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Ben Howland has brought excitement and Malik Newman to Starkville. Is that enough?

8. Mississippi State Bulldogs

Last season: 13 - 19 (6-12 in conference)
My Prediction: 9 - 9 (in conference)
For Whom The Cowbell Toll's Prediction: 11 - 7
The Masses Prediction: 9.7 - 8.3

MSU Coach Preview 15

The record says zero and zero, but Ben Howland has a long history. After having immense amounts of success at Northern Arizona and Pittsburgh, Howland took over the single most storied program in college basketball history, and won 30 or more games three seasons in a row before he lost the magic and got sacked after 10 years. Howland has proven that he can coach, ultimately he proved that the pressure of the job at UCLA might have been too great. Starkville is a much different place than Los Angeles, perhaps a more peaceful setting is just what Howland needs to right his ship. He’s already gotten off to a good start with his recruiting, but we’ll see when the Bulldogs take the floor and you see that patented Howland defense and toughness he was known for at all three previous stops.

WHO THEY LOST

name reason GP %min %poss %pts
Roquez Johnson Graduated 32 .649 .213 .149
Trivante Bloodman Graduated 32 .460 .170 .060
Isaiah Butler Graduated 9 .020 .069 -
Oliver Black Transfer 31 .382 .095 .028
Maurice Dunlap Transfer 7 .056 .194 .010
32 .313 .249

The Bulldogs didn't lose a whole lot, frankly its hard to lose anything too important off of a bad team, but the biggest loss is that of Roquez Johnson, a strong post presence for the Bulldogs who was more steady than outstanding. Johnson had a few big games throughout conference play, but was mostly an afterthought offensively. Trivante Bloodman was a steadying presence at point guard, but another guy who didn’t provide a lot of punch offensively. Oliver Black was a little used reserve, and Butler and Dunlap rarely saw the floor. What might make State a better team this year is that they've got some decent talent coming back.

WHO IS COMING BACK?

name year pos gp %min %pts %rbds efg% %3pm ORtg
Craig Sword senior G 28 .542 .160 .079 .514 .203 99.2
Gavin Ware senior F 30 .627 .152 .212 .500 - 105.7
Fred Thomas senior G 31 .591 .142 .111 .482 .353 102.7
Travis Daniels senior G 32 .493 .098 .124 .465 .180 90.8
Demetrius Houston sophomore F 29 .295 .045 .066 .318 .022 69.9
I.J. Ready junior G 29 .581 .120 .057 .463 .210 103.3
Fallou Ndoye sophomore F 30 .290 .031 .055 .481 - 79.7
Johnny Zuppardo r-senior F REDSHIRT -- Injury
32 .686 .751 .706 .969

Photo Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Craig Sword | Senior | Guard
player to watch

The mainstay and hope that stemmed from the Rick Ray program rested largely on the shoulders of Craig Sword. Even through the struggles of the program, you could point to Sword as reason there was still some hope. Now that Ray is gone and Howland has brought a little help with him, now that Sword is now fully healthy after playing last year through all sorts of injuries including a back injury that should have sidelined him for longer than it did, now we’ll get to see Sword play as freely as he’d like to, and we’ll have a chance to see how good he can be. As good as Newman is, Sword is more important to the success of the Bulldogs because he gives them a strong second option from the wing. Sword always had the ability to be an elite SEC player, but he's out of chances to reach that level. This is his last go around.

The ceiling of the Bulldogs largely hinges on the ability of Craig Sword and Gavin Ware to take that next step. Ware has showed the ability, but seemingly flatlined last season with basically the same production he had as a sophomore. Fred Thomas has seen his 3-point shooting increase year after year, while seeing the rest of his production dip, if he can return to the production he had while keeping his shooting up, he can be a highly productive player under Howland. Travis Daniels is a good athlete, but didn’t exactly scorch the nets last year, though that was a common problem for the Bulldogs in general. The benefit of those four players is that they’re all seniors, last chance to make the impression. They’ll have I.J. Ready to help out at point guard, he’s a solid if unspectacular performer, but with Sword, Ware and a few of the newcomers, that should be enough to start that trajectory upward.

WHO ARE THE NEWCOMERS?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Malik Newman 6'3 175 7 CG
Fr Quinndary Weatherspoon 6'5 185 125 WING
Fr Aric Holman 6'9 200 119 POST
Jr Joseph Strugg 6'8 210 - POST
So Xavian Stapleton 6'6 TRANSFER -- Louisiana Tech

Photo credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Malik Newman | Freshman | Guard
player to watch

Newman was a legacy, the son of a former Bulldog, there were many in Starkville who were already resolved to losing the elite 5-star guard to the likes of Kentucky. The Wildcats were thought to be the leader, until Rick Ray was fired and Ben Howland swooped in and sold the program to the certain one-and-done Newman. Bringing along a couple of his AAU teammates sure didn’t hurt, but State was always a place that was near and dear to Newman, and now he has an opportunity to kickstart the Bulldogs regrowth that Howland has scheduled, and the Bulldogs heights are only as high as they are because of his talent.

