Inconsistent play is usually one of the biggest reasons a college basketball team finds itself on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
On an almost annual basis, Dayton seems to be one of those teams. Generally, the Flyers start strong and meet some resistance in a challenging Atlantic 10 conference. This year appears to be somewhat similar.
Meanwhile, a team from a “Power Six” conference who spends most of the season in the Top 25 usually has little danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. However, Mississippi State could be an exception to that rule. The Bulldogs’ resume deserves to be placed under more scrutiny than it has been thus far—probably due to their weekly spot in the Top 25.
Here is a quick summary of the key numbers on Dayton and Mississippi State:
Dayton: 17-10 Overall, 7-6 A-10; RPI 69, SOS 58, 3-4 vs. current RPI top 50
Mississippi State: 19-9 Overall, 6-7 SEC; RPI 60, SOS 65, 3-3 vs. current RPI top 50
Common Opponents: Alabama (both won), Mississippi (Dayton won, Miss. St. split two games)
RPI information from realtimerpi.com, updated Feb. 23
The Atlantic 10—currently the seventh-best conference, based on RPI rankings—has two likely NCAA Tournament teams in Temple and Saint Louis. It has a third team with a decent shot of making it as well in Xavier.
Dayton has defeated all three of those teams. The Flyers beat Saint Louis and immediately followed that up with a win at Temple, the current conference-leader. Then, Dayton dominated nearby-rival Xavier by 15 at home.
In non-conference play, Dayton helped its case by winning the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. The Flyers beat Minnesota in the Final, their most notable win of the three. While the overall competition in the field wasn’t as strong as in other years, the ability to win an early-season tournament always looks good to the selection committee.
Dayton also beat Alabama—back when it was a Top 15 team—and later Ole Miss in the month of December. Those wins could certainly help the Flyers when stacked up against potential SEC bubble teams, like Mississippi State.
Overall, the ability to beat quality teams at home (St. Louis, Ole Miss), away (Temple) and on a neutral floor (Minnesota) helps to show that Dayton can hold its own in an NCAA Tournament setting.
Since beating Xavier on Jan. 25, Dayton has been on a very suspect slide. The Flyers lost four straight after the win over their rivals, falling below .500 in conference play before winning their last two.
Two of the losses—at Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis—aren’t anything to be ashamed of. However, home losses to Duquesne and in particular Rhode Island—a team with just five wins all season—highlight just how inconsistent Dayton can be.
Another example of Dayton’s inconsistency came after winning the Old Spice Classic. In the first game after beating Minnesota for the title, the Flyers lost to Buffalo at home by 29 points. Buffalo is a pretty good team (16-7 overall), but Dayton has no business losing that badly to them.
They lost to another MAC team as well in Miami (OH), who is definitely not having as good a season (8-16 overall) as Buffalo.
While Dayton has a couple of solid non-conference wins, it didn’t beat—or even play, for that matter—anyone who is a surefire NCAA Tournament team outside the A-10. The closest teams to that are probably Murray State and Seton Hall, each of whom Dayton lost to.
Dayton’s questionable losses at different points in the season may more than offset the quality wins it has against the top tier of the A-10.
Mississippi State asserted itself pretty early on this season, beating Texas A&M and Arizona—both Top 20 teams back then—in Madison Square Garden in the 2K Sports Classic. The Bulldogs followed that up a couple weeks later with a win over West Virginia.
Perhaps the most impressive showing in non-conference play by Mississippi State was in a loss. The Bulldogs nearly handed Baylor its first loss of the season back in late December, losing 54-52 in Dallas.
That game helped reinforce the notion that MSU could be a legitimate Top 20 team.
While the SEC no longer has East and West divisions in basketball, Mississippi State is currently the best team among those who made up the former West division. They are in fourth place overall, just a half-game behind Vanderbilt, whom the Bulldogs beat on their own court back in January.
That is likely the biggest win of the season, to date, for Mississippi State.
The past week hasn’t been particularly good for Mississippi State. It lost to Georgia—just 3-8 in the SEC—at home and then at LSU. A legitimate tournament team should win both of those games.
The loss at LSU may not have come as much of a surprise to some, given Mississippi State’s lack of success on the road. The Bulldogs have lost four of five on the road in the SEC, with their only win coming at Vanderbilt.
Part of that lack of success may come from having played just one true road game in non-conference play, that being a win at Detroit.
While the early season wins over Texas A&M and Arizona helped get Mississippi State into the national rankings, neither of those holds too much weight at this point in the season. At just 13-12 overall, Texas A&M has little to no shot of making the NCAAs (outside of winning the league title), and Arizona still has some work to do to earn its spot.
That leaves one truly solid win—at Vanderbilt—on which Mississippi State can hang its hat. For an SEC team, that leaves a bit to be desired.
If Selection Sunday was this weekend, Mississippi State would still be in the Field of 68. Dayton, meanwhile, still has a bit of work to do in A-10 play.
With five games to play in the SEC, MSU better be careful to not play its way out, which is still very much a possibility. It still has to face No. 1 Kentucky and has to play three games on the road against Auburn, Alabama and South Carolina.
Assuming they don’t upset Kentucky, if the Bulldogs lose two of those three road games, they will finish 8-8 in the SEC. That record might fly with the committee if they had to face UK, Vandy and Florida twice each (like the other former East division teams do). However, going .500 with a West division schedule may very well not cut it, by itself.
While Mississippi State is trying to avoid falling out of the NCAA Tournament, Dayton has a couple good chances down the stretch to play its way in. A game at Xavier this weekend is the first one; a sweep over the Musketeers would certainly help the Flyers' cause. A win over Massachusetts—currently tied with Xavier for third place—would also help.
Given Dayton’s inconsistencies this season, Mississippi State is the better bet of the two to ultimately make it. However, don’t be shocked if the Bulldogs’ name is not announced on Selection Sunday.
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