With the victory over South Carolina at Columbia this past weekend, the Mississippi State men's basketball team (23-7, 10-6 SEC) is on a five-game winning streak and have won seven of their last ten games. With the SEC Tournament just ahead, MSU will have a chance to improve their seeding from the four or five seed that they are likely to receive to a possible three if they win the tournament.
Now, where do the men go during the first and second rounds of March Madness? Some seem to think Dallas is where MSU will be sent. If the NCAA wants to make it so the fans don't have to travel a great distance to get to the various first and second round sites, then MSU could wind up at either Greenville, South Carolina or St. Louis, both about 7 hour drives from Starkville. Dallas is a 9 1/2 hour drive. Then you have Chicago which is a 10 1/2 hours drive from Starkville.
We'll all know next Sunday between 6 and 7 p.m. That is when the men's basketball selection show is to be broadcast on ESPN. By the way, the women's selection show immediately precedes the men's show.
BASKETBALL RECRUITING UPDATE
The state of Mississippi is loaded with top junior basketball players. Players such as Starkville's 6-8 Travis Outlaw, McComb's Jackie Butler (C, 6-10) Mendenhall's Emanuel Willis (F, 6-6), Moss Point's (East Central HS) Kenny Hooks (F, 6-6), Oxford's Vincent Camper (G, 6-4), Ashland's Stanley Turner (C, 6-10) and a couple of new names that have recently been mentioned on Gene's Page, Hickory Flat's Lamar Sanders (G, 6-6) and Holly Springs' (H.W. Byers HS) Currye Todd (G, 6-4). Among this group, Outlaw and Butler are the most highly thought of outside the state of Mississippi. Outlaw is ranked as the 6th best junior in the nation by FutureStars while the same publication ranks Butler 8th. Willis, Hooks and Camper are listed in the Best of the Rest category. Turner, Sanders and Todd are not that well-known outside the state of Mississippi, therefore, you very likely will not see them ranked in any recruiting publications prior to this summer. Both are hoping to attend either the Nike or Adidas All-Star summer camps. Look for their status to rise if they do.
Based on what I'm hearing, MSU is already showing interest in Outlaw, Butler, Willis, Turner, Sanders and Todd. Add to this list a point guard from Texas by the name of Dez Willingham. The 5-11 Willingham is listed as the 81st best player - and 10th best point guard - in the nation, according to FutureStars. He has taken an unofficial visit to Mississippi State recently as have Outlaw, Willis, Sanders and Todd. Because I look for all of these players to be recruited, some heavily, by MSU, I will keep you updated on their status.
Last year the Mississippi State baseball team didn't hit their 9th home run until March 31st. It is March the 4th and MSU has already hit their 9th homer. What is even more interesting is the fact that MSU only hit 11 home runs at Dudy Noble Field all of last season while they have already hit 6 in their first 6 home games this season.
Most of you, as well as me, are wondering where did this sudden power come from? I watched most of the fall scrimmages and there didn't seem to be that much more power than there was the previous fall or spring for that matter. It appears to have started this spring.
I've been to the home games. Part of it can be attributed to the wind. While the wind was blowing in a lot early in the season last year, this year, the wind has been blowing out most of the time. Another reason, in my opinion, is just the basic attitude of the players.
Last year, for the first time since I had been following MSU baseball, I heard more than one of our players say Dudy Noble Field is a big park and difficult to hit home runs out of.
To see if that was really true, I went back and looked at the stats for last year and the the three years prior to that. Since the park's dimensions haven't changed for a number of years, the stats should be similar. While the team hit just 38 homers last season - 11 at home - they hit 97 (54 home) in 1998, 82 (40 home) in 1999 and 69 (26 home) in 2000. Obviously, based on these stats, a lot of home runs can be hit out of Dudy Noble Field. The "too big" argument doesn't hold true based on facts.
Other than the wind, the only thing I can come up with is the mental attitude of the players. Now they just seem to believe they can hit home runs.
Do you give credit to Coach Polk? I would say to some extent you do. The reason I say that is not once during his first stay at Mississippi State did I ever hear several players say that Dudy Noble Field is too big of a ballpark to hit home runs out of. Of course there have been many players who weren't power hitters who played for MSU during that time, but there was never the attitude by the team that the park was too big.
Maybe it was just the philosophy of previous coach, Pat McMahon. Maybe he taught the players to hit the pitch in a manner that wasn't conducive to hitting balls out of the park. I've talked to Tommy Raffo - hitting coach for McMahon and Polk - about this and, based on what he said, that wasn't the case.
