TAMPA, Fla. – Once again, the odds are stacked against Mississippi State. Big deal.
The Bulldogs are just ecstatic to be in the NCAA tournament. They’ll travel all the way to Portland, Ore., as a No. 13 seed and will play No. 4 seed Washington in Thursday’s first-round West Region game.
Being a 13th-seeded team “is great compared to when we woke up to this morning,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “We’re happy just to be in it. We’re not concerned where we’re going, or who we’re playing. We’re very happy to be a part of it.”
Four wins in four days in the SEC Tournament earned the automatic berth. One loss likely would have relegated State (23-12) to the NIT.
Before the SEC tourney, junior center Jarvis Varnado told his teammates they were “on a mission” to win it and make the Big Dance for the sixth time in Stansbury’s 11 years in Starkville.
“It’s just amazing, you know,” Varnado said. “We weren’t expected to win the SEC Tournament. Coming in here and winning it and seeing our names across that board, it’s just a great feeling.”
MSU made the tournament last year. That team won the Western Division title and went in as a No. 8 seed, beating Oregon before losing to eventual national runner-up Memphis in the second round.
Varnado and junior Barry Stewart are the only starters returning from that squad. The Bulldogs think their experience in Tampa, though, makes up for whatever they may lack.
“The team last year had been through some championship experiences already, this one hadn’t. We just came out of a championship experience,” Stansbury said. “That kind of environment, that kind of energy, that kind of one-and-done attitude, that’s all it was for us.”
State has never advanced past the second round of the NCAAs under Stansbury. Doing so this year seems highly unlikely – but then, so did getting this far in the first place.
“Y’all have seen what we just came off the court against these last three days. Our team, we feel like we’ve got a chance to play against anybody right now,” Stansbury said.
Sophomore Phil Turner said the key is to carry the momentum of this SEC Tournament triumph with them to Portland.
“We’re just going to go down and take the same attitude that we’ve been taking these last couple of games,” he said, “and that’s just go down and play hard and play together.”
Brad Locke/Daily Journal