If trends hold, viewers will have a typically tight contest between clubs familiar with both faces and styles. Of course if all trends hold, they will also see State players leaving the court happy. Bulldog teams own a five-win streak in the series overall and have won their last three Oxford appearances.
Just try telling Stansbury to include that in his gameplanning. Or, reminding the coach of his 20-7 career record against Rebel teams overall.
"Hey, those other 27 games have nothing to do with this one," Stansbury said today. "They're all different, each of us has a different team each year."
Correct, though here are a couple of clubs also on different tracks as of mid-January. Mississippi State is 15-3 so far and 2-1 in SEC play, and has owned a top-twenty ranking for seven weeks now. After a ten-point setback at Arkansas, the Bulldogs responded on the home court with tight, and tense, wins over Tennessee and Alabama.
Ole Miss is 11-6, 1-2 SEC with losses at LSU and Auburn. The latter was in double-overtime and still stings as opportunities for road wins become increasingly rare for the Rebels. No wonder Coach Andy Kennedy was giving little thought to any streaks against State and Stansbury during Monday's league teleconference. He has bigger issues on his mind than the rivalry per se.
"I don't know what goes on as it relates to my players' heads," Kennedy said. "But for us it's about trying to get the bad taste of Saturday out of your mouth. In basketball we don't have to wait a week."
What will help keep the Bulldogs on their toes this mid-week is noticing who Ole Miss' league win was. The Rebels knocked off Arkansas last week despite not hitting a single three-point shot, something sure to gain MSU regard after their own frustrations in Fayetteville. The 98 points allowed was the most for a Stansbury squad in seven seasons. Fortunately his team used it as a wake-up call rather than cause for alarm.
"I didn't panic," Stansbury said, "for most of the season we've been decent on defense." Most would say better than decent as only twice has State allowed more than 70 points all year. And the Dogs bounced back to hold Tennessee and Alabama both under 60 points. Yet, "I don't think we've been great, we've been decent," said the coach of club coverage. "We can get better."
Wednesday would seem a fine opportunity to do so, against a Rebel offense that before beating Arkansas 71-63 had not done more than 56 markers in a four-game stretch. Ole Miss is also without their leading scorer for SEC season after the dismissal of Dundrecous Nelson, who still accounts for one-third of the team's three-point goals. From now on Kennedy will depend on the inside work of old hands Terrance Henry, Reginald Buckner, and Murphy Holloway, with junior Nick Williams and rookie Jarvis Summers thrust into higher-profile roles than planned.
"We're still trying to find some offensive consistency," Kennedy said. "But defense and rebounding have kept us in games."
Which Stansbury can appreciate, all the more so because the Rebels are in friendly confines Wednesday. "Ole Miss is very good at home, I don't think they've lost a game at home this year. And Andy does a great job of preparing that team every game." A team State doesn't know quite as much about as usual due to lineup and rotation changes, too.
State's coach is not quite as convincing when stressing how risky road trips are, since after all there isn't a Dog on this roster who has lost a game in the Tad Pad.
Still, Stansbury will downplay his rivalry record often as necessary between now and tipoff. "Hey, it's only important because it's your next game. We don't get two Ws for winning the game, or it doesn't count as two Ls. Naturally kids understand it's your instate rival.
"But I'd say the same thing for Andy, it's one win and own loss for us, we're just trying to get through 16 games." Meaning, Stansbury added when asked again, he isn't weighing past successes in the series into preparing this team.
"And I still don't think about it. You guys think about it more than I do!"
Coaches did all the talking today. Tuesday, Bulldog players can speak for themselves. One sure to be at the table tomorrow is Arnett Moultrie after the junior forward was named SEC Player of the Week. ‘Finally' one could fairly add as Moultrie has averaged a double-double since his first State season tipped off, yet it took until this week's league release to be recognized as top dog. Or Dog.
Moultrie responded to a rare off-day, and his first fouling-out of the season, at Arkansas by pounding out an average of 19 points and 8.5 rebounds with five total blocks in State's home wins. He shot 73% in the process, besides making key defensive stops around the rim to stave off upset bids by the visitors.
Two seasons at Texas-El Paso proved the Memphis product could rebound the ball, and during his transfer season Moultrie showed a strong defensive mindset. Now the SEC is discovering what an offensive force Moutrie can be. "He worked," Stansbury said. "That's the biggest improvement in his game, offensively he's gotten so much better in so many areas. He's always been able to rebound and defend but the biggest improvement has been offensive because he's worked at it.
"And he continues to get better. He gives you another guy to put pressure on that rim. It's good to be able to throw the ball into multiple players and get a basket."
The Bulldogs are out of school Monday for the holiday, with a full Tuesday's practice in store. They won't leave for Oxford until Wednesday afternoon, a practice Stansbury started three years ago and has worked out just fine so far.