Malik Newman had a lot of reasons to go to Mississippi State, but the moribund program didn’t have enough going for it until they hired seasoned coach Ben Howland. It was at that point that the legacy decided to stay home and help pick up the program. He’ll have some help on the wing already with a player like Sword, but Quinndary Weatherspoon, an athletic 4-star wing and AAU teammate of Newman’s with the Jackson Tigers, should be able to contribute some big minutes as well. Another score for Howland was getting Aric Holman, is a high up-side post who might struggle with the physical play of the league at first, but will be a big long term plus in Starkville. He’ll be asked to provide a bit of a counter to Ware off the bench, but will start the season on the sidelines after having knee surgery in September. Joseph Strugg is a little intriguing athlete as a post player. He was another AAU teammate of Malik Newman, but shows his own promise, though his offensive game is still a work i progress. The last new comer is Xavian Stapleton who was a bit contributor as a freshman at Louisiana Tech, but was highly sought after as a transfer and could be a solid addition once he’s sat out for a season.

DEPTH CHART

Half Court Positions

Point Guard Combo Guard Wing
Fred Thomas Malik Newman Craig Sword
I.J. Ready Quinndary Weatherspoon Travis Daniels
Combo Forward Post
Gavin Ware Fallou Ndoye
Aric Holman Joseph Strugg


OVERVIEW

There are reasons to really get excited about the new look Mississippi State Bulldogs, but there are also reason to doubt that you can wave a magic wand and suddenly be in the top half of the league. I guess that’s why I’ve planted this team right in the middle of the conference. As good as Ware and Sword have been over the years, they’ve never been on a team that has topped out at 6 conference wins and that was last year with some help by two wins over Missouri. So while I think most people trust Howland to turn things around, expecting them to be anything other than challenged this first season is overlooking the glaring problems on the roster. Newman is certainly good enough to cover up some of the team’s problems against weaker competition, and Sword and Ware should be able to provide enough help that they’ll be competitive against the top half of the league. But I doubt it’s good enough for this team to do much more than 9-9 or maybe 10-8.

Last year we reached a sort of peak excitement with another well known coach coming into a rebuild and Bruce Pearl fielded a team that won four conference games in the regular season.

And for the most part, the masses agree. KenPom has the Bulldogs rated 111th in the country, which is far less than a .500 team in the SEC. Projected to win just 6 games in the league, I feel that’s entirely possible and that even the SBNation prognosticators are being a bit too rosy about the bump that Howland will provide. Last year we reached a sort of peak excitement with another well known coach coming into a rebuild and Bruce Pearl fielded a team that won four conference games in the regular season. I do feel that State will be better than they were last year. For one, Sword was never healthy, and he struggled to match the output he had two seasons ago. He did that and they still won 6 games. With Sword and Malik Newman on the same team, it’s easy to see them find a way to at least a couple more W’s.

MSU Shot Chart Preview 15

The non-conference slate has just a touch of toughness as the big game the Bulldogs play is against Florida State. They also play in the Puerto Rico Tipoff against Miami (FL) in the first round, and the second round either Texas Tech or Utah. Temple, Missouri State, Minnesota and Butler are on the other side of the bracket. Once State gets into the conference slate, they actually catch a bit of a break as three of the teams they have home-and-home dates with I’ve got ranked lower than State. Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Alabama are all teams that State could beat twice. They are challenged by playing South Carolina twice as well as Texas A&M, but steal one of those 4 and they’re in business.

Howland has certainly made waves since taking the job, he’s gotten commitments from three 4-star players in the 2016 class already, on top of the recruiting class he had in 2015. So things are moving upwards for the Bulldogs. When Howland was removed from his position at UCLA, there was talk of how he had not only lost control of his team, but had lost control of his relationships in California high school and AAU circles. For Howland to take some time off hopefully gave him some time to address what went wrong and fix himself before he took another job. He’s in a place where expectations are never through the roof, but there is a healthy dose of fan optimism. And the sleepiness of the SEC basketball landscape at the moment should allow him to build this up and get it going the way he did at his previous stops, and the early days at UCLA. I’m just not sure that’s going to happen this season. I see the floor for this team to be 5-6 wins, and the ceiling at maybe 11 wins. But I’m happy with my 9 win prediction.

FWTCT Responds

There’s no doubt the additions of head coach Ben Howland and five-star guard Malik Newman have raised expectations and brought life back into the MSU basketball program. While I don’t expect a tournament team year one under Howland, I do expect to see a team that pulls off a few upsets and finishes top seven in the SEC. Maybe, if a few breaks go their way, they even find themselves on the bubble of the NCAA tournament toward the end of the season.

Obviously that’s a long shot, but with the one-two punch that Newman and Craig Sword bring to the Bulldog backcourt, this is a team capable of putting up points with the best of them on any given night. Throw in the fact that Gavin Ware has already made marked improvements under Howland and you have yourself a dangerous basketball team. Howland has raved about the progress and skill set of Ware in the post.

