No, the hardwood rivalry between Ole Miss and Mississippi State is not the Egg Bowl, the annual gridiron clash between the two largest universities in Mississippi that generates vitriol and angst in the football-loving Magnolia State and captures ESPN headlines.
No, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are not college basketball bluebloods. Their respective arenas are not lined with banners, nor are their courts blanketed with five-star recruits – at least, not until Kentucky comes to town. Together, the programs claim a combined eight NBA first-round draft picks, 16 NCAA Tournament victories, and one Final Four appearance: MSU’s Goliath-crushing run to the 1996 national semifinals as a #5 seed.
And no, an Ole Miss-Mississippi State tilt on the court will never hold the prestige of Duke-Carolina or spawn the intrigue of Kentucky-Louisville, the intra-commonwealth rivalry in a state that puts its hoops above the pigskin.
But for all that an Ole Miss-Mississippi State basketball game isn’t, here’s what it is: the vaunted Southeastern Conference’s oldest basketball rivalry featuring games as heated and intense as any in the country. When a team travels the 100 miles up – or down, depending on one’s perspective – US Highways 278 and 45 for a Rebels-Bulldogs game, hearts beat a bit faster.
Since 1914, the Rebels and Bulldogs have tipped off 266 times with MSU holding a 147-119 series edge. For fans, alumni, and Mississippi natives, every one of those contests means something a little more. The Ole Miss-MSU rivalry is engrained in the state’s history, shaped by homelives where households pick sides and don’t dare cross.
Some of the division – and, true, it’s lessening some in today’s softer, gentler, line-blurring world – is tied to each university’s formation. When Ole Miss was founded in 1848 by a panel of the state’s aristocratic men, it signaled itself as the school for Mississippi’s elite. Starkville-based Mississippi State, by contrast, was created as the “people’s university,” established to educate the common man in the agricultural sciences.
Some view any Ole Miss-MSU athletic clash as a battle of the establishment against the commoners, the haves against the have-nots, even if those century-old labels aren’t quite as accurate in the contemporary climate. Still, that history hovers over every meeting, dancing above the court, percolating in the stands, lingering in living rooms and gathering spots across the state.
It might not be the sexiest rivalry in college basketball, but in an era of traditional rivalries evaporating in a football-fueled haze of conference realignment, a world in which Texas-Vanderbilt, UCF-Kansas, and USC-Rutgers will soon count in the conference ledger, Ole Miss-MSU means something mighty. And it always will.
Just ask the good people of Mississippi.