At 6 o’clock tonight, Mississippi State’s women’s basketball team will learn its fate in the NCAA Tournament when the selection show airs on ESPN. Under the recent changes, MSU isn’t just hoping for a good matchup. They’re aiming to host the first two rounds in Starkville.
The top 16 seeds in the tournament – the 1-4 seeds in each regional, more specifically – host the first two rounds on their home floor. The case for MSU to be one of those teams, head coach Vic Schaefer believes, is a pretty good one.
At 26-7 overall, MSU is the No. 15 team in the country by the Associated Press poll and No. 14 in the USA Today Top 25. With that record, the Bulldogs finished No. 2 in the SEC, the second-best league in the country in terms of RPI, and advanced to the championship game of the conference tournament last weekend.
MSU doesn’t have single loss outside the RPI to 50 and owns a 5-7 record against top 50 teams. Even more relevant, State is on fire lately, having gone 9-3 in the last 12 games, including a 6-2 record in the last eight road games.
It’s for those reasons that Schaefer thinks his team’s resume is all set for hosting as the selection committee makes their decisions.
“I don’t think we have to do anything,” he said. “At the end of the day, if we’re trying to seed the top 16 teams in the country, how can you say we’re not one of the top 16 teams in the country? To me, that’s it, in a nutshell. I don’t think you have to add anything else and justify anything. I think we’re one of the top 16 teams in the country and I think people will recognize that and reward us for that.”
Of course, one of the best things Schaefer’s team has going is something that doesn’t factor into the decision: MSU’s fans. Crowds in Humphrey Coliseum averaged over 5,000 this season for MSU, including a record-setting attendance of over 10,000 for MSU’s game against No. 2 South Carolina on a Sunday afternoon.
As MSU waits, Schaefer can’t help imagining what The Hump would be like for NCAA Tournament games, just two years after the place was filled when his team hosted in the WNIT.
“It would be unbelievable,” Schaefer said. “I think our game deserves that. I think it would be wonderful if we could provide that here in the The Hump. I think the other teams would absolutely enjoy it, embrace it and really appreciate it. There aren’t many places like that across the country. I think our fans would absolutely come out.
“All we’ve done is try to create a great environment here for women’s basketball and something that our sport can be proud of,” he continued. “I think people across the country have noticed that. They do acknowledge that. They certainly know what we’ve been able to create here in this short period of time. From a national standpoint, I’m sure we have everyone’s attention in that matter. But, again, if you’re trying to be fair across the board, you have to take that out and say, ‘Who are our top 16 teams?’ That’s who deserves to be in the mix. That said, I know the committee will do a tremendous job and that they’ll do what they think is best for our game.”
Of course, Schaefer does think he has one of the best 16 teams, a belief the Associated press and USA Today voters seem to share. In a league which will likely send nine teams to the NCAA Tournament, MSU finished second, behind only the No. 2 team in the country. The Bulldogs are one of the hottest teams in the nation entering the tournament, and certainly, it would seem, one of the best.
Whatever happens, though, Schaefer said he will be pleased. After all, it could be worse.
“We could be one of those teams out there hoping to get in,” he pointed out. “We know we’re gonna play, and that’s the beauty.”