Now, we are back where we started: Why more home runs: Wind, attitude of the players or the philosophy of Ron Polk? More than likely, it is a combination of all three. The main thing is the home runs appear to be back. More than likely, it won't be like the years when MSU's batters hit in the 80 to 90 ranges, but at least they are back. You don't have to have home runs to win, but they are like a slam dunk, they are fun to watch.
While the home runs are being hit at a much faster pace than last season, the hitters are also hitting the ball better period. Last season, the team hit at a .273 pace. Through the first 8 games this season, they are hitting .338. Now I realize that they won't continue at this pace, but at least they seem to be hitting much better than they did last season.
So far, seven regulars are hitting .315 or better: Casey Long, .500; Matthew Brinson, .448; Steve Gendron, .429; Chad Henry, .382; Matthew Maniscalco, .324; Jason Burkley, .321 (4 home runs); and Jon Mungle, .315.
Of these seven players, the one that intrigues me the most is Burkley. I just have a feeling that he is going to have a season like former Diamond Dog Mark Gillaspie did. Mark went from 1 home run his junior season to 20 his senior season. He always has the capability to hit with power but didn't until his senior season. I've always felt that Jason could be a power hitter, but for reasons unknown to me, he never did until now. Maybe he is one of those guys that matures late.
It was nice to see Jacob Blakeney back on the mound after recovering from an injury. According to Coach Polk, Jacob came out of fall practice rated as the 6th best pitcher on the staff. He was expected to be counted on fairly heavily this spring. Jacob threw his fastball 89 mph during his initial outing this past weekend. Look for him to start during the mid-week games.
Watch out for pitcher Jonathan Papelbon. While Robby Goodson is the hardest thrower on the staff (90 to 92 mph fastball) and the guy that I thought would be the closer for MSU this season, it looks like that job is Papelbon's to lose. He has pitched 8 innings thus far this season and has struck out 16 while walking 0 and allowing 4 hits. The Major League Baseball scouts that I have talked to really like the fact that he has very late movement on a fastball that is consistently clocked in the 88 to 91 mph range. After talking to a few players, they seem to think he has the perfect mentality for a closer; he doesn't let anything bother him. By the way, Jonathan is a redshirt sophomore and has already reached 21 years of age, hence he is eligible to be drafted in the June Major League Baseball Draft.
Several of you have asked what baseball players are being redshirted this season. Although this list could change due to injuries, here are the ones that are scheduled for redshirt seasons this year: sophomore Todd Nicholas (LHP), freshmen Brett Cleveland (RHP/3B), Jamie Gant (RHP), Les Dykes (LHP), Brian Johnson (OF), Thomas Berkery (C/3B), Brad Jones (1B/OF), JoJo Haney (SS/2B), Craig Tatum (C), Jacob Ociesa (LHP), Ryan Fesmire (OF), and junior college transfer Clint Hoots (LHP).
Spring football practice is set to begin today. Look for updates each day MSU practices this week. The team will take off next week due to spring break.
What is the MEMBER SERVICES section on the left-hand column of my front page? Member Services is where you can check out your account info., including your subscriptions. All you have to do is click on MY ACCOUNT in that section and it will take you into your account. If you are already logged in you will not be asked to enter your username and password. If you are logged out, you will be asked to enter your username and password. Once you have entered your info you will be taken to a page that has three links on it, MY MEMBER PROFILE, MY SUBSCRIPTIONS and a link back to my front page. My Member Profile is where you can change your password and email address. My Subscriptions has your Gene's Page subscriptions listed. If you want to know the date when you signed up you can find that info there. If you have never gone into your account I would suggest doing so.
UPCOMING CALENDAR EVENTS
If you have a MSU related event coming up and you don't see it listed on the Gene's Page calendar, email Mary Ann your information and she will post it on the calendar. We purchased the calendar for your use, so please don't hesitate using it. Mary Ann's email address is email@example.com.
Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday Morning Bulldog Coffee Break.
Have a great Bulldog week!
Archived Monday Morning Coffee Break Articles:
Feb. 25, 2002
Feb. 18, 2002
Feb. 11, 2002
Feb. 4, 2002
Jan. 28, 2002
Jan. 21, 2002
Jan. 14, 2002
Jan. 7, 2002
Dec. 31, 2001
Dec. 24, 2001
Dec. 17, 2001
Dec. 10, 2001
Dec. 3, 2001
Nov. 26, 2001
Nov. 19, 2001
Nov. 12, 2001
Nov. 7, 2001
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.