By Gene Phelps
Mississippi State has already clinched at least a tie for the SEC’s Western Division championship, but coach Richard Williams isn’t celebrating.
He’d feel a lot better about the Bulldogs’ second straight division title if they could close out the regular season today with a victory over Auburn at Humphrey Coliseum.
The game is scheduled for a noon tipoff and will be televised by Jefferson-Pilot.
“We want to win it (the division) outright,” said Williams, whose Bulldogs are 18-7 overall and 9-6 in the SEC. “I know the worst we could do is share, but I want to win.”
Mississippi State, despite losing 69-64 Wednesday at Vanderbilt, clinched a share of the division title when Alabama defeated Arkansas. The Bulldogs take a one-game lead into today’s game. The Razorbacks and Crimson Tide have 8-7 conference records.
A win over Auburn would lock up a No. 1 seeding for Mississippi State in next week’s SEC Tournament in New Orleans. A loss would likely make the Bulldogs a No. 2 or No. 3 seed depending on the outcome of the Razorbacks’ game at LSU and the Tide’s home game against Ole Miss.
“I look at it in terms of seedings,” Williams said. “It may be better to be the No. 3 seed than be the No. 2 seed. The No. 2 seed is in the same bracket with Kentucky (laugh).”
Auburn, which comes in 18-9 overall and 6-8 in the SEC, will have a say in who does what. Coach Cliff Ellis’ Tigers have not been an easy foe for Mississippi State the last two seasons.
The Bulldogs needed overtime to edge the Tigers 78-75 Feb. 4 at Auburn. Plus, Auburn was the only SEC West opponent to beat Mississippi State twice last season.
“Auburn’s a difficult team for us to defend,” Williams said. “They have a lot of options on offense. A lot of their players can score. They are very athletic and are very good on the perimeter.”
Auburn center Pat Burke also is a tough matchup for State’s Erick Dampier.
“(Burke) can play on the perimeter, which hurts us two ways,” Williams said. “First, he forces Erick away from the basket where he is not as good. Plus, then Erick goes out to defend Burke he’s not there to help inside.”