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Fanning-Otis expects MSU to get NCAA bid

 

Adam Minichino

 

Sharon Fanning-Otis is more anxious than nervous today. 

 

The veteran Mississippi State women''s basketball coach feels confident her team will be one of 64 announced at 6 p.m. today (ESPN) when the 64-team NCAA tournament field is announced. 

 

But Fanning-Otis has been coaching long enough to know nothing is guaranteed. 

 

And while people have told Fanning-Otis the Lady Bulldogs likely will be anywhere from a No. 7 seed to a No. 10 seed, she is eager to find out who her team will play and where it will go. 

 

"I expect to be in the tournament," Fanning-Otis said. "I feel like with our RPI (50 according to CollegeRPI.com), with our wins over top teams (five victories against ranked opponents), and the fact we don''t have any bad losses (that we''ll get in the NCAA tournament). 

 

"But there is nothing I can control about it now, so we''re trying to prepare for practice (today). I would be very, very disappointed if we were not on the board." 

 

MSU (19-12) finished in a four-way tie for third place in the Southeastern Conference with a 9-7 record. Tiebreakers helped the Lady Bulldogs earn the No. 3 seed in the SEC Tournament. MSU benefited from the stay, beating sixth-seeded Georgia for the second time this season before falling to second-seeded Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semifinals. 

 

Fanning-Otis said the Lady Bulldogs returned to practice following the loss and have regained their focus. That sometimes is tough to do given student-athletes have just taken mid-term exams and that many of their peers are enjoying spring break. 

 

But MSU hopes to spend much of this week preparing for its next game in the NCAA tournament. Fanning-Otis said her team worked hard in practice last week and feels it improved in advance of its next game. She hopes that next game will be in the NCAA tournament, which would mark the second consecutive season MSU has appeared in the field. 

 

Last season, MSU earned a No. 11 seed and upset sixth-seeded Texas before falling to third-seeded Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. 

 

Fanning-Otis hopes the Lady Bulldogs, who start four seniors who played key roles in last season''s 23-11 record, can implement the lessons learned last season in preparation for another NCAA tournament run. 

 

"It is up to us to do this last part now," Fanning-Otis said. "Hopefully we will be able to step up and do our best." 

 

According to CollegeRPI.com, 16 teams with better Ratings Percentage Indexes than MSU have five or more victories against teams with RPIs of 200 or better.  

 

A year ago, MSU''s strength of schedule was a concern entering NCAA tournament Selection Monday. As a result, MSU waited until late in the broadcast to learn it had earned a No. 11 seed. That seed is usually reserved for one of the final at-large teams picked to the 64-team field. 

 

This year, the Lady Bulldogs, who have a RPI of 50 and a Strength of Schedule of 44 according to CollegeRPI.com, appear to be in better shape. They are 5-0 against teams with RPIs of 200 or higher. The only negative to come out of the SEC Tournament was MSU squandered a 14-point second-half lead against Kentucky in the semifinals en route to losing a 76-65 decision. 

 

ESPN''s Charlie Creme, who projects the field of 64 with his Bracketology, said the loss to Kentucky could have hurt MSU''s seeding in the tournament, but he still has MSU as a No. 9 seed. He has the Lady Bulldogs matched up against eighth-seeded North Carolina State in a first-round game in Stanford, Calif., in the Sacramento Region. 

 

Of the 16 teams with an equal or higher number of victories against teams with RPIs of 200 or more than MSU, only Fresno State (27-6), Southern California (19-12), Dayton (24-7), North Carolina (18-11), Maryland (19-12), and Illinois State (24-7) figure to have a little anxiety tonight as they watch ESPN. Upsets in conferences like the Horizon League, where Wisconsin-Green Bay (27-4), America East, where Vermont beat Hartford (27-4) on its home floor, and Missouri Valley, where Illinois State (24-7) lost to Northern Iowa in the tournament semifinals, could put some of those teams in jeopardy, but MSU should be safe. 

 

The only team that could have an edge on MSU is Southern California. The Women of Troy beat MSU 64-60 in the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands on Nov. 28. They were third in the Pacific-10 Conference with a 12-6 regular-season record, and lost to UCLA on Sunday in the conference tournament semifinals. They have a RPI of 36 and a SOS of 21. 

 

North Carolina tied for seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 6-8 mark. The Tar Heels had a RPI of 39 and a SOS of 23. 

 

Illinois State won the Missouri Valley regular-season title, and has a RPI of 49 and a SOS of 109. 

 

MSU defeated Maryland (RPI 46, SOS of 42), which was ninth in the ACC at 5-9, 84-55 on Nov. 22 in Starkville. 

 

Fresno State (RPI of 34, SOS of 95) went 16-0 to win the regular-season title in the Western Athletic Conference title. Louisiana Tech upset Fresno State in the finals of the WAC Tournament. 

 

MSU defeated Louisiana Tech 72-68 on Dec. 12 in Ruston, La. 

 

The NCAA tournament selection committee uses the RPI and SOS as factors when it picks the at-large teams to the field of 64. 

 

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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