MSU Basketball’s Lost Years: 1957-1962


The 2014 MSU team was not able to make any postseason tournaments, so what better time than now to take a look back at when we should have been in the NCAA tournament, but were not. When Mississippi State had great basketball teams but they were relegated to just another year in the record books because of prejudice and injustice.

1957: 17-8, ranked 15th in final AP poll

1958: 20-5, ranked 15th in final AP poll

1959: 24-1, ranked 3rd in final AP poll – SEC Champions

1960: 12-13

1961: 19-6 – SEC Champions

1962: 24-1, ranked 4th in final AP poll – SEC Champions

All these years, of course, were under the leadership of Babe McCarthy. And finally in 1963 MSU went to the NCAA Tournament and took part in the “game of change” vs. Loyola. That team finished 22-6 and ranked 6th in the final AP poll.

But what about all those other years. There are at least four of them where Mississippi State would have definitely been in the NCAA Tourney – and a 5th in 1961 where I’m not sure why we were never ranked during a 19-6 season that including winning the SEC.

The NCAA Tournament was comprised of 23-25 teams from 1957-62. Look at where MSU was ranked – we would have been there at least five times instead of just once. Instead of 10 all-time appearances we’d have 14. Instead of just one Final Four how many would we have. Would Mississippi State have a national championship if we were allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament?

There’s no way to tell for sure, but two 24-1 seasons with top 5 teams certainly leave a lot of mystery. What’s more, the program could have gained experience by playing in the big dance and then maybe the 1963 team wouldn’t have bowed out so early (although Loyola did win the national title) when they had sneak off just to play in it.

So why could we not go to the NCAA Tournament?  Because of an unwritten rule that said we could not play a school using black players. Was it a coincidence that Ole Miss’ sport of dominance at the time was football which used a mythical way of determining a national champion (not settled on the field)? OM didn’t have to play against black athletes in football, but they still crowned themselves national champions three times over this same time period. During that time the Mississippi legislature was dominated by Ole Miss graduates, and Ross Barnett was the governor.

But it wasn’t all on Ole Miss. It was a “rule” followed by the entire state at the time. Even one of our own tried to get an injunction to prevent the team from leaving in 1963.

It was a different time. Something that I can’t understand as someone who did not live through it. These years of excellence hold little water with fans. No postseason accomplishments means they are a forgotten part of the Mississippi State basketball program. While the 1963 team will be forever remembered, many people don’t realize how good the Maroons were in the six years prior under McCarthy.

Coach McCarthy only coached two more years at MSU. Like Allyn McKeen in football, he was only at State for a short, but ultra-successful, period of time. The Bulldogs basically went into the crapper for 30 years except for a few glimpses of hope in the late 70s. How would things have been different if more Final Four banners hung from McCarthy Gym and Humphrey Coliseum?