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Mississippi State is a dangerous team if it can figure out how to win close games

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Previewing the #9 team in the SEC, the Mississippi State Bulldogs.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
MSU Preview

#9 Mississippi State Bulldogs

Last Season: 16 - 16 (6 - 12 in conference) #88 kenpom

My Prediction: 20 - 11 (8 - 10, 9th in conference)

The Masses Prediction: 6.9 - 11.1 (11th in conference)

NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

HEAD COACH: Ben Howland | third season 30-33

When Ben Howland took over the Bulldogs and immediately started landing elite talent I don’t think many people expected him to struggle as much the first few seasons as they have. So it goes a long way towards saying how difficult it can be to rebuild a program devoid of talent and accustomed to losing. A mildly improved record in their first season ended with some experienced players like Craig Sword and Gavin Ware handing the program over to a severe youth movement and the Bulldogs record still improved, just slightly. Going from 14-17 to 16-16 isn’t what most envisioned in year two but Howland has a roster right now that is stacked full of young and talented players and they’re bringing almost everyone back. Give Howland time to mold a young group to be tougher and play better defense, a hallmark of his UCLA and PItt teams and you could have a daunting mix over the next few years in Starkville. Year three is an important one for the Bulldogs to take a step forward, and for the first time since Howland has been in charge, they likely have enough dogs to be in the hunt.

Seat Temp: COOL

2017 10 year look Mississippi State

Nothing since 2009 means if the Bulldogs don’t make the NCAA tournament this season it will be a full decade since they last danced. I think it’s a realistic goal for them to make the tourney this season, but I also don’t think it should be considered a failure if they miss either. Howland has a rock solid but young roster and they look a lot like a bubble team who won’t be able to afford any hiccups in non-conference play.

SO, WHO’S GONE?

name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
name reason GP %min %pts %ov %poss
Xavian Stapleton transfer 32 42.28% 7.58% 4.76% 8.47%
Eli Wright transfer 34 31.48% 3.76% 4.81% 4.12%
Schnider Herard transfer 11 1.18% 0.41% 0.00% 0.71%
Nick Singleton* graduation 9 1.68% 0.81% 0.46% 0.56%
Drew Davis* graduation 17 1.14% 0.11% 0.21% 0.46%
15.55% 12.67% 10.24% 14.32%

Whenever you bring on a ton of young players like Mississippi State did last year you are bound to lose a few to transfer. Guys usually will get outplayed and seek playing time elsewhere seeing their path blocked by someone in the same class. Mario Kegler was a starter, however, so his departure was a surprise to many. Kegler was a big wing who was capable physically of playing on the interior and often did. It was reported this may have been a factor in Kegler wanting to move on because he envisioned himself as a wing. But in today’s college basketball environment, it seems short sighted to ignore the changes in the game because of some weird perception of what you want to be. I mean, Draymond Green plays the ‘5’ for the Warriors a lot of the time and he’s 6’7. Either way, Kegler moved on. I.J. Ready was a good steadying presence for the Bulldogs, and Joe Strugg never seemed to be able to break into the rotation.

AND, WHO’S BACK?

player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
player year pos gp %min %pts ts% %ov
Quinndary Weatherspoon SR WING 37 77.99% 19.66% 67.74% 24.16%
Aric Holman SR CF 37 57.18% 14.84% 76.58% 9.59%
Nick Weatherspoon SO CG 36 68.52% 14.32% 60.99% 16.50%
Lamar Peters JR PG 34 63.22% 12.00% 49.77% 23.18%
Tyson Carter JR CG 37 56.71% 12.15% 58.69% 11.04%
Abdul Ado R-SO POST 36 63.96% 10.38% 74.24% 3.97%
E.J. Datcher JR POST 30 15.84% 2.47% 68.93% 1.24%
KeyShawn Feazell SO POST 28 11.41% 1.40% 43.03% 0.45%
T.J. Gray* JR PG 5 0.74% 0.11% 29.41% 0.00%
Mitch Storm* JR CF 8 1.34% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Tate Clayton* SO CG 4 0.60% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
83.50% 87.33% 63.11% 90.13%
NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Quinndary Weatherspoon | JUNIOR | WING

An early contender for SEC player of the year will be Quinndary Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon is a dynamic player capable of challenging your defense from any angle and at any level. He’s probably most comfortable on the wing, but can defend anyone which makes him a very tough matchup. I mean, I probably wouldn’t ask him to defend John Egbunu in the post, but you get what I mean. The best thing about Weatherspoon this season is he’ll have an ample amount of help which could make him even more efficient, even more dangerous and even tougher to guard. For the Bulldogs that’s a very good thing, for the rest of the SEC, not so much.

