August 7, 2017 2:12:10 PM
First, for those that haven't seen it, here it is:
Nov. 10 Alabama State
Nov. 18 Florida A&M
Nov. 20 Green Bay
Nov. 22 Stephen F. Austin
Nov. 26 Jacksonville State
Nov. 30 North Dakota State
Dec. 3 Dayton
Dec. 9 North Georgia
Dec. 12 at Cincinnati
Dec. 16 UT Martin
Dec. 20 Arkansas-Little Rock
Dec. 23 Southern Miss (Mississippi Coliseum, Jackson)
Dec. 30 North Florida
A pair of quick hitters before my biggest takeaway.
- First of all, you are reading that right. There is only one game outside of the state of Mississippi and only two outside of The Hump. More on that later.
- There will also be an exhibition game on Nov. 2, the opponent TBA.
The short version of it: I went into the offseason thinking the 2017-18 Bulldogs had a ceiling of cracking the NCAA Tournament. I was hoping the schedule would reflect that ceiling with multiple recognizable programs on the schedule. That didn't happen, but I still think the tournament bid is possible.
I had heard the schedule was going to feature a lot of home games and some lackluster names on the schedule. Then I saw this and some of the names were even worse than I had expected: North Georgia, for example, being a Division II school. But then I reconsidered. If the Southeastern Conference takes the step forward that so many coaches expect -- I heard Auburn coach Bruce Pearl say on a radio interview recently he thinks as many as six or seven SEC teams could reach the NCAA Tournament -- this could be enough to get MSU to tournament consideration, assuming MSU does what it is expected to do and win almost every non-conference game.
First, to address that expectation: MSU should win every game except Dayton and Cincinnati, and it's not ridiculous to say MSU beats one of those two -- particularly the home game against Dayton, a team losing four seniors, most likely losing a bench player in hilarious arrest story fashion (Google 'Sam Miller Dayton' and get back to me) and taking on a coaching change.
Now, minus Dayton and Cincinnati, a lot of those teams aren't going to do a lot for strength of schedule, RPI, KenPom, etc. (To be fair, there will be a certain amount of respect for taking on consistent mid-major programs like Green Bay, Arkansas-Little Rock and Stephen F. Austin.) But, take into account that last year's non-con schedule was more or less on the same level and MSU's strength of schedule ranked 72nd on KenPom. A boost from the SEC could easily get MSU's strength of schedule ranking into potential tournament range, especially if MSU hits the 20-win mark that is certainly within reach after a 12-1 non-conference slate.
Now, doing enough on the road to impress the committee will be challenging, since the non-conference slate is often a team's best opportunity to do that and MSU has only given itself one such opportunity. That's an obvious hole in the schedule. But that's not necessarily the undoing of it all, especially if MSU can find a way to get 10+ SEC wins.
So, to wrap it up: Yes, I wanted more marquee games out of MSU's non-conference. But, ultimately, I wanted that because I thought that's what MSU needed to give itself a true shot in the tournament. This non-conference schedule is far from marquee, but I think it keeps MSU's shot at being a bubble team in tact (even if the window is small), and that's the name of the game at this point, isn't it?