Plenty left to focus on in college hoops

Published 5:17 pm Thursday, March 22, 2007

The all-seeing eye of the sports media has largely focused itself on the NCAA Men’s Tournament over the last week, and with good reason, but there have been plenty of good stories from the region’s basketball programs in the NIT and women’s tournament.

Ole Miss’ Lady Rebels pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Women’s Tournament Tuesday night, knocking off the defending national champions and looking good in the process.

For a team that has been inconsistent at times this season, making the Sweet 16 and knocking off Maryland in the process is big news.

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Watching the events from afar Tuesday night, it was clear virtually no one was paying any attention to the Lady Rebels. Every photo available from the game from the photo service we use showed the Lady Terps more prominently.

But in the end, the state got itself a team in the Sweet 16.

The Lady Tigers of LSU have also been a good story, rising from the ashes of Pokey Chatman’s sudden and controversial resignation to make the Sweet 16. Their opening round win over UNC-Asheville was never in doubt, and in a game they could have easily folded in when things got tough, the Lady Tigers were able to hold off West Virginia.

With 10th-seeded Florida State waiting in the wings, odds are good LSU could find itself fighting for a spot in its fourth-consecutive Final Four, which would have been the last thing on many minds after facing such adversity in the week leading up to the tournament.

The Mississippi State men have also put together several impressive wins in advancing to New York and the NIT semifinals, especially their win over Florida State Tuesday.

Obviously, no one really cares about the NIT, but it can be invaluable practice and game time for a team, which can pay big dividends in the coming years.

Just think of high school football and basketball. There’s a reason teams consistently make the tournament. When you get that much extra practice time, you get the chance to season players that otherwise wouldn’t get as much time to learn.

The Mississippi State women are also playing today for the right to advance to the quarterfinals of the Women’s NIT.

Delta State’s women even advanced to the finals of the NCAA Division II South Region.

While none of our Mississippi and Louisiana teams have been able to make big runs on the biggest stage of them all, there are plenty of stories to follow as college basketball winds down to the finish.

And I hope none of you put any money on any of my advice in last week’s column. If so, I sincerely apologize.

Tim Cottrell is sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached by phone at 601-445-3632 or by e-mail at