March Madness: It’s time to talk nice to the SEC as Mississippi State’s run boosts conference’s strength

If the SEC made “talk to me nicely” the list of people who have counted down their conference, the papyrus scroll with names, it would seem, will not end. In modern terms, this would not fit into a TikTok video.

South Carolina is the undisputed No. 1 team in the nation and is the top favorite to win for the second straight time. Nobody doubted it. But while they rattled off conference wins to a 26.1 GPA, the chatter about the strength of the rest of the SEC was constant. This is a down year for the SEC. The competition is not so high. How do you rate a group of teams that have to play one that is so far apart from the rest? Can they all win in March?

The ball doesn’t lie, and neither do the results. The SEC is collectively 7-1 in the first round, led by No. 11 seed Mississippi State, who became the first top four team in tournament history to advance to the second round. The Bulldogs played in Game 1 of that NCAA Tournament, kicking off a postseason that could open and close with an SEC win.

Sam Purcell of Mississippi State, a freshman head coach who spent nine years turning Louisville’s program into a Final Four contender as assistant to Jeff Waltz, said his phone was torn with messages after that first win.

“Do you know who it was? It’s been every SEC head coach,” Purcell said after ousting Illinois, an impressive Big Ten team on the rise. “We have a thread and they’re all like, ‘Sam, you set the tone, man. Good luck.’ Which again, this is a special conference because you have special people.”

The day after the Bulldogs moved forward, Purcell released a list of athletes and presidents (current and former) who did not select his team to win. It was a joke, but sounds like a parting shot to all the trainers in the thread.

In March, we are as competitive as all of you. Maybe better.

Mississippi State (22-10, 9-7), ranked fifth in the SEC, was one of four teams with a clear final lead over South Carolina this season. They rank in the top 50 in field goal percentage and three-pointers, assists and blocked shots per game. Finishing fifth in the regular season SEC standings, they advanced to the seven-team conference finals.

The Bulldogs made an even bigger impression, moving ahead of No. 6 Creighton. MSU was 11 of 19 on three points, equaling their season record for 3s. And their chances of making it to the second weekend are solid as Nore Dame No. 3 is without point guard Olivia Miles and is running short bench in the Greenville 1 region.

Ole Miss (24-8, 11-5) was another SEC team that stayed within reach of South Carolina, losing 7 in overtime last month. The Rebels were seeded eighth in a match that, according to the seedings, should have ended anyway. Instead, Ole Miss trashed Gonzaga at 23 to face Stanford in the Seattle 4.

Georgia (22-11, 9-7) joined them as a double-figure seed, finishing 7th in the state of Florida to face Iowa in Seattle 4. Top of the table #1 South Carolina, #3 LSU. and No. 4 in Tennessee on Friday did a brilliant job. The only one of the seven teams that did not win was Alabama, who finished in 10th place, losing to Baylor by 4 points. Crimson Tide went up 22-4 in the first quarter but couldn’t finish it.

For the entire season, the SEC was in second place, with every other Power Six conference taking the lead. There was wild ACC competitiveness from top to bottom, going 6-2 in the first round. One of their losses was to the SEC squad. The “Pac-12 after dark,” as East Coast fans affectionately call it, has been plagued by disappointments throughout its conference title game. They went 5-2.

The Big 12 – well, maybe the SEC has always been on top of them. The conference housed an amazing six teams and went 3-3, including a loss to No. 5 seed Iowa State and nearly No. 7 Baylor. The Big East felt the love outside of UConn but were 2-3 in the first round as all three bottom seeds lost, including L from Creighton.

The SEC certainly wasn’t above the Big Ten, with most teams (four) finishing in third place or higher and averaging the most points in any major conference. They went 5-2 and again one of the losses was to the SEC team.

Mississippi State's JerKayla Jordan shoots and Creighton's Carly Batchelor defends during the first round of the NCAA Women's Tournament on March 17, 2023 in South Bend, Indiana.  (AP Photo/Michael Katerina)
Mississippi State’s JerKayla Jordan shoots as Creighton’s Carly Batchelor defends during the first round of the NCAA Women’s Tournament on March 17, 2023 in South Bend, Indiana. (AP Photo/Michael Katerina)

It’s hard to take your eyes off a conference in which teams regularly score 80 points and five teams finish in the top 15 in their category. Conference averages are 74 points, 16.1 assists, 41.4% from the field and 33.6% from three-pointers. Even during the explosions, there was always something and someone to look at.

While we all marveled at the beauty of cross-court passes, beautiful ball movement and the flow of triples, we forgot the old adage that defense wins championships. Go ahead, ask South Carolina and Don Staley about it.

The Gamecocks (33-0) rank #1 in defense rating (72.6), leading the top five SEC teams in this category. LSU is sixth, Ole Miss is 15th, Mississippi State is 24th, and Georgia is 25th. Alabama is in 78th place, and Tennessee, which has received 4th place for an incredibly tight schedule, is in 127th place.

The state of Mississippi was able to set the tone for the Securities and Exchange Commission with its defense, holding Illinois nearly 20 points below its season average. This was 4 points short of Fighting Illini’s lowest scoring of the season. Georgia did the same, leaving Florida State 15 below average and Ole Miss leaving Gonzaga 23 below average.

One set of games cannot determine the best conference. And even a tournament where an unfortunate combination of styles can end the season. However, the SEC has shown that it does not have a losing year. He can win in March. And we all had to talk to them nicely so as not to risk hearing our names on their TikTok hype videos next season.


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