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SEC West Title

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LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ In this topsy-turvy year in the Southeastern Conference, even a division title is no guarantee of an NCAA tournament bid.

Just ask Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, whose team is tied for first in the SEC West with two games to play.

``We've never had a situation that's automatic. They're going to break down numbers,'' Stansbury said. ``I don't think winning the West they're going to give you any extra points for. They're going to throw you in the same pot, stir you around and see who comes out of it.''

The Bulldogs have won five of seven entering Wednesday night's game at Arkansas, but they're by no means in great shape for an NCAA berth. Mississippi State was No. 66 in the RPI ranking through Sunday's games, so every contest is critical.

The Bulldogs (16-11, 7-7 SEC) are tied with in-state rival Ole Miss in the standings _ but they're only two games ahead of fifth-place Arkansas (16-12, 5-9). Stansbury admits he has no idea what it will take for his team to make the NCAA field, so he's focusing on what Mississippi State can control.

``You win enough games, you'll get in,'' he said. ``If you don't, you won't get in.''

Arkansas can probably forget about an at-large bid right now. The Razorbacks likely need to win the SEC tournament to make the NCAAs, and coach Stan Heath's job security has been a hot topic around the Natural State.

Arkansas lost 83-72 at home to Tennessee on Saturday. The Razorbacks are hoping to atone for that before worrying about what comes next.

``We want to play very, very well in front of our fans who have been so good to us,'' Heath said. ``At the same time we play probably the hottest team on the West side.''

Mississippi State routed Arkansas 84-60 on Valentine's Day. The Bulldogs went 11-of-19 from 3-point range, and center Charles Rhodes scored 19 points.

``I don't think they can shoot as well as they did the last time we played,'' Heath said.

Razorbacks point guard Gary Ervin, playing his first season with Arkansas after transferring from Mississippi State, was held scoreless in that game after being benched at the start for missing a curfew.

The Razorbacks are led by freshman guard Patrick Beverley, who is averaging 14.2 points per game. Forward Charles Thomas is averaging 11.6 and swingman Sonny Weems 11.5.

``When Weems and Beverley shoot that ball well for them, they're really a difficult team to beat,'' Stansbury said.

Mississippi State point guard Jamont Gordon is averaging 15.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists.

Arkansas is often considered a tough team to beat in Fayetteville, although the Razorbacks are only 4-3 in SEC games there this season.

``Historically, when they have good teams, they're very difficult to beat. When their teams are not as good, they're not quite as difficult to beat,'' Stansbury said. ``We've won two out of the last three times we've been up there.''

Stansbury said he expects a tough effort from Arkansas ``on Senior Night'' _ apparently failing to realize that the Razorbacks' roster has no seniors.

Instead, Arkansas' coach is the one with the unclear future, but Heath is hoping for a late-season run. He said he was inspired by LSU's recent upset of Florida.

``When I saw LSU beat Florida, I thought, `This is a wacky league,''' Heath said. ``Anything can happen. We're going to ride on that hope.''
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