Chris Jans and the Mississippi State Bulldogs have a long road ahead of them.
There's undoubtedly a lot of work left to be done if Mississippi State wants to assure they easily reach the NCAA Tournament. Not to say that's unique to MSU. That's the case for the vast majority of teams out there. But the Bulldogs didn't play the type of non-conference schedule that would afford them to simply sleepwalk through the SEC and have no issues earning a bid, which you could argue might be the case for a team like Tennessee.
As it stands currently, 11 of MSU's 18 conference games would count as Q1 opportunities. That includes their first four and eight out of their first nine. That strength of schedule is about to skyrocket. A home tilt with Vanderbilt in late January is presently the only Q4 game left on the schedule. Given that State's already suffered one-such loss (and the Commodores are actually lower in the NET than Southern), consider that an absolute must win.
Home games against Georgia and Arkansas and a road trip to LSU are the Q3 matchups. I wouldn't be at all shocked if either UGA or the Hogs became Q2 opponents, and if State can be impressive enough elsewhere, they could likely survive a loss to either. Technically LSU is just barely in the Q3 range, but I'd still say you're asking for major trouble if you lose that game.
Of course ideally, Mississippi State would simply handle its business against the current lesser-than's of the SEC. If they can do that, it simply becomes a case of finding enough wins against everyone else. I don't really like to ever set a win/loss record as a benchmark to hit because that never takes into account the full context of a resume. But that being said, the SEC is a strong enough league this year that, assuming MSU doesn't have any slip-ups along the way, if they can reach 20 wins before the SEC Tournament, they're likely going to be in good shape to reach the field.
Now because of the non-conference strength of schedule and the Q4 loss on the resume, to be a sure-fire lock, it might take a bit more than that. State would do themselves a lot of good to add multiple signature wins, specifically on the road. Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn, and Texas A&M look to be the most clear opportunities there. But of course a home stunner next week over NET #6 Tennessee would be equally as pivotal to locking up a bid.
The overall path is pretty clear for Mississippi State. If they find themselves as a top-half team in the SEC, they'll be in the tournament. They can add a nice boost to the resume this weekend if they can win a Q1 road game against South Carolina to open up conference play.