Conference play is here for Mississippi State basketball. The Bulldogs closed out their non-conference schedule with an 11-2 record. They head to Columbia, South Carolina this weekend to take on the Gamecocks for their first SEC game of the season. After showing their potential through the opening months of the season and with All-SEC center Tolu Smith back in the lineup, there's hope for Mississippi State to contend for the SEC title.
But the ultimate goal for the season is for MSU to return to the NCAA Tournament for a second-straight year. Last year, in Chris Jans' first season as head coach, State went on the run over the final month of the season to secure a bid to the Big Dance, their first appearance since 2019. The Bulldogs were one of the last at-large teams in the field and fell to Pittsburgh in the First Four.
Now the expectation is for State to be safely in the tournament come Selection Sunday as opposed to sweating things out. If the Bulldogs can achieve that, it will be the first time since 2008 and 2009 that Mississippi State appears in consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
We've still got a few months of action before the field is set, but where do the Bulldogs stand as of today? Would they be included in the field of 68? Here's where some major bracketologists project Mississippi State:
Current Bracket Projections
ESPN: 10-seed, Midwest Region
Fox Sports: 10-seed, Midwest Region
CBS Sports: First Four Out
Bracketville: 10-seed, West Region
Bracketometry: 11-seed, West Region
Bleacher Report: 8-seed, East Region
The Athletic: 10-seed, East Region
On3: 10-seed, East Region
Making the Madness: 11-seed, East Region
Bracket Matrix Average: 10-seed
The consensus at the moment is that were the season to end today, Mississippi State would almost certainly be in the field. The vast majority of bracketologists currently have the Bulldogs in, with most seeing them as about a 10-seed. CBS Sports was the lone major publication to have MSU out of the field, albeit as the first team out.
Though selection is the most important thing, most State fans would certainly prefer to see their squad seeded a bit higher than a 10-seed. That's not quite in the range where you'd treat MSU as a sure-fire lock. So what's the explanation for that seeding? It's a combination of factors.
For one, State's non-conference strength of schedule is lacking. It currently ranks 269th nationally. State played a handful of solid opponents in their non-conference slate, but none of those teams rank higher than 60th in the NET. Five opponents are outside of the NET top-200. Though the upcoming SEC schedule will give MSU a strong overall SOS, their non-conference SOS is low enough that it hurts seeding.
Secondly, the Bulldogs own a dreaded Quad 4 loss to Southern. Q4 losses can be resume killers. Though taking one usually isn't enough to keep you out of the tournament (assuming you've picked up enough impressive wins), that can easily be a factor that leads to comparable teams being favored ahead of you. And though State's road loss to Georgia Tech currently counts towards the Q2 record, owning a loss to a team ranked 123rd in the NET doesn't help matters either.
Those flaws combine to hurt the resume, but on the flip side, Mississippi State has a few things working in its favor as well. The Bulldogs rank 32nd in the NET and have a predictive metric average of 29th. And though MSU has yet to face a Q1 opponent, they own a 4-1 record against Q2. With good metrics and a good record against respectable competition, there's still enough to like about State that it's safe to projection them as a tournament team.
And luckily for Mississippi State, the SEC schedule will provide them with more than enough opportunities to build out a resume strong enough to be a lock for the Big Dance come March.
I broke down some of the specifics of what State likely needs to do through conference play to earn a bid here. Winning a road game at South Carolina Saturday would be a great start.