The Mississippi State Bulldogs will travel to Charleston, SC to play in a tournament this weekend sponsored by Gildan, an underwear company, who has Blake Shelton as its primary spokesperson. That doesn’t really have anything to do with basketball, but at least now you know.
On actual basketball related things, the Bulldogs will get their biggest challenge during the non-conference portion of their schedule this weekend. Winning one game should be expected, two would be nice, and three would be amazing. So who are the Bulldogs going to actually play? Here are the teams entered in the tournament
Gildan Charleston Classic Participants
- Mississippi State Bulldogs
- Central Florida Knights
- College of Charleston Cougars
- Boise State Broncos
- Villanova Wildcats
- Western Michigan Broncos
- Wake Forest Demon Deacons
- UTEP Miners
The Bulldogs will face the Central Florida Knights in the first round of the tournament on Thursday at 4:00 on ESPN 2. Their second round opponent will be either Boise State or College of Charleston. If the Bulldogs win their first game, they’ll play at 8:30 on Friday night on ESPNU. If they lose, the game will be played at 6:00 on ESPN3. Since the only opponent I know for certain is Central Florida, I’ll spend most of this preview focusing on them.
Central Florida Knights
The Bulldogs first opponent will be the complete opposite of what Mississippi State is. The Central Florida Knights are veteran team with three seniors in the starting lineup, two of which are fifth year seniors. None of the Knights’ recruiting classes over the past five years have cracked the top 100, so they rely on their experience to make up for any lack of talent they face.
The Knights went 12-18 last season and 6-12 in conference play. They weren’t good, and Mississippi State should be favored to win. But since the Bulldogs lack experience, a team that has it to spare will make for a difficult first round opponent.
- Guard - B.J. Taylor, Redshirt Sophomore
- Guard - Matt Williams, Redshirt Senior
- Guard/Forward - Tank Efianayi, Senior
- Forward - Nick Banyard, Redshirt Senior
- Center - Tacko Fall, Sophomore
Primary Bench Players
- Guard - Nathan Laing, Redshirt Junior
- Forward - Chad Brown, Sophomore
Central Florida got off to a nice start beating Nicholls State 80-56. How much this is reflective of the Knights team is still too early to tell. The Knights out rebounded Nicholls State which is consistent with last season, but they shot the ball much better than 2015-16 in the season opener.
Mississippi State should be able to match up well with the Knights on the perimeter, but they could be in for a really tough match-up down low. Schnider Herard has shown difficulty staying out of foul trouble, and as a result, Aric Holman is starting at the five. Aric Holman has the height but not the weight of a typical five.
So why is this a problem? Well UCF has a really big dude in the middle. And I mean REALLY big dude. Tacko Fall is a 7’6” (that is not a typo) 290 pound center that absolutely no one on State’s roster can match-up with from a size perspective. In the Knights season opener, Fall was 8-11 from the field with 16 points and 16 rebounds and added 4 blocks. If they can find a way to neutralize Fall’s size without leaving Matt Williams open on the outside to knock down threes, then the Bulldogs should be able to win.
Second and Third Rounds
Mississippi State is going to play either Boise State or College of Charleston in the second round. I’m not going to dive in and do an in-depth preview for both teams because I don’t know which one State will play. Boise State was a decent team that went 20-12 last season and College of Charleston was just pretty average. If we win Thursday, I think we end up playing Boise and if we lose, I’m assuming it is Charleston.
The last game of the tournament could be any number of teams depending on how the first two go. If Mississippi State should win the first two games and reach the Championship on Sunday, then I feel comfortable saying they would play the Defending National Champion Villanova Wildcats. I don’t think they can win that game just yet, but it would be nice to have the exposure to an elite team.
Goals for the Tournament
I think a reasonable goal is to get to the Championship round. If Mississippi State were playing this tournament at the end of December instead of the end of November, I’d feel really confident they could handle a veteran, but talent deficient, team like UCF. But since the Bulldogs are playing them so early and have such little experience, I think it is more of a coin flip.
But even if they can’t win the opener, it should provide a relatively easy path to two wins. The final game would likely be against Western Michigan or UTEP if they lost the opener, and none of the teams they would face after UCF should be able to match the Bulldogs talent.
The Bulldogs need to get two wins this weekend and face off against Villanova. If they can do that, you feel pretty good about where this team is heading into the rest of the non-conference schedule in December.