Road success has directly translated into NCAA bids for Mississippi State in the past five seasons, which likely has Bulldogs followers a little uneasy right now.
The Bulldogs are 15-4 overall and 2-2 in league play. But they are just 1-2 on the road, with both losses coming in SEC play. And the teams that beat them, Arkansas and Ole Miss, don't appear to be NCAA-caliber teams. The Bulldogs play at Vanderbilt on Saturday, and Vandy definitely looks to be NCAA-worthy after whipping Alabama on Thursday night.
Mississippi State has been to the NCAA tourney twice in the past five seasons, in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Those are the only two seasons in that stretch in which the Bulldogs had a winning road record.
This season's latest road setback came Wednesday, when Ole Miss downed the Bulldogs 75-68, which coincidentally was Ole Miss' first home-court victory over its archrival since Feb. 20, 2008.
"Anywhere you go on the road, it's difficult wherever you play," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said afterward. "There are no easy games on the road in the SEC."
When you hear a coach say "it's tough to win on the road in this league," you tend to shrug your shoulders. But there is some validity to that statement this season; SEC schools are 108-20 at home this season, a winning percentage of 84.4. Home teams are 17-6 in league games.
"If you have any chance at remaining competitive in this league, you've got to defend your home floor," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said after Wednesday's victory.
"Defend" was a key word for Ole Miss on Wednesday. Mississippi State generally is a solid offensive team, shooting 46.3 percent from the field. But the Bulldogs shot only 37.7 percent against the Rebels. At times, Mississippi State lacked patience, and the Bulldogs jacked up 29 3-point attempts, hitting just 10. That's the second-most attempts from beyond the arc this season, and Stansbury expressed frustration afterward about some poorly timed 3-pointers taken in transition late in the game.
This is not a team built to win with 3-pointers. Instead, the Bulldogs are much better off when the ball goes inside to big men Arnett Moultrie, Renardo Sidney and Wendell Lewis. Alas, guard Dee Bost, who shoots 37.6 percent from the field, has taken almost 100 more shots (250) than Moultrie, who has hit 57.7 percent of his 163 attempts. Sidney is hitting 56.8 percent of his 118 attempts. Bost is a 32.5 percent shooter from beyond the arc, yet has taken 126 3-pointers.
Vandy has been surprisingly stout on defense in league play; then again, the Commodores have beaten Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, and none of the vanquished could be considered offensively gifted.
Mississippi State swingman Rodney Hood, who has been one of the best freshmen in the league this season, actually is more worried about the Bulldogs' play on the other end of the court. He says the Bulldogs will be fine if they pay more attention on the defensive end.
"We haven't been playing our type of basketball on the road," he told BulldogBlitz.com. "We have to play with toughness and get stops consistently."
The schedule eases after the trip to Nashville. For one, only Florida among the Bulldogs' next seven opponents looks to be an NCAA tourney team. Probably the best news for Mississippi State, though, is that four of the next five games are at home.
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3 to watch
Alabama at Kentucky, Saturday, noon, CBS: The Tide was trounced at home by Vanderbilt on Thursday, and now it has to travel to Rupp Arena. Alabama's perimeter offense isn't much, putting a lot of pressure on its big men to score and on its defense. UK has won 10 in row overall and 45 in a row at home, the longest win streak in Rupp Arena history.
Mississippi State at Vanderbilt, Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: Vandy was impressive in winning at Alabama on Thursday. Can the Commodores put together another sterling outing? They and Kentucky are the only teams unbeaten in league play. Mississippi State's road woes were detailed in the opening section.
Florida at Ole Miss, Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN2: The Gators are just 1-4 in true road games this season, while the Rebels are 8-0 at home, with wins over Miami, Arkansas and Mississippi State. This is the only road game in a five-game stretch for Florida.
Kentucky's defense: The Wildcats have held 10 consecutive foes to 64 or fewer points; in that span, opponents are shooting 37.8 percent from the floor.
LSU C Justin Hamilton: Hamilton, a 7-foot junior transfer from Iowa State, evidently has found the SEC to his liking. He is averaging 17.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in four league games. He has scored at least 20 points twice in SEC play; those are just the second and third 20-point games of his career.
Ole Miss F Reginald Buckner: Buckner, a junior, had a big week, averaging 15.0 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks; he shot 81.3 percent from the floor in the two games. He had a career-high 19 points, going 8-of-10 from the floor, in the victory over Mississippi State; he added 15 rebounds and three blocks and was called the key to the game by both coaches.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks had the misfortune of playing Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida in their first three league games. Not surprisingly, South Carolina has opened 0-3 and is the only winless team in conference play. Five of their next seven games are on the road, where the Gamecocks are 1-2 (including a loss to Elon) this season.
Auburn G Varez Ward: Ward, a sophomore transfer from Texas, has fallen into a shooting abyss. He is shooting a hide-your-eyes bad 19.4 percent from the floor (7-of-36) in four SEC games; he's at 15.4 percent from 3-point range (2-of-13). He has taken the second-most 3-pointers on his team this season (60), but has hit just 26.7 percent of them.
Kentucky F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist: He has cooled off since league play began. He is averaging 13.2 points and 7.5 rebounds and shooting 49.7 percent from the field overall, but those numbers are 10.8, 6.3 and 39.4, respectively, in four conference games.
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Good win last week
Vanderbilt 69, Alabama 59. Thursday's victory was Vandy's eighth in a row, and it came on the road in the Commodores' first real league test of the season. Vandy scuffled early, but came alive late in the first half.
Bad loss last week
Auburn 69, Ole Miss 68 (OT). Ole Miss won its next game, beating Mississippi State, but losing on the road to Auburn isn't good. Ole Miss also got slammed on the road by LSU earlier this season. Teams that want to go to the NCAA tourney don't lose to Auburn and LSU, even if the games are on the road.
Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis set the school single-season blocks record Wednesday night. He had seven rejections against Arkansas, giving him 89 in 19 games. The record had been 83, set by Melvin Turpin (31 games in 1982-83) and tied by Andre Riddick (34 games in 1993-94). Davis has blocked at least two shots in every game this season.
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