Eyeing their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the team's memorable run to the 1995-96 NCAA Final Four six years ago, the Bulldogs are ranked 19th nationally according to CollegeRPI.com with a No. 29 national strength of schedule rating. As a team, MSU continues to pace the SEC and rank among the national leaders in field-goal percentage (49.2%) and rebounding margin (+7.4). In the team's recent wins over Vanderbilt and Auburn, State has shot 54 percent (60-of-111) from the field collectively as well as having maintained a commanding 89-44 two-game rebounding advantage on the boards.
All-SEC candidate Mario Austin leads a trio of double-figure Bulldog scorers at 15.7 points per game after recording his eighth 20-point effort of the season with 23 points (9-13 FGs) at Vanderbilt. Senior Marckell Patterson and sophomore Timmy Bowers follow at 13.0 and 10.7 points per contest, respectively, while junior Derrick Zimmerman adds 9.0 points an outing as well as leading the SEC in assists (6.1 apg) and ranking second in steals (2.4 spg).
Looking to make their sixth straight postseason tournament appearance, the Rebels of Mississippi are 19-7 overall on the season and in second place in the SEC West with an 8-5 league mark. Guided by fourth-year head coach and former Ole Miss standout guard Rod Barnes, Mississippi is led in scoring (14.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.6 rpg) by sophomore forward Justin Reed.
With Mississippi State holding a 122-101 all-time series advantage over Mississippi through the years, the Bulldogs have prevailed in 16 of the last 18 Starkville meetings dating back to the 1983-84 basketball campaign. UM's lone road wins over MSU during that span came during the 1997-98 and 1992-93 seasons. Dating back to the 1997-98 season, the last nine State-Ole Miss encounters have been decided by an average margin of only 6.6 points per game.