No. 18 Mississippi State relevant once again on hardwood
It’s been nearly a decade since there have been such high expectations for a Mississippi State basketball team.
The Bulldogs are ranked No. 18 in the preseason Top 25, which is the first time they’ve been ranked to start the season since 2009, when they were also No. 18.
Mississippi State’s slow climb back to hardwood relevance started when Quinndary Weatherspoon arrived on campus four years ago. Back then, he was one of the few talented players on the roster. Now the senior is surrounded by plenty of talent.
“From my freshman year to now, I think this is the most competitive team we’ve had,” Weatherspoon said. “People are in the gym every day, trying to get better on their own game. I think that will make the team better as well.”
Mississippi State returns its top six scorers from last year’s team, which finished with a 25-12 record and advanced to the semifinals of the NIT.
Even though the veteran team has plenty of talent, the Bulldogs will still likely lean on Weatherspoon for production. The 6-foot-4 guard led Mississippi State with 14.4 points per game last season and also grabbed six rebounds per game. He was second on the team with 123 assists and led the Bulldogs with 52 steals.
One thing that might help push the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament this season is better outside shooting. The Bulldogs made just 32 percent of their 3-pointers last season, and that number fell to 30 percent in conference play.
“We spent a lot of time in the offseason really working on shooting,” Howland said. “Our players spent a lot of time on their own, that’s the best thing. These guys are gym rats.”
Some other things to know about Mississippi State this season:
Mississippi State’s roster should be deeper this season than in the past thanks to the addition of three freshmen — Reggie Perry, D.J. Stewart and Robert Woodard — who could help the Bulldogs immediately. The 6-foot-10 Perry will provide another talented player in the frontcourt while the 6-foot-6 Stewart and 6-foot-7 Woodard will help on the wing.
There might not be a more important player on the roster than junior point guard Lamar Peters. When Peters is playing well, he brings the kind of floor vision and leadership the Bulldogs need, and it was no accident that his best stretch coincided with several Mississippi State wins in SEC play. He averaged more than eight assists per game during the Bulldogs’ NIT run last season.
THE YOUNGER WEATHERSPOON
Sophomore guard Nick Weatherspoon might have as big of an impact on the Bulldogs as his older brother by the time his career is over. Weatherspoon was outstanding as a freshman, finishing third on the team with 10.8 points per game and providing a hard-nosed defensive presence. If he can shoot better — he hit just 29.2 percent of his 3-point attempts — he has the potential to become an All-SEC talent.
Mississippi State has an interesting nonconference schedule that includes games against Arizona State, Dayton, Clemson, Cincinnati and BYU. The Bulldogs open conference play on the road against South Carolina on Jan. 8.
YEAR 4 FOR HOWLAND
Howland has slowly build Mississippi State into an SEC contender in his fourth season in Starkville. The Bulldogs finished with 30-33 record during his first two seasons, but jumped to 25-12 last season. The pattern is remarkably similar to his coaching stints at UCLA, Pittsburgh and Northern Arizona. He made the NCAA Tournament during the fourth year at all those stops, including taking the Bruins to the Final Four.