NEW ORLEANS — And pop goes the NCAA Tournament bubble.
It’s seemingly a consensus among national college basketball pundits the Mississippi State University men’s basketball program would’ve heard its name called for the NCAA tournament with just one more victory.
One more victory against a under .500 team in a neutral site in which MSU was clearly favored. One loss later and the program in Starkville is now likely to be in deep trouble.
Before MSU’s crushing 71-61 loss to the University of Georgia Thursday evening in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, The Dispatch learned of a consistent opinion after contacting numerous national writers and college basketball analysts regarding the NCAA tournament prospects for MSU.
The answer Thursday morning among ESPN analysts Joe Lunardi and Doug Gottlieb along with CBS Sports national contributor Seth Davis was MSU (21-11, 8-8 in SEC ) was one win in New Orleans away put them in next week’s field of 68.
“As long as they win the first game and don’t completely embarrass themselves in the conference tournament, they should be safely in,” CBS national columnist Gary Parrish said last week of MSU’s tournament hopes.
In his latest bracket projection posted Thursday morning, Lunardi had MSU as an 11-seed in Columbus, Ohio playing Ohio Valley Conference Tournament champion Murray State (30-1).
Almost immediately after the final horn of MSU’s devastating loss to Georgia, Davis and Gottlieb responded saying Mississippi State, with a ratings percentage index of 71 after Thursday night, was on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament. Last season the lowest-rated team which received an at-large bid into the 68-team field was the University of Alabama at Birmingham with an RPI of 67 and the Blazers’ selection into the First Four round in Dayton, Ohio was highly criticized by national pundits.
MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin declined to comment when asked by The Dispatch if the program would accept a bid in the National Invitational Tournament saying he “didn’t want to speculate” before the NCAA selections were revealed Sunday.
Lunardi is the projection expert MSU coach Rick Stansbury says he trusts the most when monitoring the situation over the years. While it’s unknown what his final projection on Sunday morning will forecast, Stansbury attempted to sell his program’s “body of work” over its 32-game season instead of the recent six losses in the last eight games.
“I’ve been in this chair a lot where you were in (and) where you’re out……coming into this game, (Lunardi) didn’t have us as one of the last four in or out — we were squarely above that,” Stansbury said.
“So naturally when you don’t just keep winning, you put yourself in position, you hope maybe some other people don’t do something or chance that someone else could slip.”
Stansbury, in a rant which seemingly left more questions than answers as to if coaches understand the selection process at all, said he believed even after the SEC Tournament loss Thursday night his team was one of the best 68 teams in the country.
“On a given day, our guys have an opportunity to compete against anybody,” Stansbury said. “And are we the best team in the country? No. But we’re darn sure one of the 68 best (teams). So we’ll see where it all shakes out in these next few days.”