Is Mississippi State's men's basketball team now a lock to get into the NCAA Tournament as an at-large selection if they don't win the SEC Tournament? Most say yes because MSU now has 21 wins with the possibility of two more before the regular season is over. Well, according to the site maintainer at CollegeRPI.com, there is no magic formula for wins, although they are important. What is most important is your record in conference play and your RPI. Plus, he also claims that there are several other factors that play a part in determining who goes dancing. They include rating in polls, good finish to season, good road record, tough non-conference schedule, wins over teams in the top 50, injuries and suspension to players, overall strength of schedule, and conference RPI rating.
Let's see where MSU stands among the various criteria.
Record in conference play: MSU is currently 8-6 in the top-rated RPI conference in the nation. With two games to play in the regular season, MSU will very likely end up with a winning record in the SEC. MSU passes this test.
RPI: As of the moment I write this, MSU's RPI is 14. According to CollegeRPI.com and ESPN, the lowest rated RPI team left out of the NCAA Tournament was #33 Oklahoma in 1994. Their problem was their 15-12 record and their losing record in conference play. MSU has neither of those problems. MSU passes this test with flying colors.
Strength of schedule (SOS): Currently, MSU's SOS is 22nd in the nation. With two teams left on their schedule, both of whom are in the top 50 RPI range, this ranking will not go down much even if MSU loses both games. Consider this test passed.
Wins: MSU currently has 21 D-I wins and could add one or two more during the regular season. No team in the big six conferences has been left out of the NCAA Tournament if it had 20 NCAA D-I victories with the exception of last serason when Alabama was sent to the NIT (they had 21 wins). The problems they has were their 4-6 record in their last 10 games, their schedule strength was ranked 81st in the country, their RPI was 51st and over 50% of their non-conference schedule was against bottom half RPI teams. By the way, I know you guys are asking what about MSU in 1999-2000? MSU had one non-D-I victory that season (Belmont), therefore its win total was actually 19. MSU passes the test on this one.
Rating in the polls: MSU is not rated in the most recent polls. MSU does not pass the test. Lucky for MSU this does not seem to be that important in the scheme of things.
Season finish (last 10 games): MSU is currently 6-4 in its last 10 games. With two more regular season games to go and the SEC Tournament, this test is still to be decided.
Road record: MSU is currently 9-6 on the road (5-5 away and 4-1 neutral) with at least two more road games left (SC and the SEC). That means the worse MSU could finish on the road is 9-8. MSU passes this test.
Tough non-conference schedule: Playing half or more of your games against teams in the bottom half of the RPI rankings earn you a penalty as far as the NCAA Selection Committee is concerned. MSU is close on this one with 6 of their 14 current non-conference schedule teams in the bottom half. One other team is ranked 161 with the ranking of 162 being the midway point. MSU is on the fence with this one, but are leaning to the good side of the fence at the moment. This test is yet to be decided.
Wins over top 50 RPI teams: MSU has four (2 against top 10) of those with the possibility of two more during the regular season. MSU passes this test.
Injuries and suspensions of players: The selection committee takes into consideration if a key player has been out for a few games but will back for the Tournament. MSU has none to report. No pass or fail on this test.
Conference RPI ranking: The SEC has been ranked number one most of the season. MSU passes this test.
One criteria left out: The past few years the SEC has gotten 6 to 7 teams into the NCAA Tournament. Currently, MSU is tied with Mississippi for the fifth best record (8-6) in the SEC. Only five times has the NCAA Selection committee skipped over one team in the standings to give an at-large bid to another team in the same conference.
Based on the above criteria, the bubble that MSU had been standing on has turned into a wall because MSU is a lock for the NCAA Tournament.
Due to time restraints, I left the post-game quotes off of my Saturday's MSU vs. UM basketball report. Here they are.
"It was one of those games that you are just happy to survive. Give Ole Miss a lot of credit. They played tremendous today. They really shot the basketball (well), especially in the first half. Like I just told my team, sometimes you have to find a way to win when you are not playing your best. We never got our rhythm today because we were without Mario for so long. That effected our team. Sometimes you have to find a way to win. I thought that out kids did that. We came out of the locker room the second half and made a run at them. That really helped us. We had some guys come off the bench who really played hard for us. We found a way down the stretch to make one more play than Ole Miss."
Do you feel like this game was almost like an NCAA Tournament type game?
"No, because that game, even if we had both been 0-27, would have been the same. I don't NCAA feelings had anything to do with how we played. Naturally, both teams understood what we were both playing for."
Talk about the play near the end of the game where Marckell Patterson attempted the shot and was fouled.
"I made the decision. Fortunately, Kell drove in there and got fouled and made two shots. My decision at the time was to not call time out because that would have allowed them time to get their defense set. The way it turned out, it turned out to be a good decision."
