CLEVELAND: Quick thoughts on Mississippi college athleticsBy RICK CLEVELAND,
News and views...
The news: Mississippi State's remarkable basketball women finished the regular season a perfect 30-0 heading into the Southeastern Conference Tournament this week in Nashville.
The view: A year after playing in the national championship game, Vic Schaefer's Bulldogs have entered rare territory in the history of Mississippi college sports. We must wait to see where it all ends, but the Bulldogs already moved into the first sentence of any discussion of all-time Mississippi sports achievements.
They have joined elite company: The Delta State women's teams of the mid-1970s, who won three straight national championships; Davey Whitney's 1978-79 Alcorn State Braves, who finished the regular season 27-0 and finished 28-1 overall; and John Vaught's 1959-1963 Ole Miss football teams, who lost only four times in five seasons and played in five straight New Year's Day bowl games.
A little magical Mississippi history:
Margaret Wade's 1974-75 Delta State won 28 games, lost none and won the national championship. The next year, the Lady Statesmen won 33 games, lost one and repeated as national champs. In 1976-77, they won 32, lost three and three-peated as national champs at the highest level of women's college basketball.
Whitney's Alcorn team of 1978-79 swept through the SWAC regular season unbeaten, and you can't even begin to imagine how difficult it was to win on the road in that league in those days. Back then, the SWAC didn't receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, so Alcorn settled for the NIT and promptly knocked off a really good Mississippi State team at Starkville in the first round, before losing by four points on the road to Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers, defending national champs, in the second round. Knight thought so much of Whitney's coaching, he hired him on his U.S. Olympic team staff.
In a truly amazing run, Vaught's 1959 Rebels finished 10-1 and won the Sugar Bowl. The '60 Rebels finished 10-0-1 and won the Sugar Bowl again. In '61, Ole Miss finished 9-2, losing in the Cotton Bowl. In 1962, they were 10-0 and won the Sugar. In '63, they were 7-1-2 and lost the Sugar Bowl.
That's rare company for the current Mississippi State women. They belong.
The news: Ole Miss searches for a new basketball coach after Andy Kennedy, the winning-est coach in Rebel men's basketball history, resigns.
The view: First off, athletic director Ross Bjork will be fortunate to find a coach who will be as successful as Kennedy has been. Secondly, there will be no shortage of top-flight candidates. The chance to coach in the SEC, make multiple millions of dollars and recruit to Rebels' new basketball palace will attract plenty of applicants.
Thirdly, don't know what direction Ole Miss will go but Middle Tennessee State's Kermit Davis, Jr., a Mississippi native, would have to turn me down. Davis's current team is 23-5, 15-1 in Conference USA. They were 31-5 a year ago, 25-10 the year before that, stunning Michigan State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Davis can flat-out coach. Ole Miss fans should know it. The Blue Raiders beat the Rebels 77-58 earlier this season at MTSU and defeated the Rebels' 77-62 last season at Ole Miss.
The news: College baseball has begun and Ole Miss, State and Southern Miss all began the season nationally ranked.
The view: Yes, Ole Miss, State and USM will garner most of the headlines, but please, please don't forget Delta State, because Mike Kinnison appears to have still another powerhouse team. After losing their season opener, the Statesmen reeled off 11 straight victories. Through 12 games, they were hitting .314 with slugging first baseman Zach Shannon leading the way at .423 with seven home runs.
The Statesmen are ranked No. 1 in Division II for good reason.
Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is email@example.com.