If you had asked me a week ago if this Mississippi State University men’s basketball team could make the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid, I probably would have laughed; but after their three-game win streak, who knows.
The Bulldogs have a chance, a very small, but a chance, and here is what they need to do get there.
MSU is 17-6 overall, 5-5 in the SEC and has an RPI of 58. While having a great record, it is a little deceptive.
In their non-conference schedule, MSU only played one team with a RPI in the top 100 in the country against the No. 8 Cincinnati. This was also one of MSU’s least competitive losses of the season, as they fell 65-50 and really were never a part of the game.
Usually for a team to make the tournament, they need at least one to 75 or 50 RPI non-conference wins. MSU has no chance of obtaining one, as the closest they have is their win over Dayton, an RPI of 112. The other big games losses that could have helped MSU this season were their games against No. 11 Auburn and Ole Miss.
MSU held big leads against Ole Miss and Auburn, and if they had held onto it, we would have a totally different conversation. Ole Miss is not a marquee win but would eliminate a loss which is looking worse and worse as Ole Miss continues to collapse this season. The Auburn game would have been the crown jewel of the MSU tournament resume. Auburn has an RPI of five, and collapsing in the game could very well have been the difference between the tournament and the NIT.
However, this is all in the past. The question at hand is what MSU has to do starting tonight against Alabama to start getting into the bubble conversation. The Bulldogs are hot, on a three-game winning streak, and will need to carry the momentum into their next two games.
Of MSU’s next eight games, there are four must-win games against lower teams, and four games against better teams which MSU will need to win at least two or three to stay in the running.
Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, South Carolina and LSU are the four must-win games. They all have RPI below 60, with Carolina at 64, LSU at 75, Ole Miss at 81 and Vandy at 121. Losing to any of these teams kills MSU’s already slim chances.
The four games MSU can win to build their resume are MSU’s game tonight against Alabama, at Missouri Feb. 10, at Texas A&M Feb. 20 and No. 18 Tennessee at home. Alabama has an RPI of 38, Missouri has an RPI of 32, A&M has an RPI of 30 and Tennessee has an RPI of 13.
MSU needs to get their RPI on the low side of 40 to be considered as an at-large bid for the tournament. While this is the goal and dream scenario, winning all four games is a lot to ask. If MSU wants to get below 40, the most important game for them is Tennessee. It would be their best win of the season and become the jewel of their resume.
Of the four games left, the two potential losses which would hurt the least are A&M and Missouri. Both are on the road, which should lighten the blow. Regardless, if MSU wants to make the tournament, they need to go at least 6-2, and probably will need to be 7-1 over the next eight games.
MSU will also have the SEC tournament to help gain a couple resume-building wins. Overall, MSU’s three-game win streak puts them in a position to at least get in the conversation. It all depends on what MSU does from here on out starting tonight with MSU’s game against Alabama. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. and SEC Network will broadcast the game.