In a game that will undoubtedly be overshadowed by both fan bases due to national signing day, Mississippi State (7-13, 2-6) will look to end a six-game skid against in-state rival Ole Miss (17-4, 6-2).
Wednesday will be a day when romantic partners are ignored, ESPNU will get better ratings than a presidential debate, and a Twitter overload screen could cost a laptop a trip through the nearest window. Nevertheless, there is more to Ole Miss-Mississippi State tomorrow than just Chris Jones. There is a basketball game to be played, with both teams looking to put losing streaks behind them.
Mississippi State, with just 10 scholarship players, was able to jump out to a surprising 2-0 start to conference play with wins against South Carolina and Georgia. Then the wheels fell off the track, maybe off the ravine is more accurate, as the Bulldogs have now dropped six straight, including three losses by 25 or more points. Their last game, against LSU, might have been the hardest swallow. Up 14 at the half, the Bulldogs had their lead cut to 1 before Anthony Hickey hit a jump-shot with 1.4 seconds left to give the Tigers the win.
It has been a year of the freshmen for Mississippi State. A freshman leads them in points (Fred Thomas, in rebounds (Gavin Ware), and is second on the team in assists (Craig Sword). In fact, those three are all in the top four in points per game for coach Rick Ray’s squad. Ray just wishes they would score more, seeing as the team is 309th in the nation in ppg with 61. They will have to account for more if they hope to beat Ole Miss who is averaging over 18 more points per game, putting them at 5th nationally.
At 6’5, Thomas is a lot to handle at the guard spot. He’s lean for his height so he relies on his perimeter game to carry him. He is the only Bulldog to take over 200 shots this season and is second to last in shooting percentage at 34 percent. The Ole Miss zone puts a lot of pressure on the shooter and forces players to take some bad shots, look for Thomas to either struggle or flourish tomorrow as the ball will be in his hands often.
Mississippi State is not a very big team, which is good news for a team that is struggle with depth at the forward positions because of injuries. Ware is built as a matchup for the injured Demarco Cox. At 270 Lbs., he far outweighs the Ole Miss bigs, and is a lot to deal with down low. Averaging 8.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg, Ware has put together a nice freshman campaign filling in for the injured Wendell Lewis. Junior Colin Borchert is a solid defensive presence down low, averaging 1.5 bpg and 1.2 spg.
Unfortunately for Bulldogs, they will need a lot more than Borchert to offset their turnover woes. Ray’s team is averaging 17.8 tpg this season, led by Sword with 80 total turnovers this year. The freshman has spent some good time at the point is up to almost 2 spg, but his 4 tpg has been a big part of the Bulldog growing pains this season.
This will be the 246th meeting between the two teams, the most games by any two teams in the SEC. MSU holds a 139-106 lead in the series, but they are just 43-78 in Oxford. A win for Ole Miss may restore some confidence in a team who has dropped two straight games by double-digits. The Rebels will need to carry some momentum with them as they head into the Zoo on Saturday. Mississippi State on the other hand, is likely out of NCAA Tournament contention, but would love nothing more than spoiling their arch-rival’s dream season. Tipoff is set for 8 CT from Tad Smith Coliseum.