Rebels and Bulldogs need solid showings in Nashville

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 11, 2010

How is it that bubbles go from being a child’s joy to an adult’s terror?

There was the tech bubble. The housing bubble. And let’s not forget, the NCAA Tournament bubble.

That’s the situation facing Ole Miss and Mississippi State going into today’s SEC basketball tournament. If the Rebels and Bulldogs aren’t careful, their NCAA hopes could burst.

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Neither one has a high RPI, or Rating Percentage Index, the one statistical alphabet soup metric that both fans and the tournament committee can consult like the Oracle of Delphi without the fumes and trance-like state.

The tournament committee depends on RPI heavily as a means of separating the Big Dance wheat from the NIT chaff.

Steve Wilson is the sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at or at 601-636-4545, extension 142.

The RPI is a means of determining a team’s strength of schedule by the NCAA, useful when filling out the 65-team brackets with the at-large bids. The equation is a simple one that uses a team’s winning percentage, the winning percentage of a team’s opponents and the winning percentage of that team’s opponents to generate a ranking. To summarize, if you schedule lots and lots of cupcakes in non-conference play and win most of them, you’re penalized. If your team scheduled some tough opponents in non-conference play, your ranking will benefit even if you don’t win most of those games.

Ole Miss (21-9) is in the far better position in the RPI rankings at No. 56. A rather beefy non-conference schedule helped Andy Kennedy’s Rebels, who went 2-5 against the RPI’s top 50. Both of those wins were good ones, as the Rebels beat Kansas State, sixth in the RPI rankings, and C-USA champion UTEP. Also, their losses were to Kentucky (third in the RPI), West Virginia (fifth), Villanova (ninth), Tennessee (13th) and Vanderbilt (22nd), with only one loss to a team outside the top 100, Arkansas. Also buttressing the Rebel case is that they finished the schedule strong with four straight wins, including two league road victories.

Mississippi State (21-10), despite a similar record, is quite a few steps back at 68th. Two big factors are hurting Rick Stansbury’s Bulldogs: the loss to Auburn, which has an RPI lower than Congress’ approval rating, and going 1-4 against the RPI top 50. Surprising defeats to Western Kentucky (196th in RPI) and Alabama (99th) didn’t help matters either. The Bulldogs beat Old Dominion, their only win over a Top 50 opponent, and feasted on the likes of Mississippi Valley State (327th), Bethune Cookman (254th) and St. Bonaventure (158th). The Bulldogs also finished the schedule with a disappointing two-game losing streak.

The two perennial powerhouses on the Bulldogs’ non-conference slate, DePaul and UCLA, have fallen on hard times. DePaul is 209th, while UCLA is way down at 154th. So Stansbury and the Bulldogs can’t really be faulted for that.

While Ole Miss can largely lock up a berth by winning a couple of games in Nashville, Mississippi State is on the precipice spelled NIT. An early round slipup likely will doom the Bulldogs.

The whole expression of less-than-stellar foes as cupcakes fits because in the end, while they taste good at the time, too many of them will give you an upset stomach.

Mississippi State might pay dearly for its non-conference sugar buzz, while Ole Miss has shown a true NCAA resumé that the committee likes.