Mississippi State Bulldogs (22-10) vs. Oregon Ducks (18-13)
When: Friday, 7:10 p.m.
Where: Little Rock
MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS
1. Erick Dampier, Basketball Guru. Mississippi State's best postseason performance came in 1996. (Insert high-larious joke about Dishwalla, the movie "Bulletproof," or Bob Dole here) The Bulldogs won the SEC tournament by surprising eventual national champ Kentucky in the conference finals. They then went on to reach the Final Four in the NCAA's, defeating #1 seed UConn and #2 seed Cincinnati before losing to Syracuse in the semifinals. The team was led by center Erick Dampier, also known as "Damp" or "Contract Year," guard Darryl Wilson, and halfway possessive forward Dontae' Jones. Jones, a junior college transfer, risked being ineligible before the season, but, through the miracles of big-time college basketball, managed to pass thirty-six (freaking! and totally legitimate!) hours of coursework over the summer in order to qualify. Also, Dampier visited my middle school one time to recruit participants for some skills camp he was running, and he had, like, the biggest head I've ever seen on anyone ever.
2. Just Not Ready For a Commitment. In the late 90's and early aughts, lots of high school basketball players skipped college and went directly to the NBA. It's doubtful that any college program was a bigger loser as a result of this than Mississippi State. Over the years, the Bulldogs lost out on three top players—Jonathan Bender, Travis Outlaw and Monta Ellis—all of whom committed to the Bulldogs
before telling MSU, "It's been real, baby girl, but I'm not ready for a 'relationship' relationship." On the flipside, State might have been the biggest beneficiary of the 2003 Dave Bliss-Baylor Scandalgate Funktacular, as it freed Lawrence Roberts to transfer to State without having to sit out a year. He subsequently won the SEC Player of the Year Award and the hearts of Bulldog fans everywhere.
3. The "Voice of the Bulldogs." Jack Cristil has been the play-by-play announcer for State basketball games since 1957, and for football games since 1953. He started calling games so long ago, it was the Stone Age. No, but seriously, it wasn't the Stone Age...it was the Ice Age! No, really, it was the Stone Age. Cristil got his start before the era of sportsertainment, as evidenced by the fact that, oh, I don't know, listening to his broadcasts is actually enjoyable. The man in old school in the best sense. Upon his hiring, then-AD Dudy Noble told him, "Boy, here's what I want you to do. You tell that radio audience what the score is, who's got the ball and how much time is left and you cut out the bullshit." Where, oh where, is that voice of reason when our hype-machine-lanced sports world needs it most? — David Newman
1. Should of Just Been a Duck. The Oregon student section, or The Pit Crew, was awesome enough to get mentioned (with an accompanying picture) in Sports Illustrated as one of the nastiest, most verbally abusive, over-the-line student sections in the country. Oh wait, not so awesome. When Portland native Kevin Love made his way up to Eugene in January, The Pit Crew exacted their revenge on his going to UCLA instead of Oregon (where daddy Stan played with Ernie Kent) by posting his cell phone number on Facebook (leading to death threats), throwing things at his family in the stands (including his Beach Boy uncle, Mike Love) and chanting things about Kevin Love that I won't get into here. Ok fine, they insinuated that he enjoys the peen.
2. The Phil Knight Dome. McArthur Court has been around for 80ish years and is falling apart. Beyond the clear structural issues, it's apparently partially overrun with insects and features what are probably the least appealing locker rooms and press areas in the country. Will Phil Knight stand for that any longer? No, no he won't. Plans are now all but finalized, thanks in part to Uncle Phil donating, you know, like a hundred million dollars to the Duck Athletic Fund. Scheduled to open in 2010ish, the new arena, which will be built on land now occupied by a bread factory next to campus, will be the most expensive ($200m) college arena ever built. There's talk of it housing two playing areas, one regular 12,500 seater and a smaller gym for volleyball and other miscellaneous activities. As far as anyone can tell what $200 million buys you arena-wise, the mockup looks like some sort of cross between the Death Star and a Brita Water Filter.
3. Fun Duck Facts. Ray Schafer, an Alaskan 7-footer, is married and has his wife rebound for him when he practices alone in the arena at night ... Freshman PG Kamryn Brown hurt himself playing in a pick-up game at the Rec Center in the middle of the season ... Aaron Brooks was really good last year, and they're not as good without him ... Oregon got new uniforms midway through the season (blacks, yellows, greens, and whites) and the names are on the backs are printed in same color as the jerseys themselves ... Since growing a beard for the season, Maarty Leunen has been the best and most consistent player for the Ducks ... Freshman SF Drew Viney looks like he's 14 years old ... Senior PF Mitch Platt looks really funny and pale in one of those skin-tight Nike under-jersey shirts. — Dan Rubenstein