Mississippi State looks for big jump in Howland's 3rd season
It's year three for Ben Howland at Mississippi State, which could mean the time is now for the Bulldogs' basketball program.
Howland has a reputation for impressive turnarounds of programs at Northern Arizona, Pittsburgh and UCLA. At each of those stops, there were two tough years under Howland before a massive jump in year three.
Howland believes he has built a roster at Mississippi State that has a chance for the same kind of success.
''We are further ahead in our understanding,'' Howland said. ''They are stronger. They are faster. They have a better feel. All those freshman last year are now sophomores. The three sophomores are now juniors.''
Mississippi State returns several experienced players, including Quinndary Weatherspoon, Aric Holman, Lamar Peters, Xavian Stapleton and Tyson Carter, from a team that finished with a 16-16 record. Weatherspoon led the team with 16.5 points per game last season.
The Bulldogs also add a few talented newcomers, including forward Abdul Ado and guard Nick Weatherspoon, who is Quinndary's younger brother.
''I feel really good about the team,'' Carter said. ''I feel like we're going to have a better season this year. We have more weapons on offense so we will be able to score, and I think we are going to be a better defensive team.''
Mississippi State hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009.
Here are a few more things to watch for the Bulldogs this season:
HOWLAND'S MAGIC: Howland's third season has been fantastic at his previous stops. At Northern Arizona, the team improved from 7-19 to 21-7. At Pittsburgh, the team went from 19-14 to 29-6 and the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. At UCLA, he went from 18-11 to 32-7 and made the NCAA Tournament championship game before losing to Florida.
TOUGH STRETCH: Mississippi State is a proud basketball program that made the NCAA Tournament Final Four in 1996 and advanced to the Big Dance six times in eight seasons from 2002 to '09. But the Bulldogs have just a 67-93 record over the past five seasons.
NEED MORE PETERS: Peters, a sophomore point guard, looked like a star at times during his first season. He had a stretch during the middle of the season where he scored at least 10 points in 10 of 12 games, but he faded down the stretch, and the Bulldogs faded with him.
SIZE ADVANTAGE: Mississippi State should have a very tall team in the post, with four rotation players standing 6-foot-10 or taller. Schnider Herard, E.J. Datcher and Holman played last season and now the Bulldogs add redshirt freshman Abdul Ado, who at 6-foot-11 is expected to add another shot-blocking presence.
HEALTHY QUINNDARY: Weatherspoon had a productive season as a sophomore, especially considering he was battling a wrist injury for almost the entire year. He still averaged 16.5 points per game last season, which ranked 7th in the SEC. More is expected from the 6-foot-4 guard, who has proven adept at shooting from outside and getting to the rim.
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