The Tigers have only one road victory in Southeastern Conference play, but did so in the state of Mississippi, knocking off Ole Miss on Jan. 24. Mizzou will have an opportunity to boost its résumé for March while attempting to hand the Bulldogs their eighth SEC loss.
Tigers’ men’s basketball head coach Dennis Gates discussed that possibility and more during a morning media session, in which he also gave updates on the team’s progress.
Mississippi State showcases versatility
Saturday’s matchup will once again pit a first-year SEC coach against another, as Chris Jans plays the role of host to the Gates-led Tigers.
“Chris Jans is someone I respect,” Gates said. “Obviously, a great coach. They’ve done a great and tremendous job of building the infant stages of their program as well.”
The Bulldogs, known for their renowned defense, have found ways to combat their below-average shooting percentages. Mississippi State boasts the No. 10 adjusted defensive efficiency in the nation, making them a difficult opponent to run the score up on.
“They essentially play a style that I think has, without a doubt, produced great defensive numbers,” Gates said.
Leading the charge on the offensive end for the Bulldogs is Tolu Smith, a 6’ 11” forward who averages 14.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. He is the only Mississippi State player to average double figures.
“He’s (an) all-conference guy,” Gates said. “(He’s) very versatile, has great length but also great ball handling ability and he can shoot it better than his numbers predict.”
Smith will lead a balanced Bulldogs offense that prides itself on slowing down the game through its defensive style.
“I think (this game) is ultimately the tale of two systems and we have to try to play our style, and they have to try to play theirs,” Gates said. “We just try to give our very best from the beginning to the end.”
Ronnie DeGray III and Tre Gomillion to remain out
For those hoping for a fully healthy lineup sometime this week, that notion was struck down in the final minutes of Gates’ press conference.
Ronnie DeGray III (knee) will remain out for the following week while seeking opinions on a knee sprain, and Tre Gomillion (groin) will be “the same way.”
Even without those two contributors, Mizzou’s offense has not missed a beat.
Isiaih Mosley and Mo Diarra have stepped up into the missing holes, providing a quick and efficient sense of relief.
Gates said Diarra is continuously getting better, which seems to be a good sign for a Tigers’ roster in desperate need of a strong rebounder outside of Kobe Brown.
“I think you all can see the progress that he’s made from the very first time (he played),” Gates said.
Diarra, who averages 3 points and 3.3 rebounds per game, has been on a recent surge. He has tallied 24 points and 28 rebounds in the last three games in which he has played at least 10 minutes.
“Player development is essential in our program, and everyone has to stay in their lane,” Gates said. “Mo has done a great job of not comparing himself (to others) but also being patient.”
Kobe Brown popping up in SEC POY conversations
The continued emergence of Kobe Brown has become a welcome sight to Mizzou fans.
Not only is the dynamic scorer and rebounder replicating feats of the past, but he is also adding to his repertoire with efficient 3-point shooting. This success has caught the eyes of many throughout the SEC, leading to a greater discussion about Brown as the SEC Player of the Year.
“Sometimes, you have to just focus on your team goals,” Gates said. “Because if your team does things, the individual can win.”
Throughout the season, Gates has mentioned the importance of team basketball, a concept that’s replicated itself onto the court for the Tigers.
“We don’t pride ourselves on one name being on any award,” Gates said. “It belongs to our program, and we celebrate it that way.”
With less than 10 games remaining on the schedule, Brown will have a few more opportunities to make his case against conference competition. That first chance will come Saturday in a game that could play a significant role on Selection Sunday.