January 15, 2014 12:48:44 AM
STARKVILLE - Two teams with completely diverse scheduling philosophies for the 2013 non-conference portion of their seasons hope their strategy has adequately prepared them for a Southeastern Conference men's basketball showdown tonight.
Mississippi State (11-4, 1-1 SEC) planned on being able to up its season win total quickly and garner some early confidence with a non-conference strength of schedule that was rated 339th of 351 Division 1 college basketball programs. With that list of low major opponents in the friendly confines of Humphrey Coliseum, MSU was able to roll to wins in nine of its first 11 contests.
"Last year, we won out 10th game in March," MSU coach Rick Ray said. "To be able to do that in January is good for this team."
Alabama (7-8, 1-1) had a completely different perception to its non-league slate as the Crimson Tide played five opponents ranked in the Top 50 of the current ratings percentage index. Alabama lost all five matchups against No. 25 Oklahoma in Dallas, No. 23 Duke in New York, No. 5 Wichita State, Xavier at home and No. 25 UCLA on the road.
"Obviously we'd like to win more games than we did, but I think it certainly challenged our guys and I think for myself it gave me a feel for where we are as a team," Alabama coach Anthony Grant said. "What we need to do is as we move toward conference play, obviously every game in conference is going to be a battle but I feel like our non-conference schedule hopefully prepared us for what we're going to face."
MSU's 76-72 victory Saturday over Ole Miss marked the first win for the Bulldogs this season against a team ranked in the top 150 of the latest RPI.
"I thought that game showed some growth and maturity in our guys," Ray said. "Now the key is getting our guys to come back down against at team like Alabama and they do a lot of things like press and play zone defense that has bothered us in the past."
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. at Coleman Coliseum in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and will serve as the only regular season matchup between the two schools this season. The contest can be seen on SEC TV, with Dave Neal and Barry Booker serving as commentators. Locally, Metrocast and Cable One Subscribers will get the game on the CW Network.
The Tide dropped a 66-58 decision at Georgia on Saturday. Grant's squad opened league play with a 68-63 win against Vanderbilt. Alabama has won three in a row in the series and 12 out of the last 16 in Tuscaloosa. MSU hasn't lost four-straight to UA since 1993-1995 and has started SEC play no worse than 2-1 in every season since 2007-2008.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.