Mississippi State has already advanced further in the SEC Tournament this year under coach Vic Schaefer and have yet to even play a game.
The Bulldogs have never gone beyond the second round during Schaefer’s first two seasons. This year MSU was able to secure a No. 3 seed which also comes with the benefit of a double bye.
The 11th-ranked Bulldogs play the late game tonight in Little Rock, Ark., at 8:30 p.m. against Kentucky on the SEC Network. The sixth-seeded Wildcats defeated Vanderbilt 67-61 in the second round on Thursday night to improve to 22-8 overall.
State has a lot at stake tonight in terms of its seeding and host chances for the NCAA Tournament. The latest NCAA Tournament projection from ESPN’s Charlie Creme has the Bulldogs hosting as the No. 4 seed.
“If we win one in the SEC Tournament to make it to the semifinals, I think you improve your seeding in the NCAA Tournament,” Schaefer said. “We’ve put that out there and our kids know what’s in front of them. I’ve tried to be up front and honest with them about everything all year. I want them to live it, embrace it and take on the responsibility.”
Mississippi State is 15-35 all-time in the SEC Tournament and has only reached the championship game once, losing a 70-67 decision to Tennessee in 2000.
Schaefer’s squad finished this year’s regular season with a school-best 26-5 record including an 11-5 mark inside the league. Two of the Bulldogs losses came in double overtime, one of which was to the Wildcats in Lexington, 92-90.
The Bulldogs No. 3 seed ties for their highest ever seeding in the SEC Tournament. MSU was also the three-seed in the 2010 SEC Tournament but were eliminated in the semifinals.
“We’re keeping our priority on the SEC Tournament and just want to make a big run,” said MSU senior center Martha Alwal.
Schaefer believes the SEC Tournament field is wide open with multiple teams that not only have a chance to play for the championship on Sunday but also have their postseason fate at risk as well.
“I think on any given night, there are several teams who can win,” Schaefer said. “You’re on a neutral floor and there are a lot of quality teams. You’ve got some teams that are playing for their NCAA life and that creates a lot of excitement and a different atmosphere. You’ve also got some teams playing for the ability to host. I’m looking forward to it being a great tournament.”