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SEC Hoops Roundup 12/14/2013

gfx-hoops-round-upFriday Night Results

1. Mississippi State 68 -Southeastern Louisiana 62. Craig Sword shoots 9-of-11 from the field – scores 22 points. Bulldogs now 6-2.

Saturday Schedule

2. Tennessee at Wichita State. Shockers are undefeated at 9-0.  ”Saturday is huge – absolutely critical – for coach Cuonzo Martin’s team…”

3. Lipscomb at Georgia. 3-4 Bulldogs back on the court today for the first time in 12 days.

4. Middle Tennessee at Ole Miss. Rebels have lost to Blue Raiders two straight years.  Coach Andy Kennedy: “It’s certainly been mentioned a couple of times the last few days.”

5. Kentucky at North Carolina.  Kentucky coach John Calipari: “This is why you coach and this is why you play, to play in games like this.”

6. UL-Monroe at LSU. Tigers bench a source of strength - averaged more than 17 points last three games.

7. McNeese State at Texas A&M.  McNeese State last of a four-game stretch before 7-2 Aggies begin conference play.

8. Charleston State at Alabama. 4-4 Crimson Tide have struggled at times this year.  Coach Anthony Grant: “As a team, some things have been revealed in terms of where we are and what we need to do.”

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Stallings, VU Having To Take MTSU Seriously

When Kevin Stallings put nearby Middle Tennessee State on the Commodores’ 2012 basketball slate, you can bet he didn’t expect for the Blue Raiders to come in boasting a 19-2 record and a perfect 8-0 mark in the Sun Belt Conference:

“It certainly looks like a tough game right now.  You can expect all of them to be tough, but Middle’s having a great year.  They have a very, very good team.  (Belmont coach) Rick Byrd told me early in the year when he played them after the first times, he said, ‘I’m telling you, they’re not really good for Middle or really good for their league.  They’re really good.’  They’ve certainly proven him to be 100% correct.”

Vandy and MTSU battle at Memorial Gym tomorrow afternoon.  The Commodores have won nine of their last 10 games and crushed Tennessee on Tuesday.

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Down 17, Auburn Comes Back To Defeat Middle Tennessee, 68-66

Earnest Ross scored 22 points and Auburn withstood a furious late rally by Middle Tennessee as the Tigers held off the Blue Raiders for a 68-66 victory at Auburn Arena.

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MSU’s Diaz The Impact Hire In The SEC

When you hear the words “impact” or “breakthrough” in connection with the 2010 SEC football season, the image of Cameron Newton running over a linebacker probably comes to mind.  Or perhaps you see visions of Marcus Lattimore bulling through SEC defenses.

But there’s another name that should come to mind… even though it probably doesn’t: Manny Diaz.

On October 17th of last year, Diaz’ MTSU defense squared off against Dan Mullen’s first Mississippi State team.  State won the game 27-6.  They outgained the Blue Raiders 333-248, too.  But the aggressiveness of Diaz’ defense caught Mullen’s eye even in the loss.  And when Mullen and last year’s D-coordinator Carl Torbush parted ways at the end of the season, Diaz’ phone rang.

That has all turned out awfully well for the Bulldogs.

It only took a couple of games in 2009 for Mullen and Torbush to cross swords.  The young head coach had this to say after Auburn shredded his Dogs last September:  “We weren’t very aggressive in the Auburn game and I think that showed.  We did a poor job of putting our players in a position to make plays.”  It was only a matter of time before Torbush departed (for Kansas) and Mullen found someone more aggressive.

And Diaz has definitely brought an attacking style to Starkville.  That style has been a key factor in State’s hot 6-2 start. 

“… We definitely come from everywhere — cornerback, safety, linebacker, defensive line,” said linebacker Chris White last week.  “We check a lot, so if the offense is checking to a screen, we’re going to check to a play that stops the screen.  We don’t let them get in an offense to beat us.”

So far this season, Diaz’ scheme has been as tough to score on as any in the SEC.  Against BCS foes (and the Bulldogs have faced four so far), State is giving up a touchdown once every 43.5 snaps.  That’s second in the league only behind Alabama (45.0 snaps) and well ahead of third-place LSU (30.6 snaps).

Compare that to last year when the Bulldogs surrendered a touchdown once every 18.6 plays to opposing offenses.

State’s rush defense has improved (from 3.96 yards/carry allowed to 3.63).  The pass defense has improved (from 7.95 yards/attempt allowed to 6.43).  The Bulldogs are giving up 30 yards less per game (down from 366 to 336).  And MSU has climbed the scoring defense category from 71st last year (27 points allowed per game) to 14th best in the nation this season (17 points allowed per game).

Diaz has made these improvements with only four seniors slotted into his starting line-up (three at linebacker).  His secondary is especially youthful.  And State’s roster isn’t exactly dotted with five-star guys to work with, either.

To be fair, the Bulldogs still have some big tests ahead.  Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas and Ole Miss can all put points on the board.  You should expect the numbers to rise in a few of those defensive categories mentioned above. 

But Mississippi State is already bowl eligible just eight games into its season.  As a result, its 2011 recruiting class currently ranks in the nation’s Top 25 according to  Mullen’s club already has a signature, 10-7 win at Florida under it’s belt, too.  And that win can be credited in large part to the defense. 

Manny Diaz might not get the pub of some of the SEC’s higher-paid coordinators, but so far he’s been the impact hire in the Southeastern Conference in 2010.

Lucky thing Mullen inherited a 2009 schedule that featured a game against MTSU on it.  If not for that, who knows where the Bulldogs would be right now.  Probably not sitting at 6-2.

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