Saturday will bring with it an interesting mix of emotions for first-year head coach Kermit Davis when he enters Humphrey Coliseum to face his alma mater in the same gym in which his father used to coach from 1971-77. It’s been a while since Davis has been back to Starkville and the Hump, and he likely didn’t imagine he’d return in this capacity — as Ole Miss head coach — when he left.
“I have fond memories from there, but it has been a long time,” Davis said. “I have been away from there for a long time. I haven’t played in that arena since I was an assistant at LSU. Most important thing is that I love the state of Mississippi. I am so glad to be back in this state and I have found the absolutely perfect place for me. I really mean that. That is no offense to Mississippi State, but this is absolutely the right place for me and my family.”
Davis enters a building familiar to him with a team brimming with confidence after beating 11th-ranked Auburn on Wednesday night. In a lot of ways, Ole Miss is getting a free shot at a Mississippi State team most expect to be a top four team in the SEC and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament. No one really expected the Rebels to be in this position. They’re 2-0 in the SEC and have already added another feather to their cap this week. The Bulldogs are coming off of an overtime loss at a South Carolina team that entered SEC play with a below .500 record but are now 2-0 in league play as well. Mississippi State needs to win this game. For Ole Miss, it is an opportunity to cap a 2-0 week against ranked teams vault well into the top 25.
In short, this game means a lot for both teams for different reasons on top of the natural increase in intensity a rivalry game brings .
“Obviously, this game has great meaning in our state and rivalry games are even more fun when both teams are playing well,” Kermit Davis said. “We are playing a really talented team in what should be a great atmosphere in Humphrey Coliseum.”
Mississippi State is the second best three point shooting team in the SEC, making 9.6 per game. The Bulldogs are as athletic a team in the backcourt as there is in the conference and probably the country. Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon, along with Lamar Peters make for a fascinating backcourt match up against Ole Miss’ trio of veteran guards. And perhaps the most impactful position will be Bulldog four man Aric Holman, who is averaging 13 points and eight boards per game and is one of the more versatile players in the conference.
“The experience in the guard spot, even with (Tyson) Carter coming off the bench and Holman, who is one of the best stretch fours in all of college basketball,” Kermit Davis said. “When you put out three guards like that and then him act the four, now the floor is really spread. It is a really athletic team.
“It’s a team that can win games in the NCAA Tournament.”
Davis said he is going to talk to some his younger players about the history of the rivalry and the intensity the game will entail. One of those players is freshman K.J. Buffen, who is coming off the best offensive performance of his young career in the win over Auburn. Buffen scored 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting. He grabbed four rebounds and was 8-of-11 at the free throw line. Buffen has been a good defender and rebounder for most of the season. His offense, and particularly his jump shot, is still developing.
“I feel like this whole year I have made some shots and then missed some,” Buffen said. “If I had made some of those shots all year, I would probably be in double figures more.”
Kermit Davis thinks Buffen could eventually evolve into an All-SEC player. The biggest thing for Buffen will be to get stronger during his first full offseason, which will allow him to fare better in the post and play down low for longer stretches.
Buffen will be needed Saturday, particularly rebounding the ball against Holman and Abdul Ado.
“I am going to talk to them about the rivalry, but when it starts everything really is going be the same as normal,” Davis said. “It is going to be one heck of an SEC basketball game.”
Tipoff is slated for noon on CBS.