The Robertson Report

[Premium Article] It's Valentine's day and the MSU men's basketball team finds itself where most people expected them to be: In a 1st place battle with a team from Alabama. The two biggest differences are that both teams are hovering just above .500 in conference play and the team from Alabama just happens to be Auburn, whom many expected to be at or near the bottom of the SEC West.

MSU put together two solid efforts last week. This same team stumbled into conference play with a narrow home loss to Florida, a blowout loss to LSU, which featured Mario Austin at about 70%, and a frustrating road loss to SEC West favorite Alabama. The Alabama game probably stung the worst as the Bulldogs squandered a 17 point lead in the game. It has taken a few weeks and a few near misses for the hardcourt Bullies to develop a killer instinct. The one narrow win that draws the most attention is the LSU win that saw a 10-point lead become one in about 45 seconds. Since that game the Bullies have won at UM and nearly stole a win at Georgia.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, MSU hasn't defeated an SEC team with a winning conference record since last year's SEC Tournament. MSU's wins are over 5 teams that have a combined conference record of 13-35. MSU has played two former number 1's in Alabama and Florida and has two losses to show for it. It's easy to get inside the numbers, but you can't see the look or the determination of the squad "in the numbers".

The Bullies were down big at the half in Athens. With less then 2 minutes to play the Bullies had a 5- point lead and the ball. The dagger came when Steve Thomas outworked us for an offensive rebound and passed to a wide open and suddenly red hot Ezra Williams, who calmly knocked down a wide open three. Character and esprit de corps are built in such moments. The team has certainly had a different look about them after letting that one get away.

Last season the Bulldogs let two 12-point leads at LSU get away and lost a game they shouldn't have in overtime. I think we may have reached a similar bench mark with the 2003 Dogs. The game this past Saturday may be as well as we have ever played at home in conference. After winning two games by a combined 50 points, the Bulldogs seem to be peaking at the right time. Most people expected blowout home wins from this year's team, but after the earlier adversity in the season they certainly mean a lot more.

MSU finds itself one game behind surprising Auburn. The Tigers started strong, but have found the going a lot tougher on the road. Auburn has 7 games remaining and 4 of those are on the road. The good news is that three of those are against Alabama, LSU, and Mississippi. Alabama and LSU are on the verge of total collapse. LSU had a chance to steal one from Auburn this past Saturday, but let it get away in the end. Alabama appears to be a team that has already packed it in and may go down as the only team in the history of the poll system to appear at #1 and fail to make the NCAA Tournament. UM is playing out the string, but would love to make a difference in how the West is won. Auburn still has a home and home against MSU and hosts Florida and Arkansas. If Auburn can earn a split on the road and win 2 of the 3 remaining home games they would earn a mark of 12-6 in conference. That may be enough to win the West and secure a #3 in the SEC tourney.

Mississippi State also has a 3 home, 4 away stretch. The schedule is a lot kinder to Auburn. MSU has to visit AU and UK next week which may be the week that decides our SEC fate. MSU also must visit the Bulldog's house of horrors in Bud Walton Arena to rematch with recently blown out Arkansas. The final away game is at Knoxville where the Vols will also be playing for the all important tournament seeding. To say we'll have to earn it is putting it mildly. MSU will host UM this weekend, after an open date on Wednesday, Alabama in between travel dates, and Auburn to close out the regular season. MSU must sweep Auburn to win the West, but more importantly get a #3 or #4 seed in the conference tournament. MSU has a nice shot at defending their crown, but some momentum heading in will be key.

The other two teams vying for the better seeds are Tennessee and Georgia. UGA is 5-4, but has Florida and Kentucky left to deal with. The best news is they get them in Athens. Tennessee is way too dependent on big man Slay. After UT makes it's next trip through the division, they'll meet the pack rather quickly. The match-up with MSU is huge for both teams, but MSU has the ability to score from 5 positions. This one will be a fun one to watch with the pressure Z and Bowers bring.

With 7 regular season games left, this team has a lot to play for and this is where it all starts to matter. Nothing can be done to erase the 0-3 start or the leads that got away, but they can still reach every goal they set for themselves. The best thing about college basketball is that if you keep winning, everything else will take care of itself. The polls, RPI, conference tournament seedings, NCAA seedings, and bandwagon media types will all come into focus if the W's keep coming.

This weekend brings a chance for the Bullies to sweep the season series from in-state rival Mississippi. This game is big for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is that it's the next game on the way to bigger games.

Until next week,

Steve Robertson
Hebrews 10:25


Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is therobertsonreport@hotmail.com.

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