As Mississippi State fans, we've seen the SEC Basketball Tournament be a good thing, and we've also seen it be a bad thing. In 1996, we all watched in amazement as our Bulldogs beat "sure thing" and national #1 Kentucky in the tournament championship game to win the tournament. In 2010, we watched with heartburn and heartache as Kentucky claimed an SEC tournament crown over State by making a last second shot.
No matter if you remember the good times the tournament has brought State fans or the bad times we've endured, each new year brings a new tournament and new opportunity. It has been a while as a State fan since I can remember the last time I truly felt State had no chance whatsoever to win the whole tournament. Besides, that's the beauty of playing a tournament, isn't it? The fact that anything can happen and anyone can win is an aspect of this tournament that makes it so great.
So how do we see State coming out in this year's SEC Tourney? Here's the Best, the Worst, and the Most Possible scenarios that we can see taking place when State begins competition this weekend in 'Nawlins.Best Case Scenario - Win the Damn Thing
With the talent level that Rick Stansbury possesses with this year's team, anything is possible. And with the way the Bulldogs played in their home finale Saturday against Arkansas, one can hope that the dogs are on the upswing and getting into a groove at the right time.
The road would start with Georgia on Thursday night. Obviously, State found out earlier this year that Georgia is no pushover, as the red and black dawgs defeated our dogs at The Hump 70-68 in OT. That loss began the dogs' 5 game slump that almost saw them fall of the NCAA map completely, and rest assured Rick Stansbury will make sure his team doesn't take them lightly again. If State comes out and plays like it is CAPABLE (key word) of playing, then they should be able to defeat Georgia and move on to Friday's quarterfinal competition.
On Friday, State would then take on #3 seed Vanderbilt. Now we all know what Vanderbilt is capable of if they get hot, just ask Ole Miss. But also remember that this same MSU team that defeated the Commodores in Nashville earlier this season. In that game Jalen Steele caught fire, draining 5 3-pointers in a 78-77 OT win. If State is to have a chance to defeat Vandy again, it will need another big game from Mr. Steele or another role player (see Brian Bryant's effort this past Saturday vs. Arkansas). Under this scenario, I will assume that Stansbury & Co. stay hot, and play a great game on both ends of the floor, defeating the Commodores to move on to Saturday's semifinal round.
Now in order to full play this scenario and the other scenarios out, we had to also predicit/wildly guess at how the other tourney games will play out. In this scenario, I assumed that Ole Miss would take care of Auburn, and move on to face Tennessee. I then predicted that Tennessee would take care of Ole Miss, as Tennessee has been the hot team of late. This would place the Volunteers and our Dogs in the second semifinal matchup on Saturday afternoon.
As we said above, a trip to the semifinals would most likely mean a repeat matchup against the Volunteers of Tennessee. The only difference is that this time Tennessee is the hot team, having won 8 out of their last 9 games. Despite their Kate Upton level of hotness at the moment, Tennessee may be a good matchup for State, and under this scenario we will assume they are. A good game that will hang in the balance until the end prevails, and State wins with free throws in the final minutes.
This would then move State into position to play for the championship, the big one, the grand prize, the whole shebang. Of course, the 800 pound jungle cat that stands between us and that prize is the Kentucky Wildcats, a beast no one (minus Indiana, which must have cheated somehow) has been able to tame this year. But what the hell, this is a best case scenario! In this case, Jalen Steele, Brian Bryant, Wendell Lewis and Renardo Sidney all play like they are on a playground playing Kindergartners, and Arnett Moultrie dominates Anthony Davis so much that Davis' one eyebrow parts into two bowing in reverence to Moultrie's talents.
Sure that sounds looney, but it's a best case scenario you guys, I'm allowed to say all that. Silliness aside, I think if State plays like it did against UK in the first half of the first matchup for the WHOLE game this time, the dogs will have a chance to win. And if they do, victory will be even sweeter as the dogs would have gone from a 5 game losing streak to a 5 game winning streak.
Worst Case Scenario - THE SKKYYY IS FAALLIINNNGGG
This is the worst case scenario, and I bet you can guess what I'm about to type. Worst case scenario for Mississippi State in the SEC Tourney is that they come out Thursday and play Georgia like they did the first time this year: flat and taking them for granted. This Georgia team is more talented than their record shows and if State gives them the chance aGAIN, the red and black dawgs will surely bite us in the keister once more.
Under this scenario Georgia plays well Thursday, MSU plays poorly, and when the dust settles late Thursday night, the eastern division dogs are the one's left standing. You can see that we didn't play out the rest of the bracket because, well, MSU lost and we didn't see the point. Also, to make this truly worst case, let's assume Ole Miss blows out everyone else in the tourney, wins it all including stomping Kentucky, and then Andy Kennedy rides across MSU's campus Monday morning with a bull horn yelling "WHO's STATE IS IT NOW B*TCHES?!"
NOW it's officially the worst case scenario.
Most Possible Scenario - Well Done, Sirs
You may be looking at the bracket above and thinking hey, that looks exactly like the first scenario's bracket. Then you think "hey, he must think we'll win it all!", and you dance with joy in a circle for hours.
Well, unfortunately I do think State will make it this far, but I don't think the dogs will overcome Kentucky in the championship game.
Against Georgia, I think State will come out inspired by their loss earlier to the dawgs and play a better game, eventually coming out on top.
Against Vandy, I really think State repeats its performance from Nashville earlier this year and get's another W over the commodores.
Against Tennessee, I see State matching up well, with the dogs coming out on top.
The next and final step, the championship game, is where I see the difference being in the Best and Most Possible scenarios. State has been on some magical runs before in this tourney, and has even overcome a #1 Kentucky team in the finals like we discussed earlier. But let's be honest: this Kentucky team is ridiculously good. They showed that in the second half in Starkville several weeks ago as their athleticism, length and talent erased a 13 point halftime lead to emerge victorious. I think State, as always, gives the Cats all they want in the final, but I think in the end, Kentucky prevails and we have to watch Ashley Judd dance up and down annoyingly (but also hotly) while we sprint to Bourbon Street for a shot of Jager and whatever else can help us erase the hurt.
The good to take away from this scenario is that this would all but surely put the dogs in the NCAA Tournament. According to most experts, State needs 1, maybe 2 wins to get into the big dance, so a trip to finals may also mean a boost in NCAA seed.
State fans can only hope that the Best or Most Possible scenarios are in the Bulldogs future, as they need at least 1, probably 2 wins as we said to make it to the big dance. Lose to Georgia, and the dogs will most assuredly be headed to another monumentally disappointing NIT appearance, where they'll lose to North Central Idaho at home in the first round to complete the cycle of torture. But let's hope that doesn't happen, because it's March, and I want to put on my dancin' shoes.