second as they pulled away for an 82-63 win.
When considering the Ole Miss-MSU series in any sport I tend to get caught up too much in matchups and numbers on the court and give not enough thought to emotion.
The emotion thing could really play in State’s favor and not only because the Bulldogs won here last night.
Even though the Rebels are also coming off a nice win — a 65-62 comeback effort against Vanderbilt last Saturday — it was an unusual scene in their locker room yesterday.
One of the best parts of the SEC tournament, as far as media are concerned, is the open locker room policy. Teams hate it, we love it.
So one time a year we go into locker rooms and are able to talk to any player, not just players brought to the press conference. Players, of course, can choose not to answer questions if they prefer.
Usually, we go into a locker room and see the playful, loose scene that you might imagine. Yesterday there was dead silence. Players sat on the floor and had nothing to say to us as we walked in, which isn’t highly unusual, but had nothing to say to each other, which is.
Maybe their demeanor was very different just seconds before we walked in. Maybe.
You can interpret this a couple of ways. They’re zoned in and focused, or they’re zoned out, disappointed that they’re not a team playing for an NCAA at-large bid, as they were last year. If they’re zoned out tonight, well, that tips the emotion factor to MSU.
Here’s what Andy Kennedy says he has told the Rebels to help prepare them for this tournament:
“One missed assignment, one guy not doing his job on a set, one guy not making the proper rotation, one careless turnover, one missed free throw, and the season’s over. I want them to understand, and my hope is it won’t increase pressure. Pressure doesn’t exist until you allow it to exist. I don’t want them to be on edge. I want them to be locked in and laser focused, and then we’ll just see how good we can be.”