Mississippi State earns NCAA Tournament berth, will play in First Four

Published 6:24 pm Sunday, March 12, 2023

Mississippi State is going dancin’.

The Bulldogs were one of the last four teams to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament on Sunday, and will face Pittsburgh in a First Four game Tuesday at 8:10 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio.

Mississippi State (21-12) and Pittsburgh (22-11) are slotted as the No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region. The winner of their game will advance to face No. 6 seed Iowa State on Friday in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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In the other First Four game Tuesday at 5:40 p.m., Southeast Missouri State and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi will play for a No. 16 seed and the right to face overall No. 1 seed Alabama. On Wednesday, No. 11 seeds Nevada and Arizona State will play, as well as Fairleigh Dickinson vs. SWAC champion Texas Southern in a 16-seed game.

All of the First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday are broadcast on TruTV. Other NCAA Tournament games are on TruTV, CBS, TNT and TBS.

Mississippi State overcame a tough stretch in which it lost eight of nine games in December and January by winning nine of its last 13. Among those victories were games against NCAA NET Quad 1 teams TCU, Arkansas and Texas A&M. The Bulldogs also earned three Quad 2 triumphs over Missouri, Ole Miss and, most recently, Florida in the SEC Tournament.

This is the first NCAA Tournament berth for Mississippi State since 2019, and only the second since 2009.

“That was the ultimate goal that we’ve had since we’ve arrived. It’s something we’ve talked about from day one. It wasn’t about trying to build a program. It was about building a team each and every year with a goal of playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said Sunday after the brackets were announced. “Certainly, back then, it sounded good. How realistic was it for most people, who knows? I know the people in our room believed in it. They worked their tail off. Now, they’re rewarded for playing in the greatest show on earth.”

Mississippi State was one of eight Southeastern Conference teams selected to the NCAA Tournament field. The SEC tied the Big Ten for the most bids of any conference.

The other first-round games involving SEC teams are:

• Overall No. 1 seed Alabama vs. Southeast Missouri State or Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in the South Region.

• No. 4 seed Tennessee vs. No. 13 Louisiana-Lafayette in East Region.

• No. 7 Texas A&M vs. No. 10 Penn State in the Midwest.

• No. 7 Missouri vs. No. 10 Utah State in the South.

• No. 8 Arkansas vs. 9 Illinois in West.

• No. 9 Auburn vs. No. 8 Iowa in the Midwest.

• No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Providence in the East.

All of the SEC teams except Kentucky and potentially Mississippi State will play their first-round games on Thursday.

Jans said the compacted timeline of finding out an opponent on Sunday and playing two days later is difficult to prepare for but did come with the advantage of being a showcase game.

“Certainly, you’d rather be playing not in Dayton in an ideal world. The one positive is everyone in the country is going to watch you play,” Jans said. “That’s what I’ve told the guys already. You’re going to have the biggest stages you’ve ever had, because we are going to be the only tournament game going on. It’s not like on Thursday and Friday when there’s going to be 16 games going on throughout the day and people are going to be going back and forth. That’ll be apart of our motivation to get them to understand what kind of stage they are going to be playing on.”

• Wednesday, 8:10 p.m.
• NCAA Tournament, First Four
• TV: TruTV; Radio: 105.5 FM

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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