Jan 18, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Roquez Johnson (25) drives to the basket against Texas A
State is now 2-2 in SEC play. 2 impressive home wins and 2 losses on the road where they looked overmatched.
This is the life of a college basketball team.
Living in North Mississippi and in a suburb of Memphis, I listen to the Gary Parrish show a good bit. One of the obsessions of Memphians is University of Memphis basketball. Parrish was interviewing the head coach of the Tigers recently, and Josh Pastner, the University of Memphis head coach, was interviewed. He talked quite a bit how home court in college basketball was more important than any other sport (ironically, the Tigers have yet to win a conference home game and have yet to lose a conference road game). Despite that, I think he is right. Breaking even on the road in conference play, even for the best teams, is considered pretty good. That is also why road victories weigh much heavier with the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at the results from this past Saturday’s slate of games. All but two of the games were won by the home team, even in instances when the inferior team was the home team. There were only two exceptions. Ole Miss beat South Carolina in Columbia, and Florida beat Auburn on the Plains. In each of those, a far superior road team beat a vastly inferior home team. Even still, it took Ole Miss overtime to beat South Carolina and Florida had to play hard for the entire 40 minutes to beat a vastly undermanned Auburn squad.
That is also why Wednesday night’s game against Auburn. Auburn player and fans see our team as a game they can win. If the team comes out flat, and allows Auburn to steal one, then it becomes doubtful that we will be able to surpass last year’s SEC victory total. They will also need some momentum as they start their toughest stretch of games. After Auburn on Wednesday, the Bulldogs play three of their next five games on the road, and the two home contests will be against #6 Florida and #14 Kentucky. The road contests are against Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M. We will be doing good to win one of those games. If we lose Wednesday, the team probably will finish their first ten games of SEC play 2-8. We win on Wednesday, and the team is probably 3-7, with maybe enough confidence to pull an upset along the way and start off 4-6.
As difficult as it is to win on the road, the only home contests that fans should see as unwinnable should be the Florida and Kentucky games. Yes, we did hang tough with Kentucky in the first half in Lexington, but we saw just how overwhelmed the team was in the second half. If the Bulldogs can hold home court against everyone else, and find a way to steal road games against Auburn and Georgia, that would give the team a .500 conference record.
Is that possible? Yes, but I think that will be a best case scenario. The encouraging aspect to this is that we are talking about things we didn’t think were possible at the beginning of the year. At the start of the season, 6 league wins seemed to be our best bet, and even that was a stretch. At this point in the season and year 2 of the Rick Ray era, it’s hard to argue that the team isn’t ahead of schedule in the rebuilding job that Rick Ray inherited.