At first glance, one would think Mississippi State is more deserving of an NCAA tournament berth than Ole Miss. Yet every bracket projection I’ve seen gives the Rebels a better shot at making the field of 65, despite the fact that MSU won both meetings between the teams this season.
It’s one of the many staples of college basketball’s postseason paradigm: One or two games don’t matter nearly as much as the bigger picture and the numbers that define that picture.
Jerry Palm, for example, currently has Ole Miss in as a No. 11 seed. MSU’s not even among his first four out.
So anyway, let us look at those numbers that the NCAA selection committee so closely scrutinizes, and maybe we can surmise whether Ole Miss really is more deserving of a bid than MSU. (Note: These numbers come from RealTimeRPI.com)
• Records: MSU 21-10 (9-7 SEC), Ole Miss 21-9 (9-7 SEC)
• RPI: MSU 67, Ole Miss 57
• Strength of schedule: MSU 105, Ole Miss 72
• Quality wins*: MSU 7, Ole Miss 6
• Bad losses: MSU 4, Ole Miss 1
• Record vs. top 100 RPI: MSU 7-6, Ole Miss 6-8
• Record vs. top 50 RPI: MSU 1-4, Ole Miss 2-5
• Record vs. top 25 RPI: MSU 0-4, Ole Miss 1-5
*–RealTimeRPI.com seems to have a rather loose definition of what is a “quality win”; for example, MSU’s victory over Georgia counted as a quality win.
We’ll call it a push as far as overall record. Otherwise, Ole Miss has the edge in five of the seven categories above. The RPI and strength of schedule are the two most people look at first, and so those are two huge pluses for the Rebs.
As for the other categories, MSU is right there with its rival.
As for the quality wins I touched on, the biggest one for Ole Miss is that triumph over Kansas State (RPI: 6), the nation’s No. 9 ranked team. For MSU, its best win was against Old Dominion (RPI: 29), the Colonial Athletic Association champ.
Now, I know that many of you would quickly point back to State’s two wins over Ole Miss (80-75 in Oxford, 71-63 in Oxford) in arguing for the Bulldogs. And it’s a fine point to make.
Problem is, MSU isn’t playing like the team that beat the Rebels, and unless it regains that form in Nashville this weekend, MSU fans could see a most unfortunate scenario unfold on Selection Sunday: Ole Miss going dancing while the Bulldogs settle for the NIT.