"We are very thrilled to be outright SEC champs. We were very pleased to go to Alabama knowing that we had a share of it already, but we weren't satisfied. For our kids to go to Alabama and do what they did the last nine minutes of that basketball game says a lot about this basketball team. It was an incredible win for them. Anytime you win a championship in this league whether it is the East championship, the West championship, SEC Tournament or the overall SEC championship, it is very special.
"We are looking forward to our next season, the SEC Tournament. The SEC Tournament creates excitement. Everybody are asking questions like, 'can your team get up for play in the SEC Tournament knowing that they are already in the NCAA Tournament and probably have a 2-seed at the worst?' If you can't get up to play in the SEC Tournament, then you probably don't need to be playing or coaching because that is a great venue of basketball for four days - for us three days. We want to come to the tournament and do what we have done the last two years and that is play in the SEC (Tournament) championship game. We won it the year before last.
"What makes this team so special is it is not a team that returns with 4 or 5 starters. It is a team that returned 1 starter and three other players that had played a minute. Because of that, they deserve even more credit for their willingness to work and come together as a team as quickly as they have to win this championship."
What will be your practice schedule this week?
"We will have a normal practice schedule. We won't do anything different. The only thing different in this year's practice and last year's practice schedule is last year we were able to practice (in the Hump) on Thursday evening because we played the winner of a one o'clock game. We knew early who we were playing so we were able to practice after that game. This year that won't be the case. We'll have to practice here on Thursday not knowing who we will be playing. We'll prepare for both Vanderbilt and Ole Miss as much as we can. After we find out who wins the game, we'll have a scouting report Thursday night."
How important is it to your team to only have to play three days instead of four?
"I think if you ask any players or coaches if they prefer playing three or four days, they would all take the bye, especially if it is a four game series. It is very difficult to win four games in a row."
How much do you think your kids would look forward to playing Kentucky in the SEC championship game?
"I think we would all look forward to that because if we are playing Kentucky, then that means we are playing in the championship game. Are we going to look ahead to Kentucky? Absolutely not because we know we will have a very tough game no matter if it Ole Miss or Vanderbilt."
You've been through the league. How much of a gap do you believe there is between Mississippi State and Kentucky?
"I think, through 16 games, we have proven that we are the best team in the SEC. But the thing with the tournament is it is a one game deal. It is not 16 games. Any team can emotionally get up to another level or that team can get the right bounce or the other team can miss the easy shot that can be the difference between winning and losing. Any team in that tournament is capable of going on a three game swing and winning it."
You mentioned that you only had one starter back with three other guys who have played some minutes. What does that say about the coaching on this team?
"It's all about players. They are the ones that have to believe in what you are telling them. You can be the greatest coach in the world, but you have to have players who want to accept their roles and the responsibilities and demands that you put on them. Then, we have good assistant coaches. I am very fortunate to have both, good players and a good group of assistant coaches around me."
In all likelihood you are going to be the SEC Coach of the Year. What will that mean to you?
"My response to that is that means I have the team of the year. I'm no different coach than I have always been. One thing all coaches of the year have in common is they have a good team. I have never known a coach of the year to have a bad team."
Where do you think you have improved during your six years as the head coach at Mississippi State?
"There are a lot of things you learn. I think you can look back and see that we have been to postseason 5 of our 6 years. We have averaged over 20 wins a season. This is the third year in a row that we have won an championship (of some type) in the SEC. There is not but one team in the SEC who has won more SEC Tournament games than we have, that's Kentucky. They are 9-2 and we are 7-4."
With the media speculating about the number one seed, do you feel like you have a number one seed?
"We don't worry about things that we can't control. We can't control where we are ranked. We can't control what people say about us. All we can control is what happens between the lines. If you take care of between the lines enough that will control everything else. And that is what this team has done.
