Mississippi State's men's team, on a very emotional Senior Day, wrapped up its first Western Division championship since the 1995-96 season. And they did it in grand fashion by defeating the surprise team of the SEC, Auburn, 67-45.
Just about every one of the 9,733 fans in the Hump could tell after the first few minutes this MSU team wasn't to be denied. They were going to be champs of the West.
After a 0-3 start in the SEC, they had worked extremely hard, winning 8 of their last 12 games in the toughest conference in the nation.
Auburn, seeing what Arkansas and Tennessee did to the MSU offense by running a zone, decided they would run the zone also. On paper, it looked like the right thing to do. MSU's offense had appeared sluggish and extremely ineffective in both games. Most attributed it to the opponents' zones. Maybe, maybe not. Poor offense or just a two-game mini slump? Saturday was the day to answer that question.
Zimmerman came out and shot like he did back in his high school days. Threes came natural to him then, and they did yesterday as well. When he wasn't shooting threes over the zone, he was leading his team in transition, beating Auburn's defense down the court.
Auburn said Z was going to have to prove that he could shoot the threes and, as Coach Stansbury said, "If that is what they wanted, I guess they got it today because he shot it today. He shot it with a lot of confidence."
He sure did, coach, he sure did. Good enough to give MSU the opportunity to put up a new banner that will say:
Mississippi State: SEC Western Division Champions!
Now, on to the SEC Tournament in New Orleans.
Mississippi State, thanks to their new championship, will be able to enjoy a bye in the first round of the SEC Tournament. Arch-rival Ole Miss and Tennessee will fight it out noon Thursday for the right to face Mississippi State at noon Friday.
Both teams gave MSU all they could handle during the regular season. Tennessee, on their own Senior Night, defeated MSU by ten, while Ole Miss loss to MSU both times during the regular season. However, both were very, very close; one was won in the last seconds of the game with the other coming in overtime.
Obviously, neither team will be a cakewalk for MSU. But nothing has been a cakewalk for a team that no longer can come in the back door like last year's team was able to. As MSU has found out this season, it's harder to stay at the top when teams are gunning for you.
If MSU gets by Tenn/Ole Miss, then next up is Vanderbilt, LSU or Florida. Right now, the toughest of that bunch appears to the LSU Tigers, winners of 5 straight. The only team hotter in the SEC is Kentucky, winners of 20 straight. It won't make it any easier for LSU's opponents that the tournament is being played in the New Orleans' Superdome, just a short drive from Baton Rouge.
If you can make it to the tournament, please do so. Your team needs your support.
If MSU does well in the SEC Tournament, don't be surprised to see them as a 4 to 6 seed in either Birmingham or Nashville.
See the SEC Tournament bracket below.
2003 SEC MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT
March 13-16 - Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans, La.
March 13 (Thursday)
March 14 (Friday)
March 15 (Saturday)
March 16 (Sunday)
All Times Central
The number 10 ranked Lady Bulldogs, after winning 7 games in a row (three against ranked opponents), suffered a very tough 76-75 loss against the 3rd ranked Tennessee Lady Vols Saturday in the SEC Women's Tournament this past weekend.
Led by SEC Player of the Year LaToya Thomas, the Lady Bulldogs took Tennessee down to the wire before Tennessee's Lawson made a game-winning two-pointer.
MSU now awaits word from the NCAA as to where they will wind up going. Look for MSU to be a number 3 seed.
The 10th ranked Diamond Dogs (see polls below) are now 9-1-1 on the year after sweeping Lipscomb University three games this past weekend.
After defeating 27th-ranked UAB earlier in the week, the Bulldogs, in a game shorten due to rain, tied Louisiana Tech.
The first-ever meeting between MSU and LU saw the Bulldogs win 8-1, 3-1 and 12-1.
MSU heads to New Orleans to take on the New Orleans Privateers Tuesday and Wednesday.
While it is still early in the season, the things that stand out about this team is defense and pitching depth.
Of its first 11 games, MSU has not committed an error in 6. And has committed just 1 in 3 others. On the season, MSU has a .980 fielding percentage. The school record is .974, which was set in 1999. I know it's too early to know for sure, but indications are this will be one of the top fielding teams in MSU history.
By the way, does anyone remember an MSU team having so many position players with outstanding arms? I count five with above average arms, CF Joseph Hunter, RF Brad Corley, SS Matthew Maniscalco, 3B Steve Gendron and C Craig Tatum.
As for Tatum, teams haven't attempted to steal against him that much this season. So far, he has thrown out 2 of 3 base stealers with another runner being picked off. I can't say that trend will continue but it's nice to know that MSU has a great arm behind the plate.
And has MSU had more speed in the outfield than the current outfield trio of Jon Mungle, Hunter and Corley? Not a single one of them has made an error this season.
Now you are seeing why I feel this team will be such an outstanding defensive team.
SEC starting rotation will be Paul Maholm (2-1, 0.90), Alan Johnson (2-0, 1.86) and Todd Nicholas (1-0, 2.25). Two, lefties Maholm and Nicholas, are potential high draft picks this coming summer. The third, Johnson, is a control pitcher who throws in the 85-86 mph range. And when I say control, I mean control; 0 walks in 19.1 innings. You can't beat that.
Then, add Corley (0-0, 6.75), a freshman RHP/OF who the MSU coaches are extremely high on. Look for him to pitch one of the games against New Orleans.
As for closers, Coach Polk mentioned Sunday that he feels he has three closers, Jonathan Papelbon (2-0, 0.00, IP 11.1, SO 18), Robby Goodson (0-0, 0.00, IP 3.0, SO 7) and surprising Saunders Ramsey (0-0, 0.00, IP 4.2, SO 7). Ramsey doesn't have the velocity of the first two, but with a sidearm motion, he is tough on righthanders.
And don't forget pitchers Jeff Lacher, Jamie Gant, Brian Owens, Brett Cleveland, Jacob Blakeney and Brooks Dunn.
Look for all of these pitchers to be on the SEC 25-man roster.
Now, if the hitting can put 6 to 7 runs on the scoreboard most games, MSU should win the vast majority of their games.
[No. 9 (NCBWA writers' poll), No. 10 (Collegiate Baseball), No. 13 (Sports Weekly/ESPN) and No. 15 (Baseball America).]
Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday Morning Bulldog Coffee Break.
Have a great Bulldog week!
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 email@example.com.