The journey to simply get to the NCAA Tournament was difficult enough for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, but now they face even more challenges going into their first round matchup on Friday.
The Bulldogs, an eight seed in the South regional, have to face a sharp shooting Oregon team. If they succeed, they will have the envious task of facing No. 1 seed Memphis, whose only loss came to an SEC foe.
State started the year off losing five non-conference games, which caused March to look much farther away. After winning the SEC's Western Division, however, the tourney seemed much more likely.
Then came the SEC Tournament.
A tornado rocking the Georgia Dome added some excitement to an already rough overtime victory over Alabama, who State had little trouble with during the regular season. Of course, they soon fell to the "destined-for-greatness" Georgia Bulldogs in a game in which MSU was simply out-hustled.
Now, the Bulldogs face the Oregon Ducks, who made it into the NCAA tournament after only winning 18 games.
The trigger happy Ducks are led by guard Malik Hairston, who averages 16.1 points per game and shoots 43.8 percent from 3-point range.
Along with him is 6-9 forward Maarty Leunen, who shoots 50.9 percent beyond the arc.
The Bulldogs are built upon defense, however, something Oregon doesn't always seem to know about. While they average 77 points per game, they also give up 72.
Hairston and fellow guards Tajuan Porter and Bryce Taylor will easily match the points scored by the Bulldogs backcourt, but will most likely only score from outside. Unless the Ducks miraculously find an interior presence, they won't be able to deal very well with the beastly offense of Charles Rhodes or the defensive power of Jarvis Varnado.
In the end, State's guards are good enough defensively to counter Oregon's offense. After all, this is a Mississippi State team that is second in the nation in scoring defense.
Oregon, however, doesn't have the size and skill inside to counter what Mississippi State is capable of doing down low.
All of this, of course, depends on whether we see the Mississippi State team that won their division of the SEC or the one that didn't quite show up to the SEC tournament.
My prediction: Mississippi State in a close one.
And then we'll worry about Memphis.