Despite Thin Resume, Mississippi State Makes Late NCAA Push

Posted by David Changas on February 27th, 2018

With the regular season nearing its end, there is little drama remaining when it comes to the SEC bubble. Barring something unforeseen – and we are not referring to the FBI here, just surprises of the on-court variety – the league will get at least eight teams into the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Alabama has not helped itself with three recent straight losses, but the Crimson Tide remain solidly in the field in most projections and will almost certainly lock up a bid with a victory this week over Florida or Texas A&M. The only other SEC club with any real drama surrounding it is Mississippi State. Although the Bulldogs played a non-conference schedule that could accurately be described as embarrassing, they still have hope of securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Ben Howland’s team sits at 21-8 overall (9-7 SEC) and currently holds the tiebreaker in a four-way logjam for third place. If they hold that position in the standings, they would receive a double-bye into quarterfinal (Friday) action in the upcoming SEC Tournament.

Ben Howland hopes Mississippi State can overcome his soft scheduling (David Blair, Icon Sportswire)

Despite holding a resume with no wins of consequence prior to the start of conference play – a victory over #122 RPI Dayton is the best – Mississippi State still has a realistic chance to reach the Big Dance. The Bulldogs own four wins over RPI top-50 teams, counterbalanced by 10 over teams ranked below #150. Nonetheless, a strong late push in SEC play has at least elevated them into Joe Lunardi’s First Four Out, and they have an enormous opportunity to improve their position this evening with Tennessee coming to town. If Howland’s group can handle the Volunteers in Starkville and close out the regular season with another win at LSU, they will position themselves to earn an NCAA bid at the SEC Tournament in St. Louis next week.

Should the Bulldogs reach the NCAA Tournament, they will do so despite Howland’s decision to avoid taking any risks in non-conference play. In a league whose teams have largely learned from mistakes of the past and started to schedule more aggressively, there would be considerable irony in an SEC club that loaded up on cupcakes still making the NCAA Tournament. But if Mississippi State can win its last two games, it will have won nine of its last 11 contests heading into postseason play with a legitimate case that it has done enough to earn a bid for the first time since 2009. And while this particular scenario may play out in the Bulldogs’ favor, the rest of the SEC should not use it as a road map. By scheduling how he did, Howland left no margin for error for a team that clearly is talented enough to reach the Big Dance. Still, if the Bulldogs can earn a bid despite their profound lack of glamorous wins, they will take it, and there will be no complaints from the faithful in Starkville.

David Changas (166 Posts)

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