HED:Parrish Alford: Wait and wonder’ land filled with Bulldogs

CATEGORY: Basketball

AUTHOR: PARRIS

HED:Parrish Alford: Wait and wonder’ land filled with Bulldogs, Rebels

ATLANTA — Ole Miss isn’t the state’s only college basketball team on edge today.

Mississippi State joined the Rebels in the land of wait and wonder Saturday.

The Bulldogs’ 84-79 loss to No. 22 Arkansas ended a surprising run in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, which placed them into the center of debate.

What matters more to the NCAA Tournament selection committee? Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) rankings or how a team finishes the season?

RPI is a formula involving a team’s record, its strength of schedule and the strength of its opponents’ schedules which is one criteria used by the committee to determine at-large bids.

“You’ve seen us for three days now,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury told writers late Saturday. “If this is not one of the top 64 teams, then we need to change the people who make the selections.”

SEC coaches believe six teams will be invited to the NCAA tournament when bids go out late today. If that’s true, look for the selection committee to, intentional or not, make MSU and Ole Miss and national statement on the significance of RPI rankings.

Exactly how important is the RPI, and how important is the strong finish?

State has won seven of its last 11. Three losses were to ranked teams. The Bulldogs made the postseason run and pulled off the upset the committee says it likes to see.

Ole Miss has the RPI, which is believed to carry great weight.

Not surprisingly, Ole Miss players think the RPI should weigh heavily.

Opinions were different in the MSU locker room. The Bulldogs have 20 wins. Ole Miss has 19 wins against a stronger schedule.

“It’s all about wins and losses,” said Todd Myles, State’s backup point guard. “The RPI won’t get you fired. Wins and losses will get you fired. Ask the Vanderbilt coach if he’d rather have 20 wins or an RPI right now.”

The soft schedule continues to cloud State’s immediate future.

It’s not just playing the Southeastern Louisianas of the world, it’s who the Southeasterns played.

Southeastern didn’t leave Starkville and head on to Durham and Chapel Hill.

While the Bulldogs’ own schedule improved greatly when conference play began, their RPI can improve only so much, because when conference play began for Southeastern Louisiana it was a Southland Conference schedule — not an SEC schedule.

State’s RPI was 102 when the tournament began and improved to 89 after wins against Vanderbilt and Tennessee. The team with the worst RPI ranking to receive an at-large bid had a 69.

“Players don’t even know what RPI is,” MSU senior guard Bart Hyche said. “All we know is we’re as good as anybody in the SEC right now. You can’t compare this team to the one that walked on the floor in Jackson against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.”

The uncertainty over when Humphrey Coliseum renovation would be completed was partially responsible for the MSU schedule.

Next year the Bulldogs need to just find the baddest bear in the woods and go play. Even if it’s in the bear’s woods.

MSU AD Larry Templeton, without giving specifics, says the schedule will be improved next year.

He also said he expects State to get a bid today.

“The way we’ll get in is if the committee is willing to take a close look at how we ended the season,” Templeton said. “If we don’t get in, then they better be ready to seed Arkansas and Tennessee 14th and 16th.

“And I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Parrish Alford covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal.