With the Bulldogs making it to the SEC tournament for the first time in several years, hopes are high that Mississippi State can make a run in the softball tournament. Our friend Sam Finch of College Sports Madness dropped by to help us understand the Bulldogs' chances.
1) Earlier this season Mississippi State, and their first round opponent, Kentucky, met in a three game series where the Wildcats won two games. How do you assess the Bulldogs chances in their opening game?
On paper, you would normally give the nod to the higher seed, but I
see MSU vs. Kentucky as one of the most intriguing matchups of the
tournament -and almost dead even. While it's true that Kentucky took
two of three earlier this year and outscored State 10-2, the Bulldogs
have several factors in their favor. First, the losses were at
Kentucky-now the field is neutral, with both teams having very good
records. Call that even. MSU finished last year with a 2-10 record,
but are riding a wave of good play with a recent 5-4 mark in that same
time period. Big wins over top ranked teams down the stretch show
confidence and belief. MSU won't be in awe of Kentucky, who has lost
their last three coming in. State's offense seems to be clicking,
too-one night it's Offutt, the next Lenahan, then Seitz and so on.
Pitching-wise it's the same old story. The two losses in Lexington
were a direct result of home runs given up. Although Alison Owen is a
Senior and a leader, I would look for Alexis Silkwood to maybe get the
start. MSU must prevent the long ball.
2) Should the Bulldogs get by Kentucky, they face Tennessee, a team they defeated twice. If they get past the Lady Vols, either LSU or Missouri await. The Bulldogs had some success against both teams. How far can Mississippi State hope to go in this tournament? What do they have to do to make a deep run?
If the Bulldogs can dispatch The Wildcats, which I think they can,
Tennessee will be waiting. With the two wins at the Vol's own house,
and again now playing on neutral turf, this is not the David vs.
Goliath it would have been in the past. It's one thing for a team to
think or say that they can compete with a top ranked team, but Coach
Vann's kids have proven it. The Dogs roughed up Tennessee pitching a
little more than most thought they would, I think. State has had leads
and lost leads, but they have learned not to quit, coming from behind
to win and they've done it more than once. It may end up being that
resilience that carries State past the Vols.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, to advance deep into the tournament, State has to keep the ball in the park, and offensively have to limit the strikeouts. That is to say that the more offensive pressure they put on any opponent, the better their chances of hanging around until the late innings where they can steal a win or two. A little luck wouldn't hurt either!
3) It's been a while since Mississippi State had qualified for the SEC softball tournament. What does this mean for them as a program?
Qualifying for the conference tournament is a big win in and of itself. You and I talked one time on your show about Coach Vann's approach. If I recall, I mentioned that she appears to be able to covey to her players the concept of acheiving small goals, and how those accomplishments lead to bigger things. Look at what has taken place this year-more overall wins. Although State still had a sub-.500 conference record, their conference win total improved. They notched more wins against ranked teams than in the past-the list goes on. Much like Kentucky's Coach Lawson, MSU has laid a foundation for success and is following a path to long-term success.
4) The NCAA committee will be watching all the tournament action this weekend. What does Mississippi State need to do to try to earn a two seed in a regional? What are some other teams around the country that Mississippi State will be compete against for a two seed?
I think it will take two wins in the tournament. Of course there is no way to truly know what the selection committee will do, but to move to a Two seed, State will have to switch out with someone projected in that slot. One possibility would be to take LSU's spot, which is where College Sports Madness has the Tigers in the Waco Regional. There aren't many options other than that, or possibly switching with Auburn's spot in the Tuscon Regional. Most other regionals will be hosted by an SEC team, which would eliminate the chances of a two in those places.
5) Should the SEC look at revamping this tournament? Would double elimination be worth playing, or perhaps a format similar to the one used in the SEC baseball tournament?
I know a lot of people would disagree, but I have never been a big fan of "everyone should get a chance," so I would leave it the way it is as far as having to qualify. Currently 10 teams get in, and I'm not sure they could do a double elimination effectively with that many teams. I really like the one-and-done format in that pressure can really define who is the best. It will work against teams losing on a bad bounce or bad call, but at the same time it creates upset situations that keep everybody who qualified in the mix-an "on given night, anything can happen" kind of thing.