Mississippi State has done this before, and almost did it last year, and it needs to do it this season: Win the SEC Tournament.
There's no question that's the only way the Bulldogs reach the 2011 NCAA tournament. Coach Rick Stansbury said there's not been much talk about it among the team, but plenty of current players were around for the 2009 run – and the 2010 run, when MSU lost to Kentucky in the title game – so maybe not much needs to be said.
"There will be a time that we'll talk about what we've done over there," Stansbury said this morning on the coaches teleconference. "I think it's very obvious it's no longer a 16-game season, it's a three-game season for us. We don't have to be the best team for 16 games no more, we've just got to be the best team for three games."
That approach has served State well in the past. It should be especially helpful for this year's team, which has undergone numerous personnel changes since November.
"We basically played three different seasons with this team and started over in SEC play," Stansbury said. "… Our guys have come a long way to put themselves in the position to have this opportunity, I think it says a lot for what they've done. We've done it before, we've won that tournament. I think our team's been a good SEC Tournament team."
MSU has as good a shot as anybody to win this thing. It went 5-2 against the teams on its side of the bracket, for whatever that's worth. The Bulldogs open Friday against the LSU-Vanderbilt first-round winner.
"That sounds good, but you know this, none of those matter now," the coach said. "I don't care where they were played at, who they were against, but unfortunately none of them matter now. The only one that matters is that next one."
Stansbury noted the main difference in this year's tournament field compared to last year's: There is no clear-cut favorite. But if you want a favorite, he likes Florida (24-6, 13-3 SEC).
"Florida's been the most consistent team as anybody."
I'll have more on the Bulldogs in tomorrow's Daily Journal, in the form of an opinion offering.