March 15, 2010 1:06:00 PM
David Miller -
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In the end of Mississippi State''s statement run at the Southeastern Conference Tournament, the Bulldogs were shut out of the NCAA Tournament for not doing enough during the course of the season.
Throw out the added high-RPI win against Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament semifinals Saturday. Throw out a win against NCAA qualifier Florida in the tournament Friday. Nevermind pushing No. 1 seed Kentucky to the limit in a 75-74 overtime loss in the title game Sunday.
Mississippi State (23-11) was 1/10th of a second short of beating Kentucky and earning an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs were forced to overtime when Kentucky''s DeMarcus Cousins scored on a putback of a missed shot by John Wall at the buzzer.
A weak non-conference schedule, which included 12 teams with an RPI higher than 100 and six higher than 200, was Mississippi State''s brow breaker in the tournament selection committee''s eyes.
"It''s not necessarily about how you finish, but what you do during course of the year," NCAA selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero said. "It''s (MSU''s) entire body of work in a general sense. We''ve said that all along."
The Bulldogs'' 79th-ranked non-conference strength of schedule hurt them in the end, along with their 57 RPI ranking.
And for the first time since the SEC split into two divisions, no team from the Western Division made the NCAA field.
The Bulldogs, instead, will host Jackson State at 9 p.m. Tuesday in the opening round of the NIT. The Bulldogs received one of four No. 1 seeds and will host three games, assuming they keep winning, before the semifinals start in New York.
"Obviously, Mississippi State was definitely in the conversation," Guerrero said. "We were all very excited to see them make that run there at the end. Twelve of the 15 non-conference games were against teams below 110 and they certainly had four losses to teams below 100."
Certainly, MSU''s two wins against RPI top 50 teams (Vanderbilt and Old Dominion) earned it points, but the team''s losses to Rider, Western Kentucky, Auburn and Arkansas gave the Bulldogs four defeats to teams with RPIs of 130 or higher.
Overall, the Bulldogs won just six games against the RPI top 100 and were doomed by not only their bad losses, but their missed opportunities in close games.
Two overtime losses to Kentucky, a one-point loss to top-30 RPI team Richmond, and a three-point loss at Vanderbilt show that Mississippi State had its chances in close contests.
MSU coach Rick Stansbury, who declined to comment on the team''s NCAA rejection and subsequent NIT path, agreed his team''s fate was partially of its own doing.
"Again, this wouldn''t even be a conversation if it wasn''t for the other overtime loss we had to [Kentucky]," Stansbury said after Sunday''s loss.
Mississippi State point guard Dee Bost expressed his frustration and disbelief on twitter.
"We didn''t make da tourny u gotta be kidding me," he wrote. "If u play the number 2 team to the wire twice & still don''t get in it''s krazy."
Among the bubble teams that got in, Florida''s No. 10 seed may resonate with Bulldogs fans more than Utah State receiving an at-large bid. The Bulldogs beat the Gators in the SEC Tournament, creating a debate over head-to-head matches at the end of the season. The teams split this season, but Florida''s wins against Michigan State, Florida State and Tennessee buoyed its eight victories against the RPI top 100 and three against the top 50.
New Mexico State''s upset of Utah State in the Western Athletic Conference tournament final took away an at-large bid for bubble losers Virginia Tech and MSU. Utah State, which had three wins against the RPI top 50 and is ranked 31st in the RPI, received and at-large bid anyway, but New Mexico State''s numbers (No. 51 RPI, 72 strength of schedule) are comparable to MSU''s (No. 57 RPI, 74 strength of schedule) in regard to at-large chances.
"I feel terrible for Mississippi State," Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said. "Sheesh, what else can you do?"