What Mississippi State, Ole Miss baseball need to do to host NCAA regionals, win SEC title

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD — The road to Omaha will almost certainly take a path through Mississippi. The road to an SEC baseball championship might too.

Three weekends remain before the end of the regular season. Mississippi State and Ole Miss are both in good position for the postseason. But as is usually the case for both of these teams, merely making the postseason isn't the goal.

Mississippi State heads into the home stretch one game back of first place in the SEC at 14-7 (33-10 overall), tied with Vanderbilt and Tennessee and one game back of Arkansas. 

Ole Miss, meanwhile, is 13-8 in league play, tied with Florida two games back of the conference lead. What's working against Ole Miss is Florida, Mississippi State and Arkansas all hold tiebreakers over the Rebels, making the climb to the top of the standings highly unlikely.

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Looming over all these numbers is the fact the NCAA will announce 20 teams that will be in the pool to be the 16 NCAA Regional host sites some time next week.

With SEC title hopes and hosting bids still up for grabs, here's what Mississippi State and Ole Miss need to get done in the last three weeks of the season.

Mississippi State just needs to keep winning

It's hard to imagine a world where Mississippi State isn't picked as one of the 20 host sites. The Bulldogs rank No. 3 in the RPI and have played the nation's third-toughest schedule. 

There's almost nothing Mississippi State can do this weekend on the road against an RPI top 15 team that will knock it out of the top 20. And with one of its final three series against last-place Missouri, the Bulldogs should be able to rack up enough SEC wins to all but guaranteeing a host spot.

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The bigger questions are can Mississippi State finish as a top-eight seed to ensure home-field advantage through Super Regionals and can the Bulldogs pass Arkansas to win the SEC.

If Mississippi State wins its remaining road series against South Carolina (11-10 SEC, No. 15 RPI) and Alabama (11-10 SEC, No. 29 RPI), it should be in good position as a top-eight seed. The "knock" on Mississippi State's resume, if it has one, is the lack of quality road wins. The Bulldogs' best true road series win is against LSU, a team that's 7-14 in SEC play. 

"I think we have a chance to be a national seed," Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. "We're top five in the country right now. You like to think if you have a good weekend here, you probably solidify it."

As for Mississippi State's SEC title hopes, it's a little early to say. The Bulldogs need to win two more games than Arkansas and one more game than Vanderbilt since the Razorbacks and Commodores have head-to-head tiebreakers against them. Arkansas still has to play Florida and Tennessee, and Vanderbilt still has to play Ole Miss, so both teams have tough schedules ahead, but Mississippi State still needs to win games and count on a little luck to win the SEC regular-season title.

Ole Miss needs to win and stay consistent

Ole Miss should be safely within the top 20, but it's hard to call it a guarantee. The Rebels are No. 10 in the RPI, No. 11 in the USA Today coaches' poll and Baseball America Top 25, No. 12 in the D1 Baseball Top 25 and No. 15 in the Perfect Game Top 25.

A series win over Texas A&M (5-16 SEC, No. 76 RPI) can secure the Rebels in the top 20, but a series loss could put the Rebels on shaky ground. But as coach Mike Bianco puts it, there's really nothing Ole Miss can do this week to guarantee a host bid.

"I think they did it to leave themselves the option," Bianco said. "The answer is yes as far as being part of the 20 but no as far as just because you’re part of the 20 doesn’t mean you’re going to host. If you’re one of the 20 that doesn’t mean you’re one of the 16."

So how does Ole Miss get into that 16?

A series against Vanderbilt looms May 14-16. It's hard to envision a scenario where Ole Miss wins that series but doesn't get to host. That said, Ole Miss' other two opponents are Texas A&M and Georgia (10-11 SEC). The Rebels could pile up wins against the Aggies and Bulldogs and need only one win against the Commodores to have a host-worthy resume.

To put things in context: Ole Miss was a top-eight seed in 2018 with an 18-12 SEC record and a top-16 seed in 2019 at 16-14. Mississippi State was a top-eight seed in 2019 with a 20-10 SEC record but didn't host in 2017 with a 17-13 SEC record.

There's no tried-and-true formula to hosting, but Ole Miss and Mississippi State have the chance to pile up enough wins to make it a guarantee. 

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.