STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State announced its 2008-09 men's basketball schedule on Friday, and it's an
exciting slate that features 31 games, including 18 at Humphrey
In addition, the Bulldogs face 11 teams that participated in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, including five non conference foes – Washington State, Pittsburgh, South Alabama, San Diego and Western Kentucky.
MSU, which posted a 23-11 ledger and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season, officially opens its campaign at home against Centenary on Nov. 15 following two exhibition games at Humphrey Coliseum with Montevallo (Nov. 1) and Oklahoma City (Nov. 8). The Bulldogs' first road game is Nov. 25 in Olean, N.Y., against St. Bonaventure.
"It's one of our most challenging non conference schedules we've had in a while from a standpoint of all the quality teams we play," said 11th-year Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury, who owns a 208-115 record and became the school's all-time winningest coach last year. "When you face teams like Charlotte, San Diego, Western Kentucky, Houston, South Alabama and Washington State, it can only prepare you for league play. It's going to give our young players a great chance to mature before we get into the SEC.
It's a schedule that also features at least 12 televised games and an appearance in both the Legends Classic and the SEC/Big East Challenge.
The first two games of the Legends Classic will take place at the Hump against North Alabama (Nov. 19) and Fairleigh Dickinson (Nov. 22), with the championship rounds set for Nov. 28-29 at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. MSU is pitted against Washington State in the semifinals and then will play either Pittsburgh or Texas Tech.
After returning home with matchups against Alabama State (Dec. 6), Charlotte (Dec. 10) and South Alabama (Dec. 13), the Bulldogs then travel to Cincinnati (Dec. 18) to face the Bearcats in the SEC/Big East Challenge to mark the final non-conference showdown on the road.
But before MSU can turn its attention to the SEC portion of the schedule and successfully defend its back to-back Western Division crowns, it must first take care of business in Jackson against Nicholls State (Dec. 22), the sixth time in the last seven years MSU has played in the state's capital city, and at home with San Diego (Dec. 30), Houston (Jan. 3) and Western Kentucky (Jan. 5).
"From top to bottom, it's one of the more difficult non-conference schedules we've ever played," Stansbury said. "It's not padded, to say the least."
Headlined by the return of standouts Jarvis Varnado, who led the nation with 157 blocks last year, and Barry Stewart, the team's leading returning scorer, Mississippi State dives into SEC action on the road at Arkansas (Jan. 10) in a game televised by FSN.
Then it's back to the friendly confines of Humphrey Coliseum against the likes of Alabama (Jan. 14) and Vanderbilt (Jan. 17) before hitting the road for a pair of games at LSU (Jan. 21) and Georgia (Jan. 24). The outing in Athens will be aired on ESPN2, and will mark the first of four-consecutive televised games,continuing with Ole Miss (Jan. 31),Kentucky at Rupp Arena (Feb. 3) and Arkansas (Feb. 7) back at home. All three of those games will be picked up by Raycom.
As for the second half of the SEC schedule, it starts at home with LSU (Feb. 11), followed by a trip to Auburn (Feb. 14), a team State has defeated 13 out of the last 15 times. After a home date with South Carolina (Feb. 18), MSU packs its bags again en route to Alabama (Feb. 21) and Tennessee (Feb. 25) before rounding out the home slate with Auburn (Feb. 28) and Florida (March 4).
Then for the regular-season finale, the Bulldogs make the 90-mile trek to Oxford to face in-state rival Ole Miss, the final tune-up for the SEC Tournament, scheduled for March 12-15 in Tampa, Fla.