Who needs football season? It’s an exciting time for sports in Mississippi. More than usual for this time of year. Let’s ‘Take Five’ on the big stories:
1. Magnolia state hoops: Hummin’!
Mississippi…hoops state, ya know? It’s been a while since Mississippians looked forward to March for something other than college baseball, patio weather, and the St. Paddy’s Day Parade. 2015 was the last time a Mississippi team (11 seed Ole Miss) played in the NCAA Tournament; it has been 17 years since the two teams danced together. But with just a handful of auditions left this season, both Ole Miss and Mississippi are shining their dance shoes. The teams have won a combined six in a row and each sit at 18-7 on the season. NCAA bracket folks currently project the Rebels as an eight seed and State as a seven seed. What’s interesting is how differently the two programs have made their way back. Ben Howland’s brand of big recruiting, talent and athleticism is finally paying off four years into his tenure. The pieces don’t quite fit together all the time, but they are enough to get the Bulldogs over the top. Meanwhile, Kermit Davis has done his best Norman Dale turn in his first season in Oxford. The Rebels were projected at the bottom of the SEC, but Davis has pieced together a squad greater than the sum of its parts that plays hard, smart and opportunistically. He’s on the short list for SEC Coach of the Year candidates.
2. Doc Sadler & Southern Miss…don’t look now
Speaking of coach of the year candidates, Doc Sadler’s Southern Miss team has won six straight and sits at 2nd in Conference USA (17-9, 9-5). On Saturday, they beat the brakes off of UTEP 77-47, a game they led 54-12 at halftime. Has any college basketball program come further? USM went 3-21 Sadler’s first year in Hattiesburg (after Donnie Tyndall’s short, successful, highly-illegal stay that blow-torched the program). They won just eight games the following year, but through Sadler’s grit and grind the Golden Eagles have quietly increased their win total and conference finish each season. They tipped their hand with a run to the semifinals of the C-USA Tournament last March. This year they are a legitimate threat to win it. Who knows? The Magnolia state could have three participants in the Big Dance if the Golden Eagles stay hot. Stranger things have happened with the hoops program down in Hattiesburg. (Sadler talked with our Jon Wiener on ‘The Jon Wiener Show’ on ESPN 105.9 FM The Zone last week. Listen here)
3. Old and New (Dude) in College Baseball
The college baseball season in Mississippi opened this weekend with typical fanfare and new heights, highlighted by the debut of “The New Dude” in Starkville. In short, famed Dudy Noble Field has gone from the “Carnegie Hall” to the “Taj Mahal” of college baseball. We prefer the unique character of the former, quite frankly, and wonder about investing so many millions in a ballpark right when the stadium bubble is bursting around the nation. But it’s hard to argue that State’s shiny new facility is one of the best venues in all of college sports. Unless you ask Ole Miss fans, proud of pristine Swayze Field and purveyors of college baseball’s best tradition: the home-run beer shower. Even Southern Miss fans have a pesky claim in gorgeous Pete Taylor Park and the undeniable ‘PTP magic.’ Here’s the reality: all three stadiums are terrific, and suit you just fine depending on your fancy. But it’s driven by the passionate fans and successful programs on the field. This weekend was no different: all three teams debuted ranked in the Top 25 and went a combined 8-1 on the weekend. State and Ole Miss started freshman who turned down 1st round MLB contracts. The Golden Eagles swept a ranked Purdue team. College baseball is BACK in Mississippi and (still) better than anywhere!
4. The Clarion Ledger gaffe: some perspective
College baseball is legendary in Mississippi…it’s just that apparently no one has told the state newspaper. On Saturday, Mississippi State greats Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro unveiled their own statues as part of the New Dude debut. The Clarion Ledger got half of that right.
“Ole Miss greats Clark and Palmeiro….” Wanna get away? Bulldog faithful were predictably vitriolic in their reaction. It’s not the first time the Ledger has infuriated State fans with an Ole Miss-appropriation, which has fostered the idea of some sort of institutional bias against the Bulldogs. Let’s offer a little perspective here, though. No employee at the Clarion Ledger has much control of the print edition. It gets designed and printed by a Gannett branch in another state, on an early evening deadline. Sadly, no one gives the print issue much thought anymore — readers or publishers — unless it’s gone FUBAR. In this case, confusing the Thunder & Lightning boys as “Ole Miss greats” pretty much qualifies. But the blame doesn’t really lie with the Ledger. The sad part here is not the mistake, but the bigger problem: the newspaper business is so FUBAR that a cardinal sin such as this is even possible.
5. Top Young Golfers at CCJ. Yay or nay?
One of the biggest junior golf tournaments in the country takes place this weekend at the Country Club of Jackson. The Gator Invitational is a 36-Hole Championship competed over two days between qualifying 14-18-year-olds, many of whom will be the college and pro stars of tomorrow. If you ask us, spending a day outdoors on a beautiful piece of green space, moseying about watching some of the best young players in the world play golf is a pretty solid way to spend an afternoon. Or, the idea of watching 12-year-olds hit golf shots you could not possibly dream of, over and over and over again, could be low-level psychotic torture. Either way, the Gator might not be on your radar, but it should be (and now it is :-)).
Tweet of the Week: “PEACE IN OUR TIME” (Will Bardwell)
Our Tweet of the Week comes from a local Jackson resident and the ongoing Matt Kuchar-El Tucan-caddie-stiffing soap opera.
Kuchar finally caved to pressure from the public mob. Appeased, you might even say. This one was so scholarly sharp it gave us the feels 🙂