Navigating the Toughest Part of the Basketball Schedule


Jan 18, 2014; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Rick Ray has a discussion with an official during the game against the Texas A

Mississippi State nailed down their third conference victory of the season on Wednesday night against Auburn. It was the Bulldogs’ best performance of the season, but it was good enough to secure a victory against a team they couldn’t afford to lose to.

Now comes the hard part.

The next five games feature three road games and two home games. The Bulldogs will not be favored to win any of them. The chances of the basketball team being 3-7 after their first ten games of the season are relatively high. But just because it isn’t likely they won’t win any of them, it doesn’t mean that they can’t. This team is playing better than most people anticipated, and while I am not expecting a win over the next five games, it wouldn’t surprise me if they pulled one out. Time to take a closer look at each game. I’m going to rank each game 1 to 5 in the order of them being the least winnable to the most winnable

At Ole Miss, 1/23/14

This game is probably the most difficult to get a read on. The Bulldogs beat the Rebels in the second game of the SEC schedule, and at times, looked dominant. There are two large caveats to this win though. The first is that the Rebels were playing without their best player Marshall Henderson. The second was the solid point guard play of I.J. Ready who might not be available for the third straight game after suffering a concussion against Alabama. In the game in Starkville, Craig Sword used his aggressiveness to consistently drive to the lane and force the Rebels to foul and rack up all of his 15 points at the free throw line. Don’t expect him to be able to replicate that performance. It won’t be because he won’t be able to drive the lane, but road teams don’t typically get the same amount of calls as they do at home. The defensive intensity shown by the Bulldogs forced the Rebels into 16 turnovers which Mississippi State capitalized off of repeatedly. The reason I think they may have a shot in this game is that this is rivalry game. Rick Ray knows the importance of beating Ole Miss, and I think he really wants to beat them in Oxford.

Winnable Rank: 2. Ole Miss is a completely different team with Henderson in the lineup, but it is our rival, and the players should be amped up to pull the upset.

Florida, 1/30/14

Florida is currently ranked 6th in the country, and they are without a doubt the best team in the SEC. They are going to try and grab a #1 seed when the NCAA tournament rolls around. At first glance, this looks like a lost cause. The good news is this game will be in Starkville. The Gators have yet to lose in SEC play, but the two times they have gone on the road, it’s been a struggle. They needed overtime to defeat Arkansas in Fayetteville, and Auburn made the Gators grind out a win on the Plains. Winning this game will be a long shot; the Gaotrs are more athletic, have more depth, and have  a wealth of talent.

Winnable Rank: 5. It will take a near flawless performance to win this game. It’s not impossible, but it is the one game in this five game stretch that I have the least confidence in.

At Vanderbilt, 2/1/14

This isn’t the same caliber Vanderbilt team that we are used to seeing from Kevin Stallings. They only have one conference win, but all of their losses have come against quality opponents, so don’t let the record fool you. They may not be as good as they normally are, but they aren’t as bad as their record would indicate either. Nashville has never been an easy place for the Bulldogs to win, but it can be done. Our game against them this year is probably not going to be the most sought after game for Vanderbilt fans, so a sparse crowd might help us.

Winnable Rank: 3. I think this game can be won, but playing in Nashville has always been difficult, and our record against them in the past is not so great (they destroyed us 71-32 last year). The fact that this game is preceded by a Thursday game doesn’t help either. I’m going to stick this one right in the middle because of that.

At Texas A&M, 2/5/14

Texas A&M came into Starkville without a conference loss, but left with their first. It was a close ballgame throughout that eventually went to overtime. The Bulldogs controlled the extra period and won 81-72. The Bulldogs should be pretty confident entering this contest, so a win is not completely out of the question.

Winnable rank: 1. The Aggies play a similar style and the talent level between the two teams is pretty equal. The Aggies should win, but this one appears to be the best shot for the Bulldogs to pull out a win.

Kentucky, 2/8/14

The Bulldogs can pull some hope for their second contest against the Wildcats from their performance in the first half of the opening game of conference play at the beginning of the month. They took a 3 point lead into the locker room at the half which surprised everyone. The Wildcats came out in the second half focused and turned the game into an alley oop contest. The Wildcats, like all other college teams, are a much different team when they play away from Lexington. They lost at Arkansas, so the Bulldogs could draw some inspiration from that.

Winnable rank: 4. The Wildcats are more athletic and talented than the Bulldogs, but John Calipari and Big Blue always pull out the best of teams, hence our first half performance against them in Lexington. If Mississippi State can play a full game like they did for the first twenty minutes in Lexington, an upset just might happen.

I don’t foresee the Bulldogs winning any of these games, but if they can manage to scrape out one or two, then an NIT berth might be possible. Asking for much more than that is probably asking for too much, the talent simply isn’t there yet. Let’s hope they can find a way to pull one out.