2021 SEC baseball tournament thoughts and takeaways: Tennessee vs. Mississippi State

 Chris Lee   in Baseball

Here are some takeaways after Tennessee run-rules Mississippi State, 12-2, in an early-Thursday Southeastern Conference tournament game in Hoover, Ala.

Liam Spence photo courtesy of Tennessee athletics.

You could see this coming with the Vols.

Teams take on the personality of their head coach, and Tennessee coach Tony Vitello clearly wasn't happy to lost a heartbreaker to Alabama yesterday. You also saw how much winning meant to the Vols when they thought, for a few seconds on Wednesday, that they'd walked off Alabama.

"Want to" isn't everything, but it means a lot in Hoover, and the Vols' "want to" has been there since they arrived in Alabama.

In case there was any doubt, Tennessee can bank on hosting both a regional and a super regional.

The Vols' RPI rose to 8 following this win, and the Vols' résumé doesn't really have any holes that I can see. So maybe this is a no-news item here but that's the thing fans wonder about more than anything this time of year, especially when other teams are still playing. 

Tennessee's Liam Spence delivered today.

Spence has been the league's best on-base guy most of the year, but had faltered a bit recently. Spence got on base four times Thursday, including three hits. 

The Vols led the league in runs scored in league games, which suggests they can score without him. But Spence was the engine that made the team go much of the year, and Tennessee has to feel better given how Spence played Thursday. 

Mississippi State's performance in Hoover has sown some seeds of doubt.

Before anyone yells at me, I haven't forgotten that State has a deep and talented pitching staff, that it's got the SEC Player of the Year in Tanner Allen, an elite leadoff man in Rowdey Jordan and one of the best coaches in the game in Chris Lemonis

And if State got to Omaha, it wouldn't surprise me because the talent is there. The program also has a history of doing that and that matters also. 

But there's something with how the pieces have come together that suggests State hasn't been stacking up with the elite teams. Tennessee (plus-60), Vandy (plus-57) and Arkansas (plus-47) all had significantly higher run margins in SEC regular-season games than did State (plus-23). In fact, the Bulldogs were closer to Georgia (plus-12) than they were those others. 

Add in the two games in Hoover, and State has scored exactly as many runs (172) as it's given up. If you want to go on that alone--and run margins are often predictive--State's not an elite team. 

And keep in mind, this comes less than two weeks after MSU dropped two at home to an awful Missouri team. 

Lets's back out of that for a moment. State's showed moments of being elite, such as when it took two of three from the three Big 12 teams it played in February, and when it took two of three from Ole Miss and South Carolina. But it was also minus-18 in its six games with Arkansas and Vanderbilt.

There's also the fact that State could fall out of the top eight seeds nationally as D1 had it seventh before today's loss, and much will depend on what happens elsewhere. And if you want a seed of hope for MSU if that happens, it's that State went 12-4 on the road. 

Is MSU the team that we thought it would be based on the talent? Or is it what its run margin suggests it is? Now that the Bulldogs are out of Hoover, we'll need to wait a week to know.