10 Biggest What Ifs in Mississippi State Sports History

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1. What if MSU basketball had been allowed to play in the NCAA Tournament during Babe McCarthy’s tenure?

An unwritten rule that said Mississippi State could not play a school using black players prohibited some of the school’s greatest basketball teams from playing in the NCAA Tournament.

Not until 1963’s “Game of Change” did MSU play in the big dance, but prior to that there were several teams that should have done so if not for the prejudice of the times.

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

1961: 19-6 – SEC Champions

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

None of those teams went to the NCAA Tournament despite their elite play (only one SEC team made it during this era, so State would have gone in 1959, 1961 and 1962).

The NCAA Tournament was comprised of 23-25 teams during this time period. State was so highly ranked in 1959 and 1962 they would’ve had a bye into the Sweet 16 (as they did in 1963), needing only two wins to make it to the Final Four and four wins for a national championship. The 1961 team, however, wasn’t highly ranked due to some non-conference losses but they would’ve still been in the tourney.

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 to the imagination. 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.

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?