We’re 5 games into SEC play for Mississippi State Basketball, and unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they’ve come back to reality since we last examined their tournament resume. After an 11-0 start to the season, Chris Jans’ squad has lost 5 of 6 and is off to a 1-4 start in conference play. The poor shooting that they could get away with against lesser opponents is now plaguing them against SEC competition, and as a result, the Bulldogs no longer find themselves in a prime position to earn a tourney berth.
That said, it’s still far too early to write this team off. So let’s take a look at where their resume currently stands…
Mississippi State Basketball’s NET Ranking and Quad Wins
Mississippi State basketball has made quite the freefall since their stunning debut at #5 in the initial NET rankings. Heading into Tuesday’s home rematch with Tennessee, the Bulldogs find themselves ranked #54 in the NET. A rank in the 50s has MSU firmly in “bubble” territory, and at the moment, they’d likely find themselves on the wrong side of that bubble. Here’s their record broken down into the NET quadrants:
Quad 1: 1-3
Quad 2: 1-2
Quad 3: 3-0
Quad 4: 7-0
The good news for the Bulldogs is they still haven’t taken a bad loss, at least not by NET quadrant standards. Their low-NET loss came on the road at #92 Georgia, which still qualifies as a Q2 opponent. The bad news is that State has lost one of its Q1 wins. While the victory over Marquette has only gotten more impressive (the Golden Eagles are off to a 14-5 start and rank #18 in the NET), the win over Utah has lost some of its luster, as the Utes have faded down to #63.
The NET Non-conference Strength of Schedule remains problematic for State, ranking #289. But with #22 TCU still to play, that metric should eventually get a positive boost. MSU’s overall NET Strength of Schedule has dramatically improved through SEC play. It’s all the way up to #64 and could easily continue to climb with 10 top-100 NET opponents remaining.
Other Metric Ranks
Just like before, we need to highlight where MSU stands in some of the other metrics used to determine tournament selection. And as with the NET, the other rankings are no longer as kind to the Bulldogs.
While KenPom and BPI are fairly in line with the NET in terms of how they value the Bulldogs (which isn’t particularly high…), Sagarin, KPI, and T-Rank are not nearly as positive about them. This is where MSU’s poor offensive numbers come back to bite them with their resume. Metrics designed to judge team quality simply don’t think that highly of them despite their fantastic defense.
Remember a month ago when this team was undefeated and looked poised to make a run to the tournament in the first year of a new coach? Yeah, good times. Unfortunately, things have taken quite a dip since that point. But even at the time, you could see the “unsustainable” nature of how they were winning. The offense has been a problem for this team all season, and at a certain point, they were going to have to score more than 60 to win games. The talent in the SEC is simply too good to put sole faith in their defense to carry them.
However, the sky isn’t falling (at least not yet). MSU’s hot start to the season still has them in far better position at this point to earn a tourney berth than we could’ve imagined. They still have no bad losses on the resume and have a great win over Marquette to go along with a solid one over Utah. If they can somehow manage to add a few more quality wins in conference play, which they have ample opportunity to do, and can avoid losing to the South Carolinas of the world, they’ll have a strong case for at-large selection.
It’s ultimately going to come down to the offense. Can they simply be mediocre as opposed to awful? That, frankly, seems unlikely at this point. But hey, we can dream. Hopefully, they can begin to turn things around Tuesday night at the Hump.