There is a lot coming back for the Bulldogs, 65% of their offensive value, 77% of their points, and 74% of their possessions. The interior looks set with junior post Aric Holman, a lean 6’10 athlete, and sophomore post Schnider Herard, a brutish 6’10 mountain. The Bulldogs often went small so Holman and Herard rarely played together, and now they’ll contend for those minutes with E.J. Datcher and Abdul Ado. Datcher played in 31 of 32 games and became relied upon more as the season wore on. The coaching staff is very high on Ado and what he can bring after having to sit out last year as a partial qualifier. You’ll likely see more traditional lineups with a solid four man post rotation this season. Perhaps the difference in the coming season will be the grown of Tyson Carter or Eli Wright. Both came into Starkville as heralded recruits but neither really stood out. Only Carter seemed to provide a scoring boost at times, while Wright struggled to find a consistent role. Louisiana Tech Xavian Stapleton flashed his athleticism at the combo forward spot, his ability to play both spots provided a lot of flexibility for Howland and I’d expect that to continue again this year.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Peters | SOPHOMORE | POINT GUARD

Another added advantage of last seasons youth movement was the advancement of Lamar Peters. Peters was a highly regarded point guard prospect coming out of New Orleans and gradually Ben Howland made Peters the leader on the floor, loosening the reigns as the season wore on. He did fade a little down the stretch but Peters is clearly the leader on the floor going forward. He plays with a toughness and edge that Howland likes in his guards, and isn’t afraid to defend. If Peters can take another step forward you’ll see big gains from the Bulldogs this season.

THEN, WHO’S NEW?

class player ht wt rating ranking pos
class player ht wt rating ranking pos
Fr Reggie Perry 6'10 245 ★★★★ 31 POST
Fr Robert Woodward 6'7 230 ★★★★ 63 CF
Fr D.J. Stewart 6'6 195 ★★★★ 117 WING
Jr Jethro Tshisumpa 6'10 260 ★★★ 169 POST

With so many young players already on the roster the Bulldogs didn’t need to do a whole lot of recruiting in the 2017 class. The big fish they needed to land, however, they did. Nick Weatherspoon, younger brother of Quinndary, is a highly recruited and significantly talented player. He’s more of a point guard than an off-the-ball player but he’s capable of doing so many things that I could see him earning his spot at either lead guard or off the ball. He’s strong enough to finish through contact and has a nice compactness on his jump shot which allows him to get his shot off against a tight defense. It would not surprise me to see Weatherspoon started from day one, but he’ll at least have some competition. KeyShawn Feazell looks to be a little bit more of a project, but he could push Datcher for some minutes in the post.

DEPTH CHART

position starter backup third
position starter backup third
(1) Point Guard Lamar Peters Tyson Carter
(2) Combo Guard Nick Weatherspoon D.J. Stewart
(3) Wing Quinndary Weatherspoon Robert Woodward
(4) Combo Forward Aric Holman E.J. Datcher KeyShawn Feazell
(5) Post Reggie Perry Abdul Ado Jethro Tshisumpa

I’m starting off with Nick Weatherspoon in a backup role, but as I stated above I fully expect him to contend for a starting position and it very easily could be both he and Peters on the 1, 2 line. Tyson Carter and Eli Wright are going to have to fight hard for their minutes. I feel like Stapleton is comfortable coming off the bench but the real key for this team is how competitive their post players are. They have the depth now but will Holman, Herard, Ado, Datcher or Feazell turn into difference makers? Or will they get pushed out of the rotation by so many good guards that Howland goes small?

SCHEDULE

My Projected Record: 20 - 11 | KenPom Projected Record: 19 - 12

NCAA Basketball: Albany at Cincinnati David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

NON-CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Nov 9 Home Austin Peay 191 W
Nov 11 Home Hartford 197 W
Nov 16 Home Long Beach State 201 W
Nov 19 Neutral Arizona State 53 W
Nov 21 Neutral St. Mary's/Utah State 74 / 170 -
Nov 26 Home Alcorn State 341 W
Nov 30 Home Dayton 100 W
Dec 4 Away McNeese State 330 W
Dec 8 Neutral Clemson 14 L
Dec 15 Home Cincinnati 44 W
Dec 19 Home Wofford 121 W
Dec 22 Home* Wright State 125 W
Dec 29 Home BYU 56 W
avg 147.75

Like the last few years, Howland has stacked up a host of winnable games in hopes to build up some confidence in a young group. A home game against Dayton and a road contest at Cincinnati are all that stands between the Bulldogs and a host of mid and low major conference opponents. Last season they dropped three out of conference games, for them to be considered for an at-large bid I think State needs to keep that number at two. The Dayton game could go either way and if the Bulldogs keep their non-conference loss to just one they could gain the necessary momentum to exceed expectations within conference.

