Iverson Molinar

Mississippi State's Iverson Molinar finished with a career-high 28 points in Wednesday's victory against Georgia.

STARKVILLE – A must-win game doesn’t exist in college basketball until it’s tournament play and a team’s season ends with a loss.

If you disagree, let isitamustwin.com explain it to you.

That’s why it would be incorrect to deem Mississippi State’s home game on Saturday against No. 24 Alabama as such.

Mississippi State men’s basketball has nine potential Quadrant 1 wins remaining on its schedule, with three at home.

It also has a pair of Quadrant 3 games at home – Jan. 22 against Ole Miss and Feb. 1 against South Carolina – where losses could do as much to hurt an average résumé as a big win could help.

Let’s stray from calling Saturday a must-win game. But there’s no denying it’s an important one.

"We circle every game, but this game is definitely circled twice," Howland said Friday. 

Ben Howland spoke prior to Wednesday’s win against Georgia and emphasized the importance of winning at home in the SEC.

Mississippi State’s students are making their way back to campus, and Alabama fans will surely make the trip for what could be the biggest crowd (previously 6,965) at Humphrey Coliseum this season.

Starting forward Tolu Smith is expected to be back from COVID-19 protocols, so things are lining up for Mississippi State to not fall flat like it did at Ole Miss last Saturday to snap a four-game winning streak.

Smith will help bolster a host lineup that got a career-high 28 points from Iverson Molinar in their 88-72 win against Georgia.

And Mississippi State needed things to start lining up considering the schedule ahead – again adding to the importance of beating Alabama.

Mississippi State is entering a 10-game stretch (six away, four home) where seven opponents have a current top 50 NET ranking.

MSU is given at least a 45 percent chance to win, according to KenPom, in three of those games: Alabama (46 percent), Ole Miss (77 percent) and South Carolina (78 percent).

MSU doesn’t have a win better than Quadrant 3 on its résumé – though its home win against Arkansas could easily slide into at least Quadrant 2 if Arkansas’ 87-43 win against Missouri on Wednesday is indicative of a potential turnaround this year.

The Bulldogs sit as an 11-seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology for ESPN and are the third of the last four teams with a bye.

Mississippi State controls its own destiny with the opportunities lying ahead.

But Alabama comes into Starkville on a two-game skid and the numbers back it up: this is a chance for Mississippi State to finally prove its preseason expectations were worthy.

STEFAN KRAJISNIK is the Mississippi State athletics reporter for the Daily Journal. Contact him at stefan.krajisnik@djournal.com.

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