Mississippi State Basketball Enters the SEC Tournament With Work to Do

Mississippi State basketball had a chance to lock up a NCAA Tournament bid in the regular season. They failed to do so, and now the Bulldogs have work to do in Nashville.

Feb 21, 2024; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Cameron Matthews (4)
Feb 21, 2024; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Cameron Matthews (4) / Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Mississippi State basketball closed out the regular season on Saturday with an overtime loss to South Carolina, 93-89. It was the fourth-straight loss for the Bulldogs, who now find themselves 19-12 on the season. Their 8-10 SEC record earned them the 9-seed in the SEC Tournament.

State will face the LSU Tigers in their opening SEC Tournament game on Thursday, and after closing out the regular season so poorly, the Bulldogs have work to do in Nashville.

Two weeks ago, MSU was coming off its fifth-straight win, ironically over the same LSU team they'll play Thursday. At the time, they were playing what was easily their best basketball of the year. And at 19-8 and 8-6 in the SEC, they looked poised to easily lock up a bid to their second-straight NCAA Tournament.

In fact, most bracketologists agreed that the Bulldogs would need just one win in their final four games to lock themselves into March Madness. State continued their stellar play at home against Kentucky, but a Reed Sheppard buzzer-beater left the Bulldogs stunned and with their winning-streak snapped.

No matter, though. State still had three more chances at a win, albeit against a difficult final stretch of at Auburn, at Texas A&M, and South Carolina. But with the way MSU was playing, winning one seemed highly probable.

Unfortunately for Mississippi State, they stopped playing at a high level. Abysmal first halves cost them against Auburn and, especially, Texas A&M. The Bulldogs got off to another slow start against South Carolina, and while they managed to quickly pick up the pace and get back into the game, their defense couldn't stop the Gamecocks. And State closed the regular season with four-straight losses.

After being one win away from locking themselves into the NCAA Tournament, Mississippi State basketball finds itself firmly on the bubble entering the SEC Tournament. And now, it may not be as simple as just finding one more win.

Other bubble teams have surged over the final two weeks, playing their way into contention. Potential bid-stealers have emerged from mid-major leagues that could easily take away at-large openings teams like Mississippi State badly need available.

Most bracketologists still have Mississippi State basketball in the field as of today. But with the right, or perhaps wrong, combination of results, they easily find themselves on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. And that's even if they were to win against LSU on Thursday.

To be clear, I tend to think State would be in if they took down the Tigers. They own enough impressive wins and have solid enough metrics to warrant selection. But it's not a certainty. When you're on the bubble to end the year, negative factors such as a poor non-conference strength of schedule, the lack of road wins, and a Quad 4 loss to Southern suddenly stand out a lot more.

Mississippi State basketball had its chance to remove all doubt over the past two weeks. Now they have to prove they belong in the Big Dance at the SEC Tournament. At a bare minimum, they have to beat LSU, and ideally need to do so convincingly. And if they do get past the Tigers, it would certainly be in their best interest to have a good showing against Tennessee. Beyond that, State needs to hope and pray that fellow bubble teams falter and no bid-stealers emerge.

March is a wonderful time of year for college basketball fans, but this next week is about to be very stressful for Mississippi State basketball.