Victoria Vivians drives against LSU.

Notes, quotes and an opinion or two while contemplating the fact that three-time C Spire Gillom Trophy winner Victoria Vivians is having by far her best season at Mississippi State, yet might not win that award in her senior season…

It’s true. Rarely in all my years have I seen a basketball player raise his or her game as much as Vivians has between her junior and senior seasons. Don’t get me wrong, she has been really, really good all three seasons, but she appears a different, far superior player this time around.

She has gone from a high-30s percent shooter here first three years to a 52.4 percent shooter this season. A 30 percent 3-point shooter in the past, she is a 41.7 percent 3-point shooter this year. A 74 percent free throw shooter, her first three seasons, she is hitting 83 percent this year. A 16 points per game scorer for her first three seasons, she is hitting 19.2 per game this season while taking fewer shots. She is rebounding better, turning the ball over less, playing better defense. She’s a first team All-American is what she is.

Teaira McCowan (15) blocks an Ole Miss shot in a game earlier this season.

But then there is junior Teaira McCowan who averages 20.6 points, 12.9 rebounds and two blocked shots per game and changes the way every opponent approaches the game. She’s a first team All-American, too.

The Gillom award is supposed to go to the “most outstanding” player in Mississippi. Whom to choose? To tell you the truth, I don’t think either player really cares. They appear to be shooting for one goal that has nothing to do with individual honors. There’s still lots of basketball to play, but, currently this is one time I wish we could vote for two.

The Howell Trophy, which goes to the best men’s player? It’s still too early to focus on just two – or even three – players. Several teams have at least two players who would have a shot presently. February will tell this tale.

•••

Rick Cleveland

Recently, when I wrote about Mississippi’s passion for – and long-standing ties with – the New Orleans Saints, I tried for that column to find information to include on NFL TV ratings in the state. They were not available, although I did hear later from RaMona Alexander, general manager for Fox 40-WDBD, who wrote: “The Saints broadcasts are the No. 1 viewed program in this market, especially since they are playoff bound. There is nothing even close to their numbers.”

Exact ratings for the recent New Orleans-Minnesota playoff game won’t be available for weeks, but this much is certain: Many Mississippi hearts – and perhaps a few TV screens – were broken.

•••

So, just how good is Philadephia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, the Yazoo City and Mississippi State great who will go against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII?

Fletcher Cox

Let’s put it this way: Cox should be in the first sentence of any conversation about best defensive tackle in football. He’s that good.

I haven’t seen a rating of defensive tackles in which he comes in any lower than top five and most have him in the top three.

An Associated Press panel of NFL experts in November rated Cox No. 3 behind No. 1 Aaron Donald of the Los Angeles Rams and Ndamukong Suh of the Miami Dolphins. In the preseason, NFL Madden 18 had Cox No. 3 behind No. 1 Suh and and Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Cox was the No. 1 reason why the Eagles had the No. 1 defense against the run in the NFL this season. Most opponents try to double-team him, which frees up other Eagles defenders to make plays.

Cox is certainly paid like one of the best. He made $9.2 million this season in the second year of a six-year, $102 million contract. He is scheduled to make $17.9 million is 2018.

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Rick Cleveland

Rick Cleveland

Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 12 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.