Feb 10, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Craig Sword (32) dribbles the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Humphrey Coliseum. The Crimson Tide won 55-51. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
One of the main goals for many fans in year three of the Rick Ray era was a postseason berth. Not the NCAA Tournament the college basketball world revolves around, but just getting into the NIT. That benchmark seemed to be the minimum for a decade from 2001-2010, when the program didn’t at least make the NIT only one time (2006). But that was then, and this is now – and in neither 2013 nor 2014 were the Bulldogs anywhere near sniffing the postseason.
Currently, MSU is 12-13 (5-7). We could talk for hours about how they should’ve won those easier games in December and they’d be in a perfect position to make the NIT – but they didn’t. So what’s left?
- vs. Ole Miss
- vs. Arkansas
- vs. Kentucky
- at South Carolina
- at Vanderbilt
- vs. Missouri
That’s six games, of which the Kentucky game seems like a sure loss and the Missouri game seems like a sure win. South Carolina and Vanderbilt are on the road, but they have a combined 7-17 conference record this year. While Arkansas is at home, they are really good this year (20-5) so that one seems doubtful. Ole Miss will be a key game this week as it’s a rivalry game and the Dawgs have dominated the series at the Hump.
If State could go 3-3, which certainly isn’t out of the question – there are three teams on that list below MSU in the SEC standings – they would be 15-16 heading into the SEC Tournament. A good finish of 4-2 would leave them with a 16-15 record.
Even with a 16-15 record, State would be on the outside looking in at the NIT. In 2011, the Bulldogs were 17-14 and did not make it. A good showing at the SEC Tournament in Nashville could change that. A win on Thursday and Friday would put MSU at 18-15, squarely on the NIT bubble. Odds are they’d lose on Saturday and be 18-16, but still be in the hunt.
That’s almost a best-case scenario, however. So I’m saying best-case MSU can get on the NIT bubble. That’s not too good, but what is good (sort of) is the fact that there’s another postseason tournament available: the CBI.
The CBI is a little known basketball tournament, but it’s in its eighth year. 16 teams, single elimination until the championship when it’s best of three – so that’s a cool twist.
Mostly, it’s for mid-majors. But when you’re rebuilding your program it’s for majors too. Texas A&M competed last year, as did Penn State and Oregon State. Penn State actually got in with a 15-17 record, 6-10 in the Big Ten. Those credentials bode well for MSU’s chances.
I think a 3-3 finish plus at least one win at the SEC Tournament would probably get State into the CBI at 16-17 (8-10). It’s not glamorous or prestigious, but it’s a step in the right direction for this program. At this point, Rick Ray is all but assured of coming back barring the team completely quitting on him from this point on….so you might as well get on board and hope this happens.