#12 Mississippi State Bulldogs
Last Season: 14-17 (7-11) #78 in KenPom
My Prediction: 6 - 12 (12th in conference)
ForWhomTheCowbellTolls Prediction: 15 - 3 (2nd in conference)
The Masses Prediction: 8.4 - 9.6 (8th in conference)
HEAD COACH: Ben Howland | 2nd season 14-17
First year coaches are hard to predict regardless of previous experience. Like Bruce Pearl before him, the excitement of an experienced hand at the helm in Starkville got a lot of people excited enough to over-predict the kind of turnaround while ignoring the deeper seated problems and how low the program had gotten under Rick Ray and Rick Stansbury before him. So perhaps the win total alone isn’t what people had hoped or expected considering the returning experience and incoming recruiting class but Howland and State made improvements.
Howland isn’t without his baggage, but he’s proven he can coach. Even though the Bulldogs only won a single more game than they did the season before, Howland was able to steer them from from 179 to 85 in KenPom which is pretty astounding. That sort of improvement should have netted another few games in the win column. Improvement on both sides of the ball was a first step, the second step for Howland was going to be turning over the roster and getting more of his players in. Queue four graduations and seven transfers.
In the scheme of things, Mississippi State has never been a basketball power. They had a run under Rick Stansbury in the early 2000’s, So where are the expectations for the Bulldogs program under the guidance of Ben Howland? For one thing the program just needs to be better, and under Howland that will happen.
Wow, this is how you flip a roster. Ben Howland sees four players graduate and seven players transfer in an impressive exodus which frees up roster space to get his guys in line. Howland was able to take Rick Ray’s first class which was solid and got some production to buoy the program a bit. Craig Sword and Gavin Ware were guys who had good careers and solid production albeit on bad teams. For their work, they only won 20 SEC games in four years, if your math is bad that’s a paltry five wins a season. Travis Daniels and Fred Thomas were both reliable rotation guys, and all four played a role in helping the Bulldogs reestablish themselves under Ben Howland. In a bit of a surprise, Malik Newman transferred to Kansas after the season after being unhappy with his role on the team. The rest of the transfers played only a little and honestly I’m sure Howland was more than happy to let them all walk.
|Xavian Stapleton||sophomore||wing||REDSHIRT -- Transfer (La. Tech)|
|Joe Strugg||r-freshman||post||REDSHIRT -- Injury|
Quinndary Weatherspoon | SOPHOMORE | WING
Perhaps the surprise of the season last year for the Bulldogs was Weatherspoon. Billed as a wing or even a combo guard depending on the service, Weatherspoon moved to the combo forward spot out of necessity and suddenly MSU went from KenPom 131 to where they finished at the end of the season at 78. Most of that was through the play of Weatherspoon who’s positional change seem to catalyze the team as he got better and better as league play went on. This year the Bulldogs will rely heavily on Weatherspoon as he’ll be one of the few reliable scoring threats on a team chock full of youngsters.
Don’t sleep on I.J. Ready, who played a good amount of minutes and was very productive at the point guard spot. He wasn’t a prolific scorer but his efficiency was high, all while having an assist-to-turnover ratio of nearly 2:1. Under Howland, Ready could improve those numbesr even more and be a huge catalyst for the rest of the guys around him, all while taking pressure off Weatherspoon in the scoring column. If Aric Holman can find a way to put on some weight, he’s got enough athleticism to be a force on the interior, he’s still got a ways to go and some polishing to do.
Mario Kegler | FRESHMAN | COMBO FORWARD
Shooting is always at a premium, and one area where incoming freshman Mario Kegler excels is shooting the ball. When you’re looking for players who can impact the game early, always take the guys who can get buckets and Kegler is that guy. He’s not an all-world athlete, but his big and strong at 6’7 225 which means he could play some at the combo forward spot and create mismatches on the offensive end, while still being able to defend. From that standpoint Kegler is likely to play the largest role of the many many freshmen on the roster.
