Does Mississippi State Belong in the Top Tier of the SEC?Posted by Brian Joyce on December 15th, 2011
The SEC has been firmly divided into three solid groups all season. There were four upper echelon SEC teams (Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama) all ranked in the Top 25 in the preseason (three of which were in the Top 10), and they are generally considered amongst the best teams in the country. Even Vanderbilt critics have to admit that with injured center Festus Ezeli back in the lineup, the Commodores are a Top 25 mainstay and a tough team to beat in the regular season (the NCAA Tournament is a different beast and I think we have to disregard their lack of postseason success in a discussion on regular season supremacy). The lower tier (all the other SEC teams) consists of teams that can barely make an argument to be in a power conference, much less the upper tier of one. With losses to Elon, Coastal Carolina, and Austin Peay (just to name a few), the bottom seven teams in the SEC won’t sniff the Top 50 this year, much less the Top 25. But then there’s Mississippi State in a class by itself. Are the Bulldogs in a third tier in the SEC all by themselves? Or have the Bulldogs done enough to be considered amongst the SEC’s top tier teams this year?
The Bulldogs have risen into the Top 25 (20th in the RTC Top 25, 17th in the AP Top 25, and 16th in the ESPN/USA Today poll) with a 10-1 record and wins over West Virginia, Arizona, and Texas A&M. Both Arizona and A&M were ranked at the time, but the Aggies were playing without star forward Khris Middleton and Arizona might have been slightly over-ranked (no bad losses, but no good wins either – the point is, like Mississippi State, we don’t know a lot about the Wildcats at this point). West Virginia has an early loss to Kent State, so it is uncertain how much of a quality win that was for the Bulldogs. We must give credit where credit is due, the Bulldogs needed to win those games and they did. But are they quality wins? There is a lot of uncertainty about this Mississippi State team, and that leaves more questions than answers.
What DO we know about the Bulldogs? Well, we know they lost to a 3-5 Akron team. For perspective, Akron lost by 24 to Middle Tennessee State. We know they struggled at home against a 4-6 Florida Atlantic team, but the Dogs were without star Arnett Moultrie. Moultrie (17.1 PPG, 11.3 RPG) has played well, as has senior guard Dee Bost (18.5 PPG, 4.5 APG). Freshman Rodney Hood (12.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG) seems to be coming along quickly in coach Rick Stansbury’s system. But as a team, MSU hasn’t been incredibly consistent or efficient on either side of the ball. The Bulldogs don’t rank in the top 50 of KenPom’s adjusted offensive (51st) or defensive (72nd) efficiency stats. We have evidence on both sides of the fence.
To be fair, we don’t know much about a lot of teams at this point in the season. That’s why it’s so fun to sit around and have debates such as this one. It is clear that Mississippi State does not belong in the bottom tier with the likes of South Carolina and Auburn. The Bulldogs are a far better team than that. But at this point, can we argue that MSU is a top tier team with Kentucky, Florida, Alabama and Vanderbilt? Or do the Bulldogs deserve a category all to themselves? A December 28 clash with Baylor in Dallas, Texas could tell us a lot about this Mississippi State team. If that doesn’t answer our questions, conference play is just around the corner.