By John L. Pitts | NEMS Daily Journal
College basketball’s NCAA March Madness will carry on without either Mississippi State or Ole Miss.
The Bulldogs and Rebels will play in the second-tier National Invitation Tournament this week after failing to earn berths in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Both teams will open NIT play at home. Mississippi State hosts Massachusetts on Tuesday at 6 p.m., while Ole Miss entertains Illinois State on Wednesday at 8:30 p.m.
If they can advance that far in the 32-team event, MSU and Ole Miss are seeded to meet in the NIT semifinals on March 27 in New York City.
Ole Miss lost in the first round of the NIT last season but reached the Final Four in 2010. Mississippi State, which did not reach the postseason last year, fell in the second round of the NIT in 2010.
The state will have two NCAA men’s teams, as Southern Miss (25-8) made the field as an at-large team, while Mississippi Valley State (21-12) advanced as the champion of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Valley and Western Kentucky meet in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday in a first-round game, with the winner playing top-ranked Kentucky on Thursday. Southern Miss faces Kansas State on Thursday in Pittsburgh.
It’s the first NCAA appearance for Southern Miss since back-to-back tourney trips in 1990-91.
Ole Miss (20-13) struggled in February but won five of its last six games, falling 65-53 to eventual SEC champion Vanderbilt in Saturday’s league semifinals. That fast finish couldn’t compensate for the lack of a real “signature win” during the regular season against an elite opponent.
The Rebels haven’t been to the NCAA tourney since 2002, a year after their only Sweet 16 trip.
Mississippi State (21-11) had a signature victory – 78-77 over Vanderbilt in Nashville on Jan. 21 – but the Bulldogs closed the season by losing six of their last eight games.
MSU hasn’t been to the NCAA tourney since 2009.
Four SEC teams made the NCAA field: Overall top seed Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida and Alabama.
The NCAA women’s tournament field will be announced tonight.