By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ORLEANS – Mississippi State does not deserve an NCAA tournament at-large bid.
Those are words I did not expect to type even as of Thursday afternoon. Like a lot of people, I figured a first-round SEC tournament win over Georgia that night would put the Bulldogs in comfortable position for their first NCAA berth in three years.
But then, inexplicably, MSU lost to Georgia. For the second time this season. A sub-.500 Georgia team that had no business shutting down State’s frontcourt twice in one season.
The first loss to Georgia, on Feb. 11 in Starkville, marked the beginning of MSU’s descent. It entered that game ranked 20th in the country and looking like a lock for the NCAAs.
You know the rest. Five consecutive losses, an overtime win against the worst team in the SEC (South Carolina), and a 20-point home win over Arkansas.
Those last two wins kept MSU (21-11) on what’s been a very forgiving bubble this season. So forgiving that there is still a chance, however slim, that Rick Stansbury’s team might yet get a bid on Sunday.
In Thursday’s postgame remarks, Stansbury was campaigning hard for his Bulldogs, asking folks to consider the entire body of work. Problem is, the body of work isn’t that great.
I won’t get too deeply into the résumé here, but MSU went 8-8 in a relatively weak conference, including 4-5 against the bottom five teams. If you want to make an argument for MSU, you’re going to have to hang it on the non-conference part of the schedule.
But that half of the résumé can’t gloss over the glaring deficiencies we’ve seen the past four weeks. State has lost six of its last eight, and neither of those two wins are much to brag about.
What could ultimately keep MSU out of the tourney are the Georgia losses.
“We could point to a lot of things, not just those two losses,” freshman Rodney Hood said, and in a way he’s right.
Because those two losses revealed a team that doesn’t have heart. Those are Renardo Sidney’s words, not mine, although I find it hard to disagree. So point to that if you want.
“We just didn’t go out there and play hard, and we didn’t have no heart,” Sidney said Thursday.
That’s really the only explanation that makes some sense of why this team has grossly underachieved. It has two first-team All-SEC guys in Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie, and a player in Sidney who has as much pure talent as anybody in the league.
Rodney Hood is one of the best freshmen in the SEC. MSU has solid role players in Brian Bryant and Jalen Steele.
You could come up with some excuses for why State has struggled – a thin bench, injuries, an end-of-season schedule heavy on travel – but the reasons for why it ought to be better far outweigh all of that.
This season has been a failure for MSU relative to what it should have accomplished. Teams that fail shouldn’t be awarded an NCAA berth.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.