"This is not my sale but me presenting the facts. If this decision is made on facts, then it is an easy decision. Duke is number 1 in RPI. Kentucky is 3 and we are 4. Stanford is 7th. There is only one team in the country that has more top 50 road wins than us, that's Duke. They have 6 and we have 5. We have the best record of any team in the country from the highest RPI league. Duke is from the ACC and they have a record of 25-4. We are from the next league and we are 25-2. We have the best road record of any team in the country from the highest RPI league. Taking nothing away from any other program, St. Joe's has one top 50 road win. Stanford has one top 50 road win. Strength of schedule, Duke is first at 5, Kentucky is second with 10 and we are third with 38. Stanford is 97 and St. Joe's is 52. The one thing I heard the head of the committee talk about the other day was that he was going to weigh heavily a team's ability to win on the road. If that is the case, there is no one better than Mississippi State. If you want to take the top four teams, Kentucky will be one of the other three. Duke, Kentucky and us. Then, they need to decide on whether the next team is St. Joe or Stanford. Based on facts, St. Joe has one top 50 road win, Stanford has one top 15 road win. Stanford's strength of schedule is 97, while St. Joe's is 52. Based on facts, it is a pretty easy decision to make because we are number 4 in all of those things. But will they select both us and Kentucky? I don't know. Do we have to win the SEC Tournament? Obviously, I don't think so."
How important is it to your program to be a number one seed?
"It means a lot from a publicity standpoint because they are going to talk about you so much. I'm not sure, from a psychological standpoint, if you are not better off being a number two seed. The reason why is I can remember that we were the underdogs in the Sweet 16 and the Elite 8 in 1996. When you are a two playing a one, you are going to be the underdog. If you are number one, everybody below you is an underdog. However, I want this team to get what they deserve and what they earn. There is no question that, if we continue to take care of business, then this team has earned the opportunity to be a number one seed."
It looks like Lawrence Roberts will be SEC Player of the Year. Talk about what that will mean to this program if he wins that award.
"I'm proud for him, but like I said from day one, all individual awards will come from the team's success. This is a prime example of that. If he was on a 14-15 team, he wouldn't be the player of the year. He is going to be player of the year because he is on a 25-2 team. I also think Timmy Bowers is very deserving of the player of the year in this league, too. It is hard to separate which one is most important because without either one we wouldn't be where we are."
Yesterday, Between the Lines, Bobby Knight said it was unfair ruling allowing Lawrence to play this year. What do you think about that?
"If Bobby Knight had Lawrence Roberts, he wouldn't be speaking out against him. That's all I will say about that."
One thing, throughout the year, that you seem to have never been concerned about is the ability of your team to stay focused. I guess this time of year is when that really pays off.
"It has paid off through 27 games. I've said all along that is it not the team that can play the best 4, 5 or 6 games in the SEC, but that team that can play the best for 16 games. You can't get up or get down. You have to find that median. Those teams that can do that are the teams that can stay there all year long are the teams that are going to win championships. Fortunately, I have a team that, in my 20 years of coaching, has the ability to do that. That is why you can go on the road and win."
Talk a little more about the other players on your team.
"As much as any team you have seen play this year, this is truly a team effort. It is not a team made up of just two parts. It is a team where all five starters have a valuable role to play. Timmy Bowers and Lawrence Roberts don't function as well without Branden Vincent, Shane Power or Winsome Frazier. What makes this team so unique is the willingness of each player to accept his role. People don't know this, but Saturday we struggled badly without Branden Vincent. We got him back in the second half, it was a different game. While Timmy and Lawrence may be our best players and get most of the publicity, Branden Vincent may be our most valuable player because of the roles he plays. Then, Shane and Frazier have their own separate roles that are just as important."
From your view, what did you see when Timmy Bowers moved onto the line when the Alabama player was shooting a free throw? There has been a lot of controversy about that one play. "I didn't see it at the time but I saw it on film since then. Timmy threw his hands up out at the top of the circle to let them know he is coming in. He threw them up about the time that Rick Crawford lets go of the basketball for Shelton. Shelton had the ball while Timmy walked in. It happens some. That's not the first time that it has happened. They are just crying about it. Timmy didn't shoot the free throw."
Talk about the number of SEC teams on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament.
"There are three teams that are in, for sure, (Mississippi State), Kentucky and Florida. Then, there are three teams that are 8-8. I think Alabama is in. Are they going to take 7 teams in this league? I don't know. South Carolina, to me, is the one outside looking in if they are going to take 6, unless you factor in LSU without Lloreda and them losing 5 of their last 6. However, their RPI is higher than South Carolina's."
Do you think the SEC is receiving the respect it deserves?
"We are getting respect. They are talking about two SEC teams getting number one seeds. They aren't talking about two ACC teams getting number ones."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.