Rivals Mississippi and Mississippi State are matter and antimatter.
The 17th-ranked Rebels are among the nation’s most relentless and high-scoring offenses. The Southeastern Conference-leading Bulldogs’ dynamic defense is among the country’s most impenetrable and has them on an eight-game winning streak.
In this football-mad state, people have turned their attention to basketball for once, and they’re expecting something spectacular when these two opposites collide Saturday afternoon.
“We’re going to try to put pressure on them, they’re going to try and run it and score a bunch of buckets on us,” Mississippi State’s Jamont Gordon said. “It will make it a nice game to watch.”
There are few teams in basketball that could be more different than the defending SEC West co-champions. The Rebels (15-2, 2-2) are the SEC’s top scoring team, tied with Vanderbilt at 84.9 points per game and ninth in the nation.
The Bulldogs (13-5) are off to a 4-0 start in the league and give up 60.9 points per game. They’re second in the nation in field goal percentage defense, holding opponents to 35.9 percent shooting.
Ole Miss has experience in the frontcourt, Mississippi State’s comes in the backcourt.
The Rebels lead the league in offensive rebounding, the Bulldogs are on top in defensive rebounding.
This photographic negative effect even extends to the lineup, where the players differ in body type and playing style at nearly every position.
The best example of this comes at point guard where the Rebels feature 5-foot-10, 188-pound freshman Chris Warren, who has already established himself as one of the league’s fastest scoring guards.
The Bulldogs counter with 6-4, 230-pound bruiser Jamont Gordon, an inside-outside threat who has scored 24 points in two straight games and is becoming impossible to cover as he extends his accuracy beyond the 3-point line.
“You’ve got to figure a way to guard Jamont Gordon, who I’ve said in the two years I’ve been in the league in my opinion is the most difficult matchup in the league because of his size and his strength,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “And when he’s making perimeter shots he truly is a handful.”
The reigning SEC player of the week hit 9 of 15 3-pointers in wins last week against Kentucky and Alabama. He’s sixth in the SEC with 17.8 points per game and seventh with 4.3 assists per game.
These days, Gordon sees all kinds of possibilities when he dribbles upcourt.
“When I’m making my outside shot, I think it’s hard on the defense,” Gordon said. “They try to cover that and make me drive the ball, and that’s my best strength. It’s what I like doing best anyway. When I’m making shots, you can either give me this wide-open shot or I’m going to take it to the hole and create for somebody else.”
Ole Miss must figure out how to stop Gordon if it’s going to keep pace with Mississippi State in the SEC West race. Gordon scored 18.5 points per game last year against the Rebels. Kennedy has bigger guards to send at him this year - most notably Eniel Polynice and David Huertas, who are both 6-5 - and hopes it makes a difference.
“We’ll mix and match things and try to figure out what works,” Kennedy said.
They’ll need to figure it out quickly. Mississippi State is especially good at striking early, getting the opponent down and using the home crowd to keep the opponent out of the game.
Humphrey Coliseum is dark, foreboding and disconcertingly loud for visitors. Especially these visitors.
“Of all the places we play, that might be the hardest,” Ole Miss forward Dwayne Curtis said. “Ole Miss, when we go there, they have some harsh things to say, I know that.”