Mississippi State hosts Vanderbilt on Thursday, February 15th. Ole Miss visits the Hump for the final home game of the regular season on Sunday, February 18th. Those games are important because both the Commodores and Lady Rebels are just ahead of the Lady Bulldogs in the standings.
State needs wins in both of those games to possibly earn a first-round bye in the SEC Women's Tournament. The top four teams in the conference standings bypass the tournament's opening round and automatically qualify for the quarterfinals. More importantly, wins over VU and UM will make an important statement about MSU women's basketball to the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
MSU is on the bubble for the NCAA tournament and probably would not qualify for the Big Dance if the season ended today. MSU has a 2-4 record against Top 25 teams but is 0-2 against top 10 teams. State's RPI is in the mid-70's, and strength of schedule is in the lower 60's. However, winning at least three of the remaining games coupled with at least one win in the SEC Tournament might be enough to let the Lady Bulldogs 'dance'.
After the VU-UM home stand, MSU travels to Alabama for a game on February 22nd and closes out the regular season at South Carolina on February 25th. MSU cannot afford to lose to either of those teams.
Could 9 or 10 conference wins be enough to overtake either Ole Miss or Vanderbilt in the standings?
Ole Miss visits Tennessee on Thursday before coming to Starkville next Sunday. They close out the season hosting Auburn. The Lady Rebels have a 42 RPI.
After Vanderbilt pays a visit to the Hump, they host South Carolina and LSU before traveling to Knoxville to end their season. The Commodores have a 14 RPI.
It is likely that Georgia will finish in the top four based on their remaining schedule - at Kentucky, at Auburn, and hosting Arkansas. Those Lady Bulldogs have the 8th best RPI nationally.
Neither Vanderbilt nor Ole Miss can afford a loss in Starkville. Conversely, MSU cannot afford a loss to either and still earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament. State is already on a weak NCAA bubble that needs strengthening. Back-to-back wins at home would enhance the MSU resume for the selection committee.
That is why fan attendance for the final two home games is extremely important to the Lady Bulldogs. Wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss would give MSU the tiebreaker should those teams finish with identical conference marks.
The season high for attendance at an MSU home this year was against Auburn, when 1,336 fans showed up. As a point of reference, Florida and Auburn average slightly less than 1,300 fans for their home games. Those two teams rank 11th and 10th in the SEC for home attendance.
Andy Kalinowski, known on the internet as Andy K, writes about Mississippi State women's basketball for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. He can be reached by email at Andy_Kalinowski@yahoo.com.