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Hosting Strategy For Mississippi State: Priority One Is Winning SEC Games


Will the NCAA put a regional at Dudy Noble Field, where record crowds are sure to follow? (MSU Athletics photo)


By Colton Watson

 

A Sunday loss for Mississippi State against Alabama didn’t change much for Mississippi State baseball’s outlook on the postseason picture, and weekend results actually clinched the SEC Tournament in Hoover for MSU over the weekend, along with six others.

 

The Dawgs took care of business by winning the first two games in the series handily over the Crimson Tide, and they remain not only the fifth place team in conference standings, they’re in contention for one of those 16 coveted host positions in the NCAA Baseball Tournament. The 32-16 Bulldogs are 14-10 in SEC play, and a top-four seed in the SEC Tournament is not out of reach either. After the Eastern and Western division winners are slotted as the top two seeds, the third and fourth are by conference record regardless of division standing.

 

Playing home games in the post season is not just on the fan wish list, it’s also of the utmost priority to Head Coach Chris Lemonis and his team. Having a four-team regional in their own ballpark would be extremely advantageous for State’s chances to advance further in the post season.


The path to hosting is still straightforward for the most part, and while it’s been fun for the playing-at-home speculation to return, need we remind you it is first contingent on winning, more than half of the remaining six SEC regular season games in all likelihood. But, we’ll breakdown the possible paths State could take toward achieving the feat anyway.

 

Let’s get this out of the way first: if State has 1 or 0 losses the rest of the regular season, they’re hosting. Book it. They could even play their way into a Top-8 position with a record like that and some noise in Hoover. BUT, we do not expect them to finish quite that hot and would not dare predict it. The following are more realistic paths to a Top-16 national seed position and NCAA regional host.

 

Scenario 1: RPI 19 (as of 5/7/24) Mississippi State goes 5-2 in its final seven games of the regular season. State has three games at RPI 3 Arkansas, a game vs RPI 279 North Alabama, and three games vs RPI 94 Missouri to finish out the regular season. Any combination of 5-2, as long as North Alabama isn’t one of the 2, should have the Bulldogs comfortably hosting at 18-12 in the SEC and 37-18 overall.


This could include a 1-2 week at Arkansas and a sweep of Missouri, or simply winning both series. The results in the SEC Tournament should not matter much at that point, but it would be preferred that State doesn’t fall flat on its face in Hoover. An 18-12 SEC record does not guarantee a host spot, but it would be nearly unprecedented to not host with that clip.

 

Scenario 2: Mississippi State goes 4-2 in the final six games of the regular season. Baseball aficionados are familiar with the RPI, a predictive metric that attempts to provide order to the chaos of college baseball by ranking teams based on numbers and multi-level win-loss results. For a team near the front third or so of the RPI, playing a team in the bottom third can harm their RPI ranking even if they win. The RPI is used by the NCAA College Baseball Tournament Selection Committee (NCBTSC) as one of several data tools to help them seed and rank teams for both hosting spots and at-large bids in the NCAA tournament.


Now, normally it would behoove Mississippi State to cancel the upcoming game with North Alabama, since their low RPI can only harm State’s standings in the ranking system. However, the NCBTSC recently warned against this practice, saying that they would penalize teams if they suspected them of cancelling disadvantageous games late in the season.


State’s RPI sits at 19 at the time of this publication, and staying within the Top-20 RPI is crucial to their hosting chances. It remains to be seen how serious the threats are, and whether cancelling might still be worth it. Still, the Dawgs will not be dismayed by rain on May 14 for sure. A 4-2 clip the rest of the way without the UNA game would actually be better for the metrics than a 5-2 record with that game, as long as the reasons for the cancellation do not result in a penalty.

 

Scenario 3: Mississippi State goes 4-3 (or 3-3, see above) in the final seven games of the regular season, then makes a run in the SEC Tournament, which by the way is single elimination the first round unless you're in the top four seeds. If you flirt with risk in a .500 stretch showing, you're downright tempting disaster if you get to a win-or-you're-out must-win scenario on Tuesday, most likely without a weekend starter.

 

State could conceivably get swept at Arkansas or just lose that series and fail to sweep Missouri, which may have them on the hosting bubble. It should be stated that a 17-13 SEC team may be a host regardless, but for right now we will predict that State would need extra help if they were one win shy of 18 conference wins.


That means State would have to really show up in Hoover if they wanted to stay in contention, and Hoover has not been a place State has fared well in recent seasons.