In the SEC’s second best recruiting class, the highest rated player was 6’10 powerful post Schnider Herard. Herard was recruited by just about everyone but Howland won out. The book on Herard is he’s a bit raw but he’s big and physical and aggressive and can rebound and dunk the ball which is all you need out of a freshman big. Eli Wright is a smooth left handed combo guard who plays with high efficiency and has the ability to score from all three levels. Lamar Peters is exactly the kind of freshman point guard you want in a backup role. He’s fearless and competitive with the ability to hit floaters or 3-pointers if he’s left open. Tyson Carter and Eli Wright could be mirror images of each other. They both shoot the ball well, though Carter is a little more slight and a righty. The minutes distribution between the two will be interesting to watch. Howland also signed couple bigs in Abdul Ado and E.J. Datcher. Both are big bodies who should be able to provide minutes off the bench right away.
|Point Guard||Combo Guard||Wing|
|I.J. Ready||Quinndary Weatherspoon||Xavian Stapleton|
|Lamar Peters||Eli Wright||Tyson Carter|
|Mario Kegler||Schnider Herard|
|Aric Holman||Abdul Ado|
What the depth looks like and who plays in what positions are certainly up for interpretation. I think you can certainly plug in Ready and Weatherspoon into the starters, though Weatherspoon may flex between multiple positions, I like Kegler in the combo forward spot to give them outside shooting and physical defense. There is enough talent in the freshmen class however to upset all of this.
My Projected Record: 16 - 14 | KenPom Projected Record: 15 - 13
Non-Con: UCF (n), Boise St/Charleston (n), Oregon State, Georgia St, Southern Miss
This is a pretty soft non-conference schedule. Oregon State should be pretty good in Wayne Tinkle’s third season, but the Bulldogs have them at home. The Charleston Classic features Villanova on the opposite side of the bracket, with UCF, Boise State and Charleston on the State side of the bracket. You have to like the odds for MSU to get two wins, but probably not that third one if Villanova is waiting. The rest of the schedule is made up of mid-majors and rebuilding programs, so winning nine games should be about the minimum, I think they get to 10.
Conference: Alabama (2x), LSU (2x), South Carolina (2x), Ole Miss (2x), Tennessee (2x), @ Arkansas, Kentucky, @ Auburn, @ Georgia, Florida, @ Vanderbilt, Texas A&M
Challenging but not insurmountable as they get Kentucky, Florida and Texas A&M (arguably the three best teams in the league) at home.Travelling to Arkansas, Georgia and Vandy will be tough, but all five of their home-and-home opponents aren’t exactly exuding overwhelming talent. There’s a path for a talented, albeit, young roster to find a way above .500 in the league, but they’ll have to take advantage of some good teams coming to the Hump to do so.
In year one of the Ben Howland tenure in Starkville, he took a program lagging behind the rest of the league and provided a product fans could get excited about. Sure a 14-17 record doesn’t look very good on paper, but Mississippi State was ranked #255, #205 and #160 in the three years prior to his arrival, and he pushed them to a #78 ranking (all kenpom rankings). What’s probably gotten fans more excited is Howland absolutely knocking it out of the park in recruiting by landing the SEC’s second best class (only to Kentucky), and he’s already landed Weatherspoon’s 5-star brother Nick for the 2017 class. There’s no doubt Howland has the talent needed to win coming to State.
Still, the wins weren’t there a year ago so there has to be something to show for these efforts. Another year under the belt of Quinndary Weatherspoon, and an influx of some very big bodies and the image of MSU as a basketball school is certainly changing. They’ll be bigger and more physical than they’ve been in the past few years which should help them take another step closer to being the type of team Ben Howland likes to field. Howland made his name on his defense in years passed and the likelihood is this is that’s the way the Bulldogs will win this season. They could get a little better on offense, it’s just hard to count on the amount of youth they’ll be putting on the floor.
When you are fielding youth at every level the expectations adjust. Talent is good, and the Bulldogs have a lot of talented guys, but these aren’t the kind of guys Kentucky is fielding. The 2016 class was deep but what sort of performance can you expect from a low 4-star recruit? Most of those players don’t have major impacts as freshmen, at least not on winning teams.
Blame the youth as the reason I’m hedging bets on the Bulldogs this season. I’m a solid buy on the reclamation project of Ben Howland and the State basketball program, but as we’ve seen these reclamation projects are rarely a one or two year turnaround. The path is there for a surprise season, they’ve got a weak enough non-conference slate which could help the young guys build confidence, but they’ll have to win games on the road and their road schedule is tough, plus its hard to see them beating all of Kentucky, Florida and Texas A&M at home. So I think a nine or ten win non-conference slate probably turns into a six or seven win conference season, maybe they pick up a game or two in the SEC tournament and can get to 17-18 wins. Progress, with an eye towards a potentially big 2017-18.
About the preview: Each SEC site was asked to submit one representative to pick the entire league schedule game by game. Because these are game by game picks, they often tend to be a bit of a rosier picture of each teams potential. Each rep’s picks are reflected in the record prediction for the site listed at the top of the page, and within “the Masses” picks as well. Included in “the Masses” are various SEC media members who made picks at my request also.
If you’d like to submit your picks, here is the Google Form we used:
GP - Games Played
%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury
%pts - percentage of teams points scored
%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team