Ben Howland

Ben Howland has cut down the nets as a conference tournament champ five times – twice at Northern Arizona (1997 and 1998), once at Pittsburgh (2003) and twice at UCLA (2006, 2008, pictured here).

Sunday should’ve been a day of celebration for Mississippi State’s men’s basketball team.

It was the day the Bulldogs were supposed to learn their postseason fate. Whether their destination would’ve been the NCAA Tournament or the NIT, we will never know.

MSU received a double bye in the SEC Tournament as the No. 4 seed and was scheduled to play Friday against the winner of Georgia and Florida.

According to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, the Bulldogs needed to win “at least two” games at the SEC Tournament to have a shot at being included in the field of 68 for March Madness.

I wouldn’t have been all that surprised to see State playing for the SEC Tournament title on Sunday either. The Bulldogs had already beaten three of the four teams remaining on their side of the bracket and only lost to SEC regular season champion Kentucky by eight points in Lexington.

Mississippi State had momentum on its side, winning five of its final seven games to close out the season. The Bulldogs were coming off a 25-point victory over rival Ole Miss, a game in which coach Ben Howland called “the best game that we’ve played all year.”

MSU certainly had a roster talented enough to make a tournament run. The Bulldogs’ starting five were all four-star recruits as was the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year Tyson Carter. State had the league’s most dominant player in the post as well in SEC Co-Player of the Year Reggie Perry, who had 17 double-doubles and averaged one for the season.

Lunardi had the Bulldogs as the top team in his “Next Four Out” category when the season came to an abrupt end. Even Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis thought his rivals belonged in the Big Dance.

“That’s ridiculous with that many wins in this kind of league,” Davis said of the Bulldogs being excluded. “Put that team in the Big Ten and see how many games they win. They’d be in the tournament in this particular year. For some reason the SEC is not getting any respect. There’s no doubt that team could go win games in the NCAA Tournament.”

But with postseasons canceled across multiple sports this spring, it leaves many players, coaches, fans and even sportswriters like me pondering “what if?”

Logan Lowery (logan.lowery @journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Journal. He blogs daily at DJournal.com

Logan Lowery (logan.lowery @journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Journal. He blogs daily at DJournal.com

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