Per Nilsson knows the lineup he posted for the NCAA Tournament can knock off a highly-ranked opponent because he’s seen them do less than two months ago in Starkville.
The Mississippi State men’s tennis team, who have shaken up both the singles and doubles lineup throughout the 2011 season, will put the same lineup that knocked off No. 4 Tennessee 6-1 at the A.J. Pitts Tennis Centre on April 1.
“It comes down to just playing because we have some good matchups with Florida State and some that look a little harder,” Nilsson said. “I know we can get the doubles point against anyone but the problem is I don’t know when it’s coming.”
Nilsson feels like his team is arguably the most balanced in the singles spots 2-6 than any other team in the country as the Bulldogs (13-8) earned their first NCAA appearance since 15 straight bids from 1991-2005 despite having no players that qualify for the individual or doubles NCAA Tournament that will take place after the team championships conclude. George Coupland and Artem Ilyushin are alternates in that singles draw and will likely make the trip to see if they’re included.
The reason for the depth is not because the rebuilding process of MSU men’s tennis doesn’t have any good players but the Nilsson has full lineup of solid players that he feels could all play at 2-3 spots on many solid teams in the country.
“I wish we had one we could point out because that would be our leader and probably our best player,” Nilsson said. “Maybe our weakness but also our strength is we have five (or) six guys that are exactly the same.”
Mississippi State will play Florida State in first round action today (10 a.m.) before No. 15 seed and regional host Georgia Tech faces Middle Tennessee State, the Sun Belt Conference champion, at 1 p.m.
The winners will face off against Saturday at 3 p.m. for the opportunity to reach the NCAA round of 16 that will be played in Stanford, Calif
“The Sweet 16 in tennis is all at one site (in 2011 it’s at Stanford),” Nilsson said. “For most of the good teams, these first two rounds are just about taking care of business until you get to what we call the real NCAA Tournament. The NCAA doesn’t like me to say that but we’re trying to get to Stanford and see what it’s like.”
Florida State (9-14) has five wins against ranked teams. The Seminoles finished the Atlantic Coast Conference with a 4-7 record while having senior Vahid Mirzadeh named to the All-ACC team. Mirzadeh ranked the entire season including a career high No. 21. He and sophomore Connor Smith are ranked No. 13 by the ITA in doubles.
“They’re a lot better than their ranking is and they’re always good,” Nilsson said. “We’ve seen their results and they can play with anyone.
It’s probably going to be one of the better first-round matches.”
Mississippi State holds wins this season over five teams in this year’s NCAA field (Vanderbilt, Nebraska, Tennessee, Auburn and Ole Miss) and their first-round opponent Florida State has faced eight opponents ranked in the Top 50.
State is 15-15 overall all-time in the NCAA Tournament and 11-4 in first-round play.
When combining the All-Southeastern Conference and All-Freshman men's tennis teams, Mississippi State’s five honorees tied Georgia for the most representation on the 2011 all-league squads.
Nilsson was also named the conference's coach of the year selection after MSU posted their best record overall (13-8) and in the SEC (8-3) since 1998’s NCAA semifinal team went 21-5 and 9-2 in the league.
Mississippi State's talented newcomer Malte Stropp, the SEC freshman of the year, was a four-time SEC freshman of the week that was 24-5 in singles and 16-2 in dual matches including a 9-1 mark in SEC play this season while playing at the four-spot position throughout the year.