CONFERENCE

Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Date Location Opponent KenPom Proj W/L
Jan 8 Away South Carolina 42 W
Jan 12 Home Ole Miss 94 W
Jan 15 Home Florida 19 W
Jan 19 Away Vanderbilt 69 L
Jan 22 Away Kentucky 7 L
Jan 26 Home Auburn 17 W
Jan 29 Away Alabama 51 L
Feb 2 Away Ole Miss 94 L
Feb 6 Home LSU 50 W
Feb 9 Home Kentucky 7 W
Feb 12 Home Alabama 51 W
Feb 16 Away Arkansas 64 W
Feb 20 Away Georgia 101 W
Feb 23 Home South Carolina 42 W
Feb 26 Home Missouri 43 W
Mar 2 Away Auburn 17 L
Mar 5 Away Tennessee 11 L
Mar 9 Home Texas A&M 48 W
avg 45.94

The Bulldogs get a bit of a break on the home and homes. Vanderbilt, Alabama and Missouri should all be tough but far from infallible. Ole Miss has great guard depth but big questions inside and South Carolina looks to be taking a serious step back. If MSU can find a way to win six or more they’ll be in good shape. It’s the road games at Texas A&M, Kentucky and Florida which put Mississippi State at a deficit, as it’s unlikely they’ll escape any place with a win. But at least you aren’t risking a home game against an opponent more likely to win on your own floor. Georgia, Auburn, Arkansas and Tennessee all come to Starkville. Four winnable games. I’ve got MSU at 8-10 but there’s a simple path forward into double digit wins.

OVERVIEW

If Ben Howland had last season as his first season the rope might be a touch longer for him. Not that I think Howland is on a short leash but I could certainly see another NCAA miss start to sour the outlook for a lot of fans in Starkville. However, truthfully, things are looking really really up and Howland continues to recruit really well. Looking at last season the Bulldogs took a bit of a dip from the previous season, but last season was the true restart for the program due to the quick and effective roster turnover done by the start of the 2016-17 season.

Mississippi State went full youth movement and it’s unclear how it paid off, as we’re likely to see the results this season. Jumping your roster a year when you loaded up on talent to start is a good way to go. Losing Mario Kegler is going to leave a hole but the Bulldogs have a lot to be excited about. They’re talented, and on top of that they’re legitimately 10 deep.

I like this roster. I love Quinndary Weatherspoon, and think there are some extremely solid pieces around him. But much of the success this season is going to hinge on factors outside of Starkville. If, as expected, the SEC as a whole is capable of sending 7-8 teams to the NCAA tournament, it’s possible the Bulldogs aren’t one of them.

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina at Mississippi State Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

So Quinndary is going to need some help to get MSU over the hump. Peters is going to need to take a giant step forward, Herard is going to need to take a giant step forward, and they’re going to need to get more than you’d expect from Q’s younger brother Nick. The Bulldogs have everything you need to win this year, and win big. It just feels like they’re not quite there.

It almost appears to be the consensus. The Bulldogs will be better, but probably not quite there yet. They need to find a good three point shooter, turn the ball over less, and be more effective around the rim. They’ve been okay defensively, but will need to get even better. Basically they’ll need to boost both their offensive and defensive efficiency and go from 88th in KenPom into the 50s which would be a serious jump for a team without an influx of talent, based solely upon returning talent. The talent is very, very good, they’re just missing one or two aspects from being truly great. But good still might be enough this year.


About the preview: a number of respected basketball bloggers were asked to submit one 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, click here for the Google Form we used.


GLOSSARY

* - an asterisk denotes a walk-on player

GP - Games Played

%min - percentage of total available minutes played, does not account for time missed due to injury

%ov - offensive team value, simple formula of (%points + %rebounds) - %turnovers/*100, similar to Offensive Rating but places more value on performance to the team

%poss - percentage of team possessions the player is responsible for ending a possession, whether by making a shot, missing a shot not rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.

%pts - percentage of teams points scored

ts% - true shooting percentage, basically points scored divided by 2x fga +0.44*fta.