Excitement filled the summer and fall of 2015 as MSU began the Ben Howland era. AD Scott Stricklin made another quality hire for MSU athletics and we were anxious to get things started. I think many people expected some kind of miracle season and an NCAA tournament run in Coach Howland's first year. Building a program takes time though and securing talent, hopefully talent that hangs around for more than one year, that maybe even earns a four year degree.
Do we want to be a winning program? A program that is built the right way with at least some home-grown talent (God knows Mississippi has a bunch of it) or do we want a roster of names we can't even pronounce or recognize the language? Personally, if we have kids come in to just use MY STATE for a quick jump to the pros, not interested in earning a REAL degree and investing themselves into OUR STATE then I would rather they stay away. But hey that's me and I'm rambling.
The men's season began with a time of exploring to find players that "fit" together best and performed well. In any sport the early part of the year is for finding team chemistry and seeing who "buys in". Winning 2 out of 3 to begin with had both positive and negatives. Positive was battling and working together to beat a quality Eastern Washington team but negative in turning around to lose to Southern University, Southern...REALLY? We continued on through the non-conference season (Nov-Dec) with an 8-4 record beating some patsies to gain some experience playing together.
Now the conference schedule began as we lose the first 5 conference games and go 2-6 for January. Not what we expected at all but beating TSUN made the 6 losses digest a little better plus knowing we faced most of the quality teams of our league in January. February sees us go 4-4 including beating two teams (Arkansas and South Carolina) who had beaten us in January, an improvement but we lost the rematch with TSUN March 2nd (always sucks losing to them even in table tennis). We closed out the regular season with senior night against Auburn and Bruce Pearl in his second season there. Our seniors, five of them, including Sword and Ware left "The HUMP" for the last time with a nice win 79-66* (www.Hailstate.com). The MSU men's season ended with a loss to Georgia in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
The men finished with a 14-17 overall record including 7-11 in conference. Half (6) of the conference losses were by 6 points or less and 12 of the 17 season long losses were by 10 points or less (Hailstate.com). That shows me that we were competitive and could have easily achieved a wining record and more. Who really knows what our freshman phenom was thinking or saying behind closed doors? Apparently he was not happy or bought into what Coach Howland asked him to do because he has sought a place where he can be "The Man" ( I will not express personal thoughts here).
Overall I think our coach did a really good job and got a lot out of the team. We need solid recruits who WANT to be at MSU and will work, sacrifice to build like Sword and Ware did. It will come in time. I believe that. I think the more players we have that are buying into a degree and career at STATE, go to class every day then the Hump will go back to having sellouts like we did back in the 1970's and 80's. I would like to see that day come back again.
Both the Men's and Women's Basketball programs we should be proud of and support all we can.