Do you sometimes think that your team doesn't get credit for how well it plays defense?
"I don't know about that. Anybody that sees our team play understands how hard they play. If they don't get the credit, that is up to you guys to write about it. Our kids understand how hard they play."
What is your opinion as to your NCAA chances now?
"My opinion doesn't matter. You guys understand what our team has done and where we are right now. That is 21 wins. We are guaranteed at least .500 in the league. We had an RPI of 19 going into this game. Our strength of schedule was, I think, 24th in the country. I think we have done things on both ends, from strength of schedule to RPI. Unfortunately, my opinion doesn't matter."
You only had Mario for 19 minutes and still won the game.
"That is what is special about the game. We didn't play our best basketball and we still found a way to win against a very good Ole Miss team that shot the ball extremely well today."
Did you think Aaron Harper's shot was going to be good?
"It looked long coming out."
They outrebounded your team.
"I think a lot of that is due to not having Mario in the game much. We didn't rebound as well with some other guys playing the center position. Justin Reed is a load on the backboards. Reed had 11 rebounds."
How do you think your defense did against Reed?
"Michael Gholar and Michael Ignerski fought Justin Reed all day long. Reed got 12 points and, basically, we were without Mario for 21 minutes."
Do you think your team is playing its best basketball now?
"No question. We have won four out of our last five. Most of them have been convincingly. The Alabama game played here was a convincing win. We did the same thing against Auburn here and Vanderbilt there. And we beat a very good Ole Miss team here."
This was such a hard fought game, it almost seemed like every play during the game was extremely important. Did it feel that way to you?
"We knew they would play hard. As close as the game was, we knew every possession counted."
Did it almost seem like an NCAA-type game due to the intensity level?
"Yeah, because we were playing Ole Miss and it was such a hard-fought game."
Considering the type defense Ole Miss plays, having just nine turnovers was spectacular.
"Yeah, compared to the season when we averaged 16 or 17. We were taking care of the ball tonight."
You didn't get to play a lot due to foul trouble. Did you almost feel like you were being picked on since it was really physical and anybody could have been called for fouls?
"It was very rough. I think I got a couple of calls on me. I'm not going to worry about it. I'm just going to prepare for the next game."
Did you heart almost feel like it was in your throat when he took that last shot?
"It did a little bit. I was trying to figure out how he got that wide opened. I remember the coach saying to switch, guys were to switch on the screen. I didn't know who was guarding the screen man, but the screen man didn't switch off. Because of that, Harper had a good look. And the way he had been shooting the ball all night, I said oh my God. The ball seemed like it was never going to come down. By the time, it came down, Timmy (Bowers) and I were fighting for the rebound. By that time, the game was over with."
What were you thinking while it was bouncing up in the air?
"I was waiting for the clock to go off. Timmy and I jumped up toward the ball. I said, 'why is that ball still up there?'. It finally came down and the horn went off while it was coming down."
You blew away the last two teams you played. Was that because they were that much better than the last two?
"You have to give a lot of credit to Ole Miss, they played well tonight. They had some guys, Harper and Sanders, who shot the ball well tonight. They were making contested three-point shots. Anytime those two guys shoot well, they are going to be a tough team to defend. Plus, with a rivalry game, you very seldom see a blowout. We were expecting an all-out war and that is what we got."
Do you think this was the level you have to play at to prepare you for the NCAA Tournament?
"From what I hear, that is how it is. I think, for the first time all season, we took care of the ball really well. We had nine turnovers. That is probably a season low for us. We stepped up big tonight."
Was this the most physical game you guys have played in this season?
"It was one of the most physical."
How did it compare to the game that was played at Ole Miss?
"It was similar. Both teams were going at it hard. Up there, they hit a shot late in the game that put them up by five."
You guys had 8 steals in the game.
"We wanted to get into them defensively, because we weren't going to let them come in here and intimidate us defensively. We play good defensively too. We were going to get into them and see how well they could handle the ball."
Do you think this win finally puts you in the NCAA Tournament?
"I think it does, but we really don't think about it that way. We, basically, look at it as trying to finish off our season on a positive note and continue to keep winning. We'll let all that other stuff take care of itself."
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UPCOMING CALENDAR EVENTS
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Well, that wraps up this week's edition of the Monday Morning Bulldog Coffee Break.
Have a great Bulldog week!
Archived Monday Morning Coffee Break Articles:
Feb. 18, 2002
Feb. 11, 2002
Feb. 4, 2002
Jan. 28, 2002
Jan. 21, 2002
Jan. 14, 2002
Jan. 7, 2002
Dec. 31, 2001
Dec. 24, 2001
Dec. 17, 2001
Dec. 10, 2001
Dec. 3, 2001
Nov. 26, 2001
Nov. 19, 2001
Nov. 12, 2001
Nov. 7, 2001
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.