Wednesday night's victory over LSU gave the 2011-2012 version of the Mississippi State basketball team 17 wins on the season. Last year, State had 17 wins too. TOTAL. So to say this year has been an upgrade in success from last year would be an understatement. State has already secured victories over Arizona, Texas A&M, as well as playing projected national top-4 seed Baylor to within 2 points.
There's no denying that the difference from last year to this year has been the addition of Arnett Moultrie and Rodney Hood, coupled with the renewed health of Jalen Steele. The trio have relieved the pressure Dee Bost felt last year to be the leading scorer every night for his team, freeing him up to assume the point guard role in a more traditional sense this season.
At 17-4 overall, 4-2 in the SEC, State sits in a good position to make the NCAA tournament. That, of course, is barring any unforeseen late season collapse finishing out SEC play. But the question on every State fans mind, including mine, is this: what does this team need to do to elevate itself from an "NCAA team" to an "NCAA contender"?
My answer? Well, my answer lies within the Bulldogs next six-game stretch. After setting themselves up well starting the year at 17-4, State has the chance with its upcoming schedule to put themselves in the conversation for a top 10 ranking and possibly 3-4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Further explanation forthcoming after the juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuummmmppppp.
Great seasons often come together when the combination of all circumstances surrounding that team fall into place perfectly. One of those circumstances is a team's schedule, and at this point in the season the schedule appears to be falling in State's favor. After winning last night's bout with LSU, State travels to Gainesville Saturday to take on Florida. Now I'm not downplaying the talent level at Florida this year, or any year for that matter. The 14th ranked Gators are ranked that high for a reason, and they can certainly be considered one of the top 3 teams in the SEC this season. But it seems State has played well in Gainesville the last several visits, and we can only hope that the team that showed up in the 2nd half against Vandy is the team that makes the trip to Florida Saturday.
After Gainesville, the Dogs come back to home sweet Hump for a trio of home games against Auburn, Ole Miss and Georgia. Even though nothing is guaranteed night in and night out in the SEC, I'd say it's a fairly safe assumption to presume State can navigate that threesome to the tune of 3-0.
After that it's back to back road games against LSU on Valentine's Day and Auburn on February 18th. Both are winnable games, and IF State was to come out of those first 4 games at 4-0, you would think they would be carrying a good bit of momentum into Baton Rouge.
Even if State loses 1, maybe 2 of those 6 games, they will be sitting at no worse than 21-6 before that huge, HUGE Super Tuesday game at home versus #1 Kentucky.
What does all of this mean? Nothing, really. State could come out Saturday flat and uninspired against Florida and get blown out, spiraling into a tailspin of loss after loss and this whole scenario would just go right out the window. The point I'm trying to get across is that with the upcoming schedule laid out before them, there is ample opportunity for State to be 23-4 or 22-5 heading into that crucial Kentucky game.
I would consider winning 5 out of that 6 game stretch a success, and 4 out of 6 would be quite MEH. But BUT (crosses fingers) if State could win all 6 and be 23-4 heading into the UK game, you would probably be looking at a battle of top 10 teams.