The fate of the Mississippi State season is decided today.
Being added to the NCAA Tournament field equals success. Being among the teams selected to play in the NIT, well let’s just say, it's not exactly where State planned on being when it assembled the schedule last summer.
A month ago, the fate of the Bulldogs appeared to be sealed. They had 19 wins and several winnable games remaining on the schedule, a virtual lock for the NCAA Tournament and conceivably a No. 5 or No. 6 seed. Now, State is on the bubble after finishing the season with a 2-6 run over their final eight games.
Some say State doesn’t deserve the opportunity to play in the Big Dance because of a weak finish, while others will tell you their body of work is good enough to be among the 68-team tournament field.
However seemingly everyone is asking, will the Bulldogs get in?
If you ask Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury, he’ll quickly tell you his team is among the best in the nation regardless of how they played down the stretch.
“Remember in those five games, we were without a starter in two and a half of those games,” said Stansbury following his team’s 71-61 loss to Georgia in the first round of the SEC Tournament. “In that stretch, in two of those games were overtime losses, so I don't think we lost any mojo or anything like that.”
Stansbury insists his team’s non-conference slate and their 13-2 record prior to conference play should warrant being among the field of 68.
“Well, I think, again, it's over 31 games, what you judge us on,” Stansbury said. “We have won 21 games; we had a great non-conference schedule; and we were 13-2 in the non-conference play against really good people. I think when you look at our team, there's no question we're one of the 68 better teams.”
While I understand Stansbury’s position on his team’s resume, I just have a hard time agreeing that right now this team is one of the best at-large teams in the country.
That being said I’ll readily admit I feel this way because of how State finished the regular season. I didn’t see the heart and determination I expected to see from a team with as much talent as they Bulldogs have.
If you place emotion aside, one can see the Bulldogs have a few quality wins in Vanderbilt (RPI 29), Alabama (RPI 34), West Virginia (RPI 56), and Arizona (RPI 72). Actually, at the time the Bulldogs felt they had two really solid wins because when they played both Arizona and Texas A&M (RPI 165) they were ranked teams. Since that time both have fallen on hard times, A&M even has a losing record for the season, and that has had an adverse affect on MSU’s RPI which stands at 74.
Last season the highest RPI of an at-large team was UCLA at 67, the highest RPI of an at-large team in the field to date.
While no one can agree on if State will make the tournament, it seems a certainty that if it does, they’ll be playing on Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio, as part of the play-in-games. The winner earns a spot in the tournament as a No. 12 seed.
So, grab your popcorn and get ready for tonight’s drama of the NCAA Selection show on CBS, and for what it’s worth, my best guess is that MSU will be playing in the friendly confines of Humphrey Coliseum in the first round of the NIT this week.
But hey, what do I know, last time I check I haven’t received a call from Indianapolis to get my opinion.
Michael Wardlaw is the Mississippi State beat writer and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.