As he sat in empty Market Square Arena Saturday morning watching his Mississippi State basketball team loosen up, Bob Boyd had a look of amused satisfaction on his face.

He was answering the same question that friends, colleagues and reporters have asked him repeatedly for five years. Rather than be annoyed by it, he seemed to be enjoying it. The question: How does a successful basketball coach at the University of Southern California walk away from the job after a 21-victory season (in 1979), then turn up two years later at Mississippi State?

In short, why would a life-long Californian trade his house near the beach for a five-acre farm in Starkville, Mississippi?

"If you stereotype the situation, you have a lot of explaining to do," Boyd said. "I've always said I took this job because I needed the money -- and it's true, I did -- but it isn't that simple. USC, for a lot of reasons, is a bad basketball job. My last year there, I made $35,000. Now, I've built this job to the point of being worth about $125,000 and I carry with me everywhere I go that tag of 'Coach.' It gives you a kind of immunity in the south that you don't have anywhere else in the country. I think I'm smart enough to understand that it shouldn't be that way, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy it."

In 13 years at USC, his alma mater, Boyd had two 24-win teams, was the only coach to beat UCLA in the Bruins' first 167 games in Pauley Pavilion (twice) and made postseason play five times. When he left coaching at age 50, most of his colleagues assumed he would stay away.

But two years later, he turned up in Starkville. Last season, the Bulldogs were 9-5 and tied for first place with four games left in Southeastern Conference play. They had beaten Kentucky, Louisiana State, Auburn and Alabama and lost the rematch at Kentucky, 68-67. Even a fade to 9-9 didn't prevent Boyd from being conference coach of the year.

This season, injuries to two starters have brought about a 3-6 start, But Boyd thinks his team will be competitive in the SEC. And he has no plans to leave.

"When I was offered this job (in 1981) some of my friends in coaching said, 'Don't take it, you can't win there.' Bob Weltlich, who was at Mississippi then, told me you couldn't compete with Kentucky and LSU. He's probably right, you can't. But I'm not looking to make a big name for myself. I'm looking to put a team on the floor people respect and to enjoy myself."

John Thompson proved once again this week just how clever he is. A year ago, when people were handing Georgetown the national championship in December after an overpowering start, Thompson said repeatedly, "National championships aren't won in December," to remind his team to keep working.

Friday, after the Hoyas were beaten, 78-64, at Texas-El Paso, Thompson said, "National championships aren't won in December," to remind his players not to get too down.

Local victory of the week: Navy over De Paul. Sure, De Paul is far from being a great team, as Georgetown and Purdue proved, but the victory still is impressive for the Midshipmen, whose three losses are to top 10 teams St. John's, Syracuse and Georgia Tech.

If it is to be a factor in March, Navy must find a player who consistently can give David Robinson and Vernon Butler some help scoring.

Stat of the week: North Carolina's victory margins over Manhattan (84 points) and Brown (52). What in the world do games such as this prove?

A note from the Big Ten: The league race was changed considerably this week when Illinois had to redshirt shooting guard Doug Altenberger because of a knee injury. A clutch shooter and three-year starter, Altenberger was the outside player the Illini needed to make a run at the league championship.

The Upset Pick is 3-3, thanks to Montanring with some of his work. begins and what could be more serious than No. 2 Michigan opening the Big Ten season against Indiana Thursday? The Hoosiers will announce their return by getting the unbeaten Wolverines off to an 0-1 start in the league.