Part of what makes March Madness live up to its name are the hypotheticals in the months that precede the NCAA Tournament. So, as SEC play is set to begin, let’s examine what could get Mississippi State basketball back on the right side of the bubble since 2019.
The Bulldogs (11-1) enter their conference opener against Alabama (10-2) on Wednesday (8 p.m., SEC Network) with a strong nonconference resume. MSU has a pair of Quadrant 1 wins and its lone loss is Quadrant 2.
The SEC has had six teams in the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons. Under the assumption that Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Tennessee make the field, it creates an interesting race for a likely final spot.
Of course, there isn’t an exact formula for making the field. However, based on previous seasons, here’s the best path for Mississippi State to go dancing for first time since 2019.
Can’t loss at home
Ole Miss (Jan. 7), Texas A&M (Feb. 25), South Carolina (Feb. 28)
As important as winning is, avoiding bad losses is almost as critical. It’s rare for an SEC loss to hurt a team, but the NET rankings of Ole Miss, Texas A&M and South Carolina make it likely Quad 3 or 4 home game for the Bulldogs.
All three teams have had ugly losses in the nonconference. Mississippi State should be able to handle business.
Winnable on the road:
Georgia (Jan. 11), South Carolina (Jan. 31), Ole Miss (Feb. 18), Vanderbilt (March 4)
Playing on the road can be brutal against any team. Even Auburn, which went 15-3 in SEC play last season, dropped a game at Florida – a team that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
These games don’t need to be pretty, but MSU has to show a better ability to go on the road and beat the teams it should compared to last season. Ole Miss and South Carolina provide a favorable home-and-home. Vanderbilt and Georgia have shown flashes in past years but don’t provide hostile environments unless it’s a top-ranked team coming to town.
Important bubble games
vs. Florida (Jan. 21), vs. Missouri (Feb. 4), vs. LSU (Feb. 8), at Missouri (Feb. 21)
Florida, Missouri and LSU could be teams battling with Mississippi State for the sixth spot in the conference rankings. Owning the head-to-head could be important.
MSU is fortunate to only play at home against LSU and Florida. Missouri, which beat Illinois last week, could pose a threat. At least splitting that home-and-home could be pivotal for the Bulldogs.
Winning one or two would be nice
vs. Alabama (Dec. 28), vs. Tennessee (Jan. 17), vs. Kentucky (Feb. 15)
MSU has competed with each of these teams in recent years. The Bulldogs likely should’ve won at Alabama last season and took Kentucky to overtime in Lexington.
Mississippi State should compete with these foes at home. Beating Alabama could be most important as it would create hype around campus and get larger crowds to arrive at Humphrey Coliseum when students are back in town. If they can create a hostile road environment, there’s no reason to doubt the Bulldogs’ ability to pick off another upset down the road.
Can afford to lose/are expected to lose
at Tennessee (Jan. 3), at Auburn (Jan. 14), at Alabama (Jan. 25), at Arkansas (Feb. 11)
Beating a ranked team on the road is difficult, and it does little harm to the resume. Mississippi State won’t go undefeated, and these four games are likely a large reason why.
If the Bulldogs can keep these games close, it’ll be beneficial for their NET. But fans can begin to pencil in at least four losses, making the other 14 that much more important.