The Robertson Report

[Premium Article] It's hard to put into words how big this past weekend games were for the men's and women's basketball teams from Mississippi State. The MSU men squandered a 14-point lead in the final minutes to drop their 10th straight at Bud Walton arena and the ladies won their sixth straight to secure what should be a top ten ranking to close out the regular season. It will be the 1st such ranking in the school's history.

Coach Fanning's Lady Bulldogs have played themselves into a very enviable position. The team will close out the regular season in the top ten nationally and in the top 4 in the conference. The 4th seed in the SEC Tournament is big in that the ladies get a bye in the 1st round. Friday at 6 the Bullies take on the winner of the USC/Mississippi game. These same two teams met in Oxford this past Sunday with USC taking a decisive victory 91-68.

UM has lost 8 games in a row and 14 of their last 15. Among those 15 are two losses to MSU. The odds on favorite to win this match-up is South Carolina and with good reason. They are a very talented squad, but UM may be the worst team in the conference right now, men or women.

South Carolina should advance to play MSU. The Lady Bulldogs have lost 4 conference games this season and there is a good chance they'll get to extract some revenge against some of those foes. Of the 4 losses, the USC 83-79 loss at Columbia is the 1st chance the MSU ladies have of avenging. On a neutral court, I like our ladies in a close one. As well as the inside-out game is going, this one should be no problem and should sew up no worse than a 3 seed for the Bulldogs in the big dance.

The semi-finals will more than likely bring Coach Fanning back against Coach Pat Summit and 10-time tournament champion Tennessee. The Vols got the better of the Bullies back in Knoxville 82-68. The game was much more competitive than the score indicated. The Lady Vols made their free throws, and the rest, as they say, is history. A win here and the Lady Bulldogs will be in high cotton.

If the Lady Bulldogs are fortunate enough to reach the finals, they'd play LSU or Georgia. Georgia defeated our ladies at Athens, 76-71, and the Lady Tigers defeated MSU in Starkville 77-72. My money is on LSU if they make it that far. I don't think that's a big if. LSU has a much easier task of making it to the conference finals than does Tennessee in my opinion. I truly believe that our ladies would love another crack at LSU. We should have won that one in front of the home crowd, but a win here in the finals and the Bullies are no worse than a 2 seed which would have them avoiding the heavyweights til they reached the elite 8. I know there are a lot of "ifs" in that analysis, but if we beat UT you might want to drive up for the championship game.

The MSU men could have clinched a 1st round bye this past weekend with a win over Arkansas. Now what was a a virtual lock has become a 4-team race once again. MSU still needs one win to clinch the 1st round bye, and with two losses in their last three game, their potential NCAA seeding is looking like a 5 seed at best.

There are 4 teams still vying for the SEC Western crown, MSU, Auburn, Alabama, and LSU. This Wednesday should clear the traffic a good bit, but just for kicks here is how it all shakes out.

MSU will play at suddenly average Tennessee on Senior Night. UT knocked off Florida in that same building a few games ago, but got demolished by LSU's suddenly potent 3-point game this past Sunday. A loss here and the home game vs Auburn could mean a whole lot.

Auburn hosts Arkansas on Wednesday. These two met earlier in the season at Bud Walton and the Tigers won by 15 and held Arkansas to a high school like 37 points. It's Senior Night in Auburn too, so I am sure the Tigers will do what the Bulldogs could not, which is beat a team that is considerably worse than them.

South Carolina has won 5 of 7 and will take on-again-off-again Tony Kitchens to Tuscaloosa to battle the Crimson Tide. With a MSU loss and an Alabama win, the Tide pulls to within a game of MSU with one to play.

The hottest team in the West is certainly LSU; they have completely whitewashed Vandy, Arkansas, Auburn, and Tennessee. These games have not been close, and in the case of Auburn, was over at the half. LSU plays at Mississippi, who has lost 9 in a row but did manage to defeat LSU in Baton Rouge earlier this season by 10. An LSU win coupled with an MSU loss and we have a complete logjam for 1st and 2nd in the West.

I have given the problems with our team a lot of thought and have come up with few conclusions. The 1st of which is that we can play with anyone in the country, a la, Xavier and Oklahoma who are both at or around the top 10 again. The 2nd is that we cannot or will not finish games. This has been a season long problem and has not arisen just in the last few outings.

At Bama, we blew a 17 point lead in front of the hostile crowd to lose in OT.

Home against LSU we nearly blew what seemed like an insurmountable lead in the final minute, but thanks to some clutch free throws and a wild three at the buzzer we escaped with a win.

At Mississippi, the game seemed to be in hand, but a bad shot here and a defensive lapse there and we're winning in the final moments thanks to Z's Tyus Edney impersonation.

At Georgia we find ourselves with the ball and a 5 point lead in the final minutes only to completely collapse under the pressure.

Back home against Mississippi, the game again seems to be in hand only to see a late lead fall by the way side and we're forced to win in OT thanks to a great performance by Harp and a late forced turnover courtesy of Derrick Zimmerman's pressure D.

At Kentucky, we cut the lead to 5 and have 4 straight defensive stops only to miss the front end of 2 one and ones, blow a lay-up and take a bad shot with about 15 to go on the shot clock. That stretch lost the game for us. Now I take nothing away from the great effort the team put forth after going down 19, but when you are talking about playing among the nation's best you don't count moral victories.

Back home against Alabama we have an 11 point lead with about two minutes to go and nearly blow it again. Thanks to a huge play by Mario, as well as his ability to make his free throws, we escape with a win.

At Arkansas, the game is in hand and the crowd is heading for the exits. A couple of big threes and our offense suddenly is way out of rhythm. We lose another we shouldn't have at Arkansas.

OK, so we're .500 in those games we don't finish, but had we found a way to win just one of the one's we lost we're already celebrating our good fortune as SEC Wwest champs with two to play. I don't have the answer, but I have some ideas.

Can we stop running the four corners offense on our 1st possession of the 2nd half? In the Arkansas and Alabama game we stopped running the offense with about 6 minutes left. Apparently our kids only have one speed and that's wide open. We can build a lead or overcome a lead against anybody, but for some reason once we get that lead we start playing not to lose.

Maybe we're tired at the end which is why we can't run the offense or make our free throws. I know this late in the year you have your rotation of subs pretty much hammered out, but if we can't finish off games due to fatigue we've got issues.

This team has a great coaching staff and I know they are working hard to correct these and other issues. I truly believe the Arkansas game could serve as a spring board into the NCAAs much as the loss at LSU did last year. There's one thing for sure you can say about Rick Stansbury, he is passionate about winning and as bad as we all felt after losing at Bud Walton again he felt worse.

It's gut check time in StarkVegas. The Dogs needs these last two, period. Enough about seeding and tournament selections. The thing about college basketball is that if you keep winning this time of year you control your own destiny. I have heard that the NCAA selection committee may make amends to MSU after sending us to play Texas in Dallas. If we can start winning big and make a run in the conference tournament and beat UK or Florida we may see some creative seeding. I don't think we need it. I think as bad as we looked in the final minutes against Arkansas it shouldn't matter who we play. We should win.

This week will be huge for Bulldogs of both genders and both teams need our support. The ladies are attempting to step into the nation's elite where many will be surprised to see them. The men are looking to step back into the nation's elite where many are surprised not to see them.

Until next week,

Steve Robertson
John 3:14

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

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