Coaches concerned with MSU’s run through SEC|[01/29/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Southeastern Conference Western Division teams better start getting to Mississippi State or the race could be over quickly, Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey said Monday.

“When a team rips off games like the way Mississippi State is doing, the margin of error decreases when trying to catch them,” said Pelphrey, whose team is scheduled to battle streaking Mississippi State on Wednesday night at 7. “… I think Mississippi State is not only one of the hottest teams in the conference, but also in the country. They have won nine in a row and are extremely well coached, and I think their offensive and defensive numbers are an indication of that.”

The Bulldogs (14-5, 5-0 SEC) are two games ahead of Arkansas in the conference standings. A win over the Razorbacks on Wednesday would give MSU a three-game cushion over the rest of the West. They’ve done it with a January turnaround after a poor non-conference start.

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The Bulldogs were 5-5 on Dec. 15 and had just lost to South Alabama. Since then, the Bulldogs have reeled off nine straight wins, including Saturday’s 88-68 thumping of Ole Miss in Starkville.

With Jarvia Varnado leading the nation in blocked shots, a nearly impossible matchup with Jamont Gordon at guard and the return of Charles Rhodes, the Bulldogs have seemingly gotten everyone’s attention.

Although not yet ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, MSU entered the ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ poll at No. 25 this week.

“I don’t know if there is a more difficult matchup as far as size and strength as Jamont Gordon,” said Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy. “Against us, he absolutely commanded the game. It was like he was leading an orchestra. He has taken charge of that team.”

Kennedy and the Rebels will get another shot at Mississippi State on Feb. 20, but must concentrate on a Vanderbilt team that mirrors the Rebels’ performance this season.

Vandy (17-3, 2-3) and Ole Miss (16-3, 2-3) were both unbeaten in 2007. Vanderbilt, though, lost to Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida with a win over LSU sandwiched in between. The Rebels have lost three of their last five games to Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State.

“This will be another huge challenge for our basketball team,” Kennedy said. “They are having an outstanding year, although we were both taken to the woodshed on Saturday. I am anxious to see which team can get off the mat.”

The Ole Miss game is scheduled for 7 p.m., but will not be televised.