The Bulldogs struggled early in the season but have rolled out to an 8-2 record in Southeastern Conference play which gives them a two-game lead in the SEC Western Division race. The Rebels were stellar early but the losses have come often lately.
So Wednesday sets up as another opportunity for MSU to extend its lead in the West race. For the Rebels, still with postseason hopes, it's a chance to turn things around as the regular season winds down.
Mississippi State is 3-1 on the road in the SEC, and head coach Rick Stansbury says there's no magic formula for road success. But there are some constants.
"You have to defend and rebound," he said. "You're not always going to shoot it well. But there's no reason effort can't be a constant. That comes from within. It's not a skill level."
The Rebels have had no SEC road success and are now beginning to have less at home as far as wins go. Their last two games in Tad Smith Coliseum have been losses to South Carolina and Auburn.
Stansbury says no matter what's been going on with the Rebels lately, his team will have its hands full.
"It's the same team and the same personnel we have faced before," said Stansbury, whose Bulldogs won the first meeting between the two 88-68 in Starkville in late January. "They're capable of beating anybody anywhere."
He understands Ole Miss has lost some games. But he knows the rivalry aspect and playing at home will bring out the best in them.
"Naturally if you lose a couple of games in this league, it can become a fragile thing confidence-wise," said Stansbury, in his 10th season as head coach at MSU. "But we'll face their best up there Wednesday."
Andy Kennedy, the second-year Ole Miss head coach, hopes so.
"We just gotta keep doing what we're doing," he said. "When you get this deep into the season, it's not big things that are killing you. It's a lot of little things. And those little things add up. That's not only affected us defensively but offensively as well."
His team, once 13-0 and 15-1, has only two wins in its last eight games – against Vanderbilt and Presbyterian. Kennedy uses that word "fragile" as well.
"Our players know they're struggling," he said. "I have to be very careful in how we deal with this. The human psyche' is pretty fragile, especially when young kids don't have a lot of success longterm to fall back on. We've just got to continue to try to encourage them and put them in a position to be successful. And show them that if we do take the right approach we can be successful, because we've done that not too terribly long ago."
Kennedy says he doesn't really have a problem with his team's approach, and that includes the first-year guys.
"I think they've all been intense and fairly coachable," he said of his ballclub which is 3-7 in SEC play. "We've put a lot of responsibility on them, and at times it's such a fine line between winning and misery. Unfortunately we just haven't made the plays that we need to. We'll have another opportunity to do that Wednesday night."
They'll do so against a team that's playing as well as anybody in the SEC presently.
"Jamont Gordon is leading that team and makes things happen," Kennedy said. "Charles Rhodes is probably playing as well as he's played in his career. They've got (Jarvis) Varnado, a shot-blocker who protects them at the rim. (Ben) Hansbrough is back. Barry Stewart. Phil Turner. That's a good basketball team."
Teams take different paths to identical mark
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