After a thrilling upset over Tennessee, it looked like Mississippi State basketball might be a contender for the SEC crown. Those dreams were, mostly, shot down quickly, unfortunately. The Bulldogs have lost their last two games. State fell in a heartbreaker at home in front of the best Humphrey Coliseum crowd in years to Alabama, almost entirely because of missed free throws. And this past Wednesday in Lexington, Chris Jans' squad was practically never in the game with the high-scoring Wildcats.
Mississippi State now finds itself 2-3 in conference play. Though none of those losses have come to bad teams or have put the Bulldogs in some precarious position with regards to reaching the NCAA Tournament, it's by no means an ideal start. The biggest negative is that even with just one more SEC win to this point, MSU's resume would be significantly stronger than it currently is.
Not that conference record is a criterion by which the selection committee evaluates teams. It's well established that it's not factored into selection. Overall performance against the entire schedule, rather, is the lens through which potential at-large teams are judged.
For Mississippi State, the reason that 2-3 start is slightly disappointing comes down simply to the fact that the Bulldogs could easily possess another Quad 1 win at the moment had they simply not been out-worked on the boards at South Carolina or made free throws against Alabama. Those were missed opportunities at solidifying their resume early on, and it means there's still plenty of work to be done.
Luckily for State, the slow start in league play hasn't yet hurt them. As mentioned, their SEC losses all fall into the Q1 category, and the win over Tennessee is still outstanding. MSU has largely treaded water to this point and still possesses a tournament-worthy resume. Here's where they stand in updated bracketology...
Current Bracket Projections
ESPN: 9-seed, Midwest Region
CBS Sports: 9-seed, South Region
Fox Sports: 11-seed, West Region
On3: 9-seed, South Region
Bracketville: 8-seed, West Region
Bracketometry: 9-seed, South Region
The Athletic: 8-seed, East Region
Making the Madness: 9-seed, South Region
Heat Check CBB: 9-seed, Midwest Region
T3 Bracketology: 9-seed
JBR Bracketology: 10-seed
Bleacher Report: 9-seed, South Region
Bracket Matrix Average: 9-seed
I mentioned how Mississippi State has mostly treaded water to this point in conference play. That's reflected by the updated bracket projections. Last week, most bracketologists had the Bulldogs as a 9-seed. This week, the same.
Taking losses to the #5 NET team in Alabama and the #17 NET team Kentucky on the road isn't going to change much for you. And there's yet to be enough significant changes with other teams to knock the Bulldogs from their current perch.
The main metrics still view Mississippi State as a top-35 team in the country. Their overall strength of schedule is now in a good spot at 43rd, and they've actually seen their non-conference strength of schedule improve to 214th with their prior competition playing better as of late. Specifically, Washington State is back up into the top-50 of the NET, giving MSU a much-needed second Q1 win. Also, Georgia Tech is back to being a Quad 2 loss at the moment, another positive for the resume.
Though the on-court performance has been somewhat frustrating thus far in SEC play and the Bulldogs have missed out on good opportunities at compiling strong wins, their resume is still solid overall. Mississippi State is in decent position, and if they can become a bit more consistent in the coming weeks, there's a great chance they can lock themselves up a bid to the Big Dance.
It was absolutely necessary that they handled their business against Vanderbilt, however. A loss to the Commodores would have been bad enough to almost certainly knock State out of the projected field, and they would have an uphill battle the rest of the way to reach the tournament. Moving forward, MSU must continue to avoid disaster. If they do, this team will still be track to get back to the postseason.