Noteworthy is that in many cases, conference tournaments do little to decide either host-vs-non-host or in-vs-out of the NCAA Tournament; rather, it can affect seeding for some teams. An exception was 2021, when three Conference USA teams were all in contention for the 16th national seed, and therefore the last host team in the group of 16. The winner of the C-USA Tournament was going to get that spot, whichever it was among the three.


With a somewhat weak and fluctuating field this year on the back end of the Top-16 regional host contenders, Mississippi State could find themselves directly competing with other teams for a hosting position when they play their conference tournaments. Teams like Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina could be teams in the very same tournament that are equally vying for hosting position. A strong showing in Hoover, preferably at the expense of those other teams, could have State poised to host even at 17-13 in SEC play.

 

Scenario 4: Mississippi State goes 4-3 (or 3-3, see Scenario 2) in the final seven games of regular season, gets help from other teams.

 

We previously mentioned that the NCAA hosting bubble is kind of soft this year. That means there will be several teams which could potentially host who would, in most  years, normally not be in such a position. That means there is fluidity, and chaos, in the bottom part of the Top-16 seeds, specifically the 10-16 spots. Mississippi State could sneak into a Top-16 seed position at 17-13 if some of the crowd around them cleared a bit.


Around the country, there are several, if not dozens of, teams Mississippi State fans should root against in case they are unable to finish the final stretch of SEC play exactly the way they want to. We’ve compiled a few of them below:

 

>Georgia: a strong weekend vs Vanderbilt both nearly eliminated one and vaulted another team into the hosting discussion. Vanderbilt falls out, UGA leaps in. State luckily has the head-to-head case against Georgia if it came down to an us-vs-them scenario for the same national seed, but UGA could get the nod because of their stronger nonconference showing. UGA’s downfall could be a double-edged sword though, as the former MSU opponent’s RPI fall could harm State’s as well.

 

>South Carolina: a more clear-cut enemy of Mississippi State right now is SC, which State did not play this year. Because of this, their losses would affect Mississippi State’s RPI minimally, and they are right in the thick of things when it comes to snagging one of those last few hosting positions. A head-to-head win over SC in the SEC Tournament would do wonders for State’s hosting chances should it come down to either SC or MSU for a single spot.

 

>Virginia: UVA has been a host team pretty much all year, but they are not likely in that Top-8 echelon. A late-season collapse from the 'Hoos could only help State, as the Cavaliers are a projected double-digit-overall-seeded host team as of right this second.

 

>Oklahoma State: the Cowboys are playing good baseball amidst a chaotic Big 12. They have the same record as Mississippi State right now, with two series left to play versus two teams who will almost certainly not be NCAA Tournament hosts. State needs Texas Tech and Houston to give the Cowboys hell in the final weeks of the regular season.

 

>Oklahoma: the Sooner State is a hotbed right now for college baseball, and the Sooners are playing with their hair on fire and headed towards an NCAA regional hosting position. State would benefit if Oklahoma cooled down a little bit, but they have to rely on a sketchy Baylor or Cincinnati team to show up in the last two weeks to rain on the covered wagon parade over in Norman.

 

>Nebraska: the Huskers are looking to become the rare Big Ten host team in 2024, and they’ve been solid all season. They have Indiana and Michigan State left on the schedule, so State fans should be cheering for Spartans (the other MSU) and Hoosiers moving forward.

 

>Indiana State: it’s always a good story when a mid-major gets to host a regional, unless of course it comes at the expense of your favorite team doing the same. Indiana State, a mid-major power in college baseball, is not surprising most ball knowers this season. They are 34-10 and have beaten over a half-dozen major conference teams (if you consider the Big Ten to be a major conference in baseball, that is). The Sycamores are running away with the Missouri Valley conference, but the pressure is still on, as they finish up vs sneaky Evansville and Valparaiso. The committee would not take kindly to a late-season stumble from a team in a soft conference.

 

>Arizona: a PAC-12 surprise has been Arizona, who at 17-7 are among the PAC-12 front-runners. You could place the entire PAC-12 conference on this list, as Arizona, Oregon State, Oregon, and the "fighting Gary Hendersons" at Utah could all potentially earn a hosting designation with strong play down the stretch. Arizona is the one most similarly situated with Mississippi State, though. There is a great chance for a little cannibalization to occur, as the Wildcats face Utah and Oregon State to finish up the regular season.

 

All told, the door is wide open for the Bulldogs to play postseason baseball in Starkville. The projection and prognostication is meaningless, though, if State doesn’t handle business moving forward. Getting swept at Arkansas or a series loss vs Missouri could doom the Dawgs before they even step over the foul lines at Hoover, but State is playing good baseball right now and can expect to finish strong, if they remain focused. Still, keep some knocking wood close by for the next couple weeks if you bleed maroon and white.


*****

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