STARKVILLE — So, how do you prepare for an opponent that hasn’t played since Jan. 30?
That’s exactly the challenge Mississippi State men’s basketball has as it’s scheduled to face a Texas A&M team at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in College Station that missed the entire February slate of games because of COVID-19 safety protocols.
The Bulldogs (13-12, 7-9 SEC) have played a whopping nine more games than the Aggies (8-7, 2-6) heading into the matchup.
“They could’ve put in six or eight new sets that we’ve never even seen before or no one has seen because they haven’t in a month,” MSU coach Ben Howland said. “It is very much in the same way we prepare for a team we haven’t seen play in a long time. So, it is what it is.”
Texas A&M beat Mississippi State by a single point in a matchup in Starkville earlier this season and has won two in a row over the Bulldogs, but MSU has won four of the last six contests.
“I am sure they will be excited,” Howland said. “Their players have basically been sitting there basically for a month without a chance to play a game.”
While both of MSU’s scheduled contests this week are very winnable on paper, the significance of both games is mitigated to playing for either pride or Southeastern Conference tournament seeding. Any chance of the Bulldogs earning an at-large berth to the SEC tournament are long gone.
“We have to win the SEC Tournament,” Howland said of what the team would need to do to qualify for the big dance. “Four games in four days, that is what it would come down to. That is what it comes down to for everyone in our league except for the six teams that are pretty much assured to get in as of right now.”
Nevertheless, the week presents an opportunity to finish at least .500 in SEC play for the fourth consecutive year, and would assure the team outperforms its SEC preseason poll prognistication, where it was selected to finish 12th.
“We had a good practice yesterday and we’ve won two of our last three,” Howland said. “We’re going to get on the road for the last two games and it is March now.
“It’s amazing that we’ve spent the last nine months between the COVID and everything we’ve had to contend with to get to this point. We want to finish strong. We had a good spirited practice yesterday so I feel good about that.”
The only player averaging double figures for the Aggies is Emanuel Miller at 14.8 points per game. He reached 10-plus points in his first eight outings and 11 of 14 overall on the season.
Hodge is the former sports editor for The Dispatch.
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