One of the knocks on college basketball is that not every game counts the way it does in college football. While that may be the case throughout the first part of the season, teams who find themselves on the NCAA Tournament bubble know that every game matters in the second half of the season during conference play. That situation is no different for Alabama (18-9, 7-6 SEC) and Mississippi State (19-9, 6-7) as they square-off tonight at 5 pm CT in Coleman Coliseum in a contest set to air on ESPN. While both teams have similar overall and conference records, this game is really a tale of two teams streaking in the opposite direction.
Approximately one month ago Alabama head coach Anthony Grant's basketball team was 13-7 overall and 2-4 in conference play after coming off a four game losing streak, culminating in a 56-54 loss to South Carolina, who was winless in the conference at the time. The Tide has managed to recover and go 5-2 over the next 7 games while battling a slew of injuries and suspensions, the latter of which made national headlines when Grant suspended 4 starters for the Tide's game against LSU. Alabama heads in to tonight's game looking somewhat secure in their tournament chances, but knowing that every win truly does count for this team. Alabama expects to receive a big boost as star senior forward JaMychal Green should be in the line-up and available to play. Green missed a total of 4 games during his suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. Green leads the Tide in scoring and rebounding, averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds a game. Sophomore Trevor Releford, one of the other players suspended before the LSU game, is second on the active roster with over 12 points a contest from his point guard position. Coach Grant knows that this Tide team is a lot different than the team that lost to State in Starkville earlier this season by a score of 56-52.
"We played them so early, so I think it's almost like playing them for the first time again," Grant said of his team's second meeting with the Bulldogs. "We've changed and they've changed. They are good, but obviously they have struggled here lately with a losing streak, but they've been right there in every game they've played with chances to win in all those games. I think our guys understand that we are facing one the best teams in our league, and certainly a team that is very dangerous, so we've got to make sure we are ready to go."
If Alabama is a team streaking in a positive direction, then Mississippi State is running full-speed the opposite way. Exactly one month ago today Coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs found themselves 17-4 overall and 4-2 in the SEC after a 76-71 defeat of LSU in Starkville. They were considered a lock for a high seed in the NCAA tourney. However, after going 2-5 over their last 7 games, the Bulldogs now find themselves in the position of possibly not even making the dance at all. Many analysts and bracketologists believe that this is a must-win for Mississippi State if they hope to make the tournament. Add to that the fact that many experts believe Stansbury could be fired if State doesn't make the tournament this year, and you have a team with tons of motivation coming in to today's match-up. The Bulldogs are led in scoring and rebounding by big Arnett Moultrie, who averages 16.4 points and 10.8 boards a game. He led State in the earlier meeting against Bama with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Dee Bost is second in scoring for State with 16.1 points a contest. He also leads the team in assists with over 5 per game.