Of course this matchup would take place in the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament. The fact that it was even a remote possibility made it a guarantee. When It was announced that Ole Miss would play the winner of the MSU/Vanderbilt game, you had to think it would be Mississippi State. They'd love nothing more than to win two of three basketball games against Ole Miss after having won the Egg Bowl. It's who they are. It's what they live for.
Last night, they shot an uncharacteristic 60% against Vanderbilt en route to a 82-68 beatdown of the 'Dores. Because of course. The fact that there was even a chance that they could make this happen was seemingly motivation enough.
And if (when?) we lose tonight on a crazy buzzer beater to the sound of wheezy chuckling escaping several thousand sets of jiggly jowels perched throughout the Georgia Dome, we'll say it once again: of course.
But if you look at it from a glass half full perspective, Ole Miss is likely much better than Mississippi State and only marginally better than Vanderbilt. If Ole Miss has any hope at winning the tournament (I know it's laughable, just bear with me), they have to have things go right in their pairings. They already have the "easiest" route to the finals based on seeding. Having the teams they are to play along the way be upset winners instead of favored teams would stand to reason as a good thing.
So let's talk about Mississippi State as objectively as we can. Let's treat them as any other opponent. As you know, Ole Miss has already played them twice, losing the first matchup (without Marshall Henderson) by four in Starkville and winning the second by nineteen in Oxford. How did the rest of SEC play go for Mississippi State? The quick answer is "not well." The long answer is "not well at all."
Mississippi State won three total SEC games during the regular season, knocking off Auburn, A&M (in overtime), and - of course - Ole Miss. Their conference-only scoring margin is -10.6, last in the SEC. In conference games this year, they have allowed opponents to connect on 47% of their shot attempts, also last in the SEC. Their three point percentage is .297, also last in the SEC. Their rebounding margin is -5.6, 12th in the conference and three rebounds per game WORSE than this Ole Miss team. Yep, the same Ole Miss team we have seen sit back and state as opponents attack the boards over and over again. Suffice it to say, they're bad, and there's a mountain of data to support this.
The sad part is, they can beat Ole Miss. When they did so earlier this season, it took impressive efforts from unlikely heroes and Marshall Henderson's suspension, but they did it. They can do it again. It's not likely, as I think Ole Miss beats this team 8 or 9 times out of ten. But still, the Bulldogs will be playing with a lot of effort as their teams always do against the Rebels. We've all seen bad Mississippi State teams beat better Ole Miss teams far too often to dare writing this one off.
However, if the Rebels play like they have something to play for, I imagine State's motivation won't matter. This Ole Miss team isn't all that good or all that motivated, but they're better than Mississippi State. Surely they can win this one.
Rebels 75 - Bulldogs 65
Your open thread for this Egg Bowl on hardwood begins... now.