For the second year in a row, the LSU and Mississippi State men’s basketball teams played on the final day of the Southeastern Conference’s 18-game regular-season schedule.
Coincidentally, for the second consecutive year, the two teams will turn right around for a rematch in their SEC tournament opener, this year on Thursday night in St. Louis.
Also, Thursday night’s contest will come one year to the day after their last tournament game.
But that’s where the similarities end as far as both teams are concerned.
Mississippi State and LSU are both vastly improved over last year when the 12th-seeded Bulldogs and 13th-seeded Tigers were matched up in a first-round tournament game — which State easily won 79-52 — in Nashville, Tennessee.
For starters, LSU won as many games in league play this season (eight) as the two teams combined for a year ago, when LSU managed to win twice and State scratched out just six wins.
This year, Mississippi State (21-10, 9-9 SEC) is seeded seventh and LSU (17-13, 8-10) is the No. 10 seed after finishing in a ninth-place tie with Alabama, which means the Bulldogs and Tigers each earned an extra day to prepare.
While his 2018 team is better, Mississippi State coach Ben Howland knows his second-round foe is also after LSU, under first-year coach Will Wade, roughed his team up 78-57 on senior day in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
“This is a team that can make some noise in the SEC tournament,” Howland said of the Tigers, not knowing at the time they would be meeting again Thursday.
LSU and State learned about the mismatch about five hours after their game concluded when Georgia, which could have pushed LSU down with a win at Tennessee, lost to the Vols and gave the Tigers the 10th slot for the tournament.
“I think all the way around, they’re doing a good job,” said Howland, whose team beat LSU three times a year ago. “Defensively, they have improved a lot, and they’re doing a good job with their shot selection. Their guard play is very good. … They have a nice team, and they have really evolved.
“They’re doing a great job recruiting,” he said. “I think he (Wade) is doing a good job in all facets here at LSU. He’s got a lot to sell here because of their great tradition and history.”
When they went to Nashville last March, LSU had lost 18 of its previous 20 games. But this year’s team has won five of nine since the start of February and has a lot more momentum going in.
“I think we have gotten better defensively,” Wade said Monday. “We have hung in there and rebounded pretty well these last couple of games. We have proven that in those areas.
“Our offense is scoring a little bit more. We’re making 3s at a little bit better clip. We have been tighter overall.”
As a result, Howland will see a very different team from last year — both emotionally and physically.
“I feel like we’ve been able to accept learning and just growing,” LSU senior forward Duop Reath said of the difference in this year’s squad. “That is one thing we learned from growing together; last season kind of helped us, too, knowing (now) what it takes to win.
“It’s not easy to win in the SEC,” he said. “You just have to stay with it and just keep learning … keep moving forward.”
Junior guard Brandon Sampson, who was active on both ends of the floor in Saturday’s win, also can feel the difference just one year later.
“It was a lot of learning that we took out of last year,” he said. “We corrected a lot of those things, and it gave us a little bit better go-ahead jump for this season.
“Some better things happened for it this year. So, I think it was just a lot of learning that we took from last year, and I think we applied it this year.”