Sword and Ware will benefit the most from Newman’s presence on the court. While teams used to gameplan to shut one or both of them down, that attention will now be placed on the freshman phenom. Sword, one of the better slashers in the league who can get to the basket in a hurry, found himself on the All-SEC second team ballot after a season that saw the Dogs win just 13 total games. If he can put up that kind of production on an offensively inept team without another scoring threat, imagine the damage he can do with Newman on the floor.

Howland knows the strength of his team is at the guard position. Along with Newman and Sword, I.J. Ready and four-star freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon are above average shooters from beyond the arc. Weatherspoon has future NBA potential and is highly overlooked with all the hype mainly focused on Newman. Howland has also worked on several things technique wise with Fred Thomas and expects him to improve his shooting tremendously. With multiple freshman playing major minutes, this will be a streaky team offensively. You’ll see some hot streaks and some cold streaks, but overall they should be light years ahead of where they were last season.

The major weakness of the team is the lack of depth in the post. Other than Gavin Ware, there’s not much proven talent. The early injury to Eric Holman is a killer, and a lot will hinge on how well Johnny Zuppardo returns from his knee injury. He and Travis Daniels -- who aren’t your typical power forwards -- will man the four and have a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. They like to play away from the basket, Zuppardo especially, so that may present a problem when State runs into a team that puts a lot of size on the floor. In a perfect world, Gavin Ware would play the four and somebody taller like Fallou Ndoye would be at center. MSU just doesn’t have that luxury right now.

Overall I think State should be much improved from last season. They should be able to ride those talented guards and pick up several unexpected wins. In a scrimmage last week against UAB, MSU rode Sword’s 23 points to knock off the Blazers by 21. That’s a UAB team that returns several starters after a NCAA tournament berth. I know it’s a meaningless scrimmage, but the most telling fact is that Newman didn’t even play. Assuming Newman and Sword stay healthy, Howland’s squad has a chance to surprise some teams in year one.

Justin Sutton For Whom The Cowbell Tolls
Rank Team Record
1. Kentucky 17-1
2. LSU 15-3
3. Florida 13-5
4. Mississippi State 13-5
5. Auburn 10-8
6. Texas A&M 10-8
7. Georgia 8-10
8. Tennessee 8-10
9. Arkansas 7-11
10. Vanderbilt 7-11
11. Alabama 5-13
12. Ole Miss 5-13
13. South Carolina 5-13
14. Missouri 3-15
Chris Bohkay Says 15

BEN HOWLAND HAS COME TO TOWN ON A MAGIC CARPET SPONSORED BY ADDIDAS!!! And he's got a five star recruit in tow, Malik Newman. Everything that was bad in Starkville is now good!  From the wilderness of under employment since 2013, Howland has re-emerged to pop up in the SEC with three Final Fours on his resume and a desire to win and clanga, clanga, clanga, and...obviously clanga some more. Of all the hires made in the SEC this offseason, this had the biggest buzz and most direct impact in the short term of all the other quality hires. According to some, coulda been somewhere else in the SEC last year as well...but bringing that up only stirs up the blood of the denizens of this site and I'm not here for that, I'm here to upset the State fans. But i can't do that because I'm too excited for you. You actually have a winning coach and a player that's going to put your asses in the seats at the Hump. Now, how long Newman stays is another matter, this could all go "poof" in a year, but I'm betting it doesn't. Nope, Howland is here to stay until he gets offered something potentially more blue blood, which I understand is the fear at Auburn as well, and that's just a terrible way to go through your fandom. Embrace your head coach flirting with every Power 5 school that comes calling, knowing that his agent is just trying to get a raise out of your administration, then have him say, State has always been his dream job, because who are we kidding, it's all our dream jobs. And of course, while in Starkville he'll mine all the other parents of up and coming players that went to State, and their college roommates and former teammates until that well is dry and then, then when you're good and happy, he'll zip out of town for another dream job...Then you hire a D2 coach who polarizes your fan base and apparently has a problem with how you dress. THIS IS YOUR FUTURE STATE, embrace it....


About the preview: Each SBNation site was asked for one representative to submit a Game-by-Game pick of the upcoming SEC season to get a different look than if we just asked them to submit a ranking by team, or a prediction for their record. It yielded some interesting results as you can see.

GLOSSARY

GP: Games Played
%min: Percentage of team minutes played that were available
%poss: Percentage of usage, when a player is the cause of the end of possession (turnover or shot)
%points: Percentage of points scored vs team points
%rbds: Percentage of rebounds vs team rebounds
eFG%: Field Goal percentage with added weight of 50% for three point shots made
%3pm: Percentage of 3-point makes to team 3-point makes
ORtg: Average points scored per 100 possessions (if the player was responsible for each possession)

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Coming tomorrow: the Ole Miss Rebels