Every year the Southeastern Conference rotates it's site for its annual men's basketball tournament between Nashville, Tampa, Atlanta or New Orleans. This year it's back to the Big Easy and for Mississippi Statethis location has been where memories are made.
The last two times the conference tournament was in New Orleans the Dawgs played for the title. In 1996 State beat eventual National Champion Kentucky on their way to the Final Four. In 2003 State lost in the finals to - you guessed it - Kentucky. So any pie in the sky state fan has to like this years venue and if your going to the tournament who doesn't like NOLA and the quarter right?
But before we start talking a third straight State V Kentucky NOLA final the Dawgs can look no further than tonight when they play the late game verses the University of Georgia. MState comes into this contest with a 21-10 record and 8-8 SEC mark, having lost six of their last ten but winning their last two. What once was a sure fire lock team for the NCAA Tournament, the Dawgs need not squander any opportunities if they do notwant to be a number one seed in that other tournament, the NIT. With an RPI floating in the sixties, State needs to win a few in this tournament to assure itself a pair of dancing shoes next week.
What's all this mean? It means it all starts tonight as the Georgia Bulldogs (14-16, 5-11) come calling. At first glance this would seem like a slam dunk victory for State but it was this same UGA team that started States five game skid a month ago with a 70-68 overtime win in Starkville. So as always with this 2012 version of RickStansbury's Dawgs they can ill afford to take the Athens Dawgs or anyone for that matter lightly.
The big question is what State team shows up? Will it be the one that lost five straight against the likes of Georgia, LSU and Auburn? Or will it be the one that went to the Pre-NIT Tournament in New York and knocked off Arizona and Texas aTm and then knocking off West Virginia at home? For State fans, they obviously hope its the latter.
With two SEC first team players in Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie and a now healthy Rodney Hood. State could be poised to make a run again in NOLA.
When asked about State in yesterday's coaches interviews Kentucky head coach John Calipari said, "I coached against them this year and they were unbelievable. That first half they played against us was one of the best halves played against us. They didn’t back down. They were physical. They made shots. They ran their stuff. They’ve just got to figure out: How do we do that for two halves? If they can beat us, then probably they can beat anybody in the country." Calipari added, "The ball is dropped, you look up and you’re playing Mississippi State, or they’re in your little pocket of four, you’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I hope they get beat before we have to play them."
Again we speak of the time being now and the time to put up or shut up has arrived. State's back is against a wall. They must produce or this team will again be swallowed into the NIT abyss missing yet another NCAA Tournament. And if the Dawg's want to meet Kentucky on Sunday in the finals (because theCats will be there), it all starts tonight. It all starts with a Dawg fight in NOLA.