After a watershed Mississippi college football season, what in the world could our basketball teams provide for an encore?
Quite a bit, as it turns out. Mississippi State’s women, nationally ranked at 24-4 (with two double overtime losses) lead the way. If the Big Dance started today, the Ole Miss men would surely be two-stepping at 17-8 and 8-4. There’s more from all levels of Mississippi college basketball.
If this is the third week of February, then March Madness can’t be far behind. In the Magnolia State, the madness begins with the presentation of the C Spire Gillom and Howell trophies that go to the most outstanding female and male players in the state. Named for Hall of Famers Peggie Gillom and Bailey Howell, the awards will be presented March 9 at a luncheon at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. Candidates abound. Consider this a watch list. Let’s start with the women:
- State’s super freshman Victoria Vivians last year broke state and national high school scoring records. This season, she is part of a balanced team that has eight players getting 18 minutes or more of playing time. She leads them all (and is third in the SEC) with a 15-point scoring average, including a a recent 39-point performance against powerhouse Kentucky. Teammate Martha Alwal, the Gillom winner as a sophomore, began slowly because of injuries but has been a force in SEC games, averaging 11 points and 7 rebounds.
- The Ole Miss women (14-11, 4-8) have been much improved under first-year coach Matt Insell. Tia Faleru leads the way, averaging a double-double (14.5 points, 10.6 rebounds).
- The Southern Miss women had to replace last season’s Gillom winner, Jamierra Faulkner, a rookie star last summer in the WNBA. They have done so admirably with a 17-7 record, a current five-game win streak and a 10-3 record in Conference USA. Tamara Jones leads the way with a 16.5 scoring average, followed by Jerontay Clemons at 12.4. They are also the Eagles’ two leading rebounders, each with more than six per game.
- Sharpshooter Chelsea Rhodes leads Delta State with a 15.5 scoring average that includes 82.4 percent shooting from the foul line.
- Ariel Wilson, just a sophomore, already has scored 1,000 career points for Belhaven and averages right at 20 points per game this season.
- Senior guard Velvet Johnson has led Millsaps to an 18-5 record with a 15-point scoring average and is on schedule to become the leading scorer in Millsaps history.
And now the men…
- Senior Jarvis Summers won the Howell Trophy last season and is a leading candidate this year, leading the SEC in assists. He is only the 14thplayer in SEC history with as many as 1,500 points and 400 assists. Junior guard Stefan Moody has been a human highlight film, scoring 17.6 points per game in the SEC (third in the league.)
- Southern Miss has experienced a disappointing season but senior Chip Armelin has been outstanding, averaging 19 points per game in Conference USA game second best in the league.
- Mississippi State’s Gavin Ware has been a force inside for the Bulldogs, averaging 10 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Fred Thomas and Craig Sword also have been outstanding at times for the much-improved Bulldogs.
- Devin Schmidt, last season’s Gulf South Freshman of the Year, leads Delta State with 20.7 points per game and 4.4 assists. He already has scored over 1,000 points in just two seasons.
- Senior guard Jordan Bedford leads Belhaven (and the state) with a 23.7 scoring average, including 43 percent shooting on 3-pointers.
Selected media from around the state will vote on the awards with a weighted 10 percent of the vote coming from fan voting conducted by C Spire. Look for details in coming days.
Rick Cleveland (firstname.lastname@example.org) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.