The Mississippi State Bulldogs Men’s Basketball team fell to 0-1 in SEC play after dropping their conference opener to the Alabama Crimson Tide on Tuesday night. It was a disheartening loss because it was a game many people believed the Bulldogs could win. With the loss came a lot of frustration with the way the team played.
So is there any hope for this team? Sure, but there are some areas that need to be addressed if the team is going to have some success in 2016-17 which will hopefully springboard the team into a great season in 2017-18.
Be More Physical
This is probably the most difficult area to correct simply because the Bulldogs don’t have the personnel. Losing Abdul Ado due to the NCAA declaring him ineligible hurt, but even if he had been ruled eligible, he was considered more of a project than Schneider Herard is.
The lack of physicality is going to show up much more in SEC play than it did in nonconference play. The Bulldogs are averaging 35 rebounds a game and giving up 35.7. Expect that discrepancy to get worse as the season goes along. But it doesn’t have to be as bad as it was Tuesday night when the Bulldogs were out rebounded by 19 boards.
Ben Howland was miked up for the game, and at one point during the broadcast, he mentioned to his players they have to ensure the team gets a rebound before they started heading to the other end of the court. This has to stop. If the guards are crashing the boards as well and not turning to head to the other end on shots, then this will fix some of the holes the roster has created.
The best way to fix it would be for Schneider Herard to continue to develop. He’s struggled to stay on the floor for most of the season due to foul trouble, but this has been gradually improving as the season has progressed. He’s averaging 5.1 rebounds per game, but he’s doing it on just 16 minutes a game. If that number could be pushed to 25 minutes a game, you could expect the rebounding of the Bulldogs to improve.
Three Point Shooting Consistency
Between Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters, Tyson Carter, and Mario Kegler, the Bulldogs have assembled a team of good shooters. Mississippi State entered the game against Alabama as the second best three point shooting team in the SEC. The problem is they are not nearly consistent enough with their perimeter shooting.
In today’s game of basketball, if a team is going to shoot a heavy volume of threes, you need to be as close to 40% as possible. Currently the Bulldogs shoot 36.3% so they have some work to do. The biggest problem is, they’ve gotten to that 36.3% by being all over the place when it comes to their shooting. Here are the three point percentages the Bulldogs have shot in every game this season.
The Bulldogs are all over the place when it comes to their outside shooting. The overall percentage needs to go up a few points, but the hot and cold streaks need to come to an end. In an ideal situation, you would want 2 of every 5 three point shots to fall. Shooting 8 of 20 from three point range would be great, but if you get there by going 2-12 to start and then 6-8 to finish, a team has large gaps where they aren’t scoring.
A Second Scoring Option Needs to be Established
Quinndary Weatherspoon is a great player, and he continues to be amazing even after suffering an injury that could have easily ended his season. The problem is he is still human and won’t always play his best every single night. Such was the case on Tuesday against Alabama.
Credit Alabama coach Avery Johnson for making a concerted effort to take Weatherspoon out of the game as much as possible. The result was Weatherspoon’s worst game of the year where he shot 2-11 from the field and only scored 7 points and turned the ball over four times.
But would the Alabama defense had been as effective had some other player stepped up to fill the gap? The problem is we don’t really know who the number two option on the floor is. Sometimes it has been Lamar Peters. Sometimes it has been Tyson Carter. Sometimes it has been Mario Kegler. Aric Holman and I.J. Ready have also been the second option on certain nights. The problem is if Ben Howland can’t put the game in the hands of another player to relieve some of the pressure on Weatherspoon, then the team might continue to struggle. You can expect teams to emulate what Alabama did and force other players on the team to beat the Bulldogs.
My best guess as to who the best option to fill this role is Lamar Peters. Ben Howland has often talked about how he likes to play two point guards at the same time, so it would be interesting to see if Peters continues to play well if his role is increased. Peters has shown he can make things happen, but he does it in limited minutes.
If it isn’t Peters, then someone else has to step up. Kegler was the highest rated player coming in, so he could be the guy as well. It just needs to be someone.
This one is for the fans as much as it is for the team. One of the things I was afraid of is the recruiting ranking this team had was it would inflate expectations. And the reaction by most fans after the team plays poorly makes me believe I was correct.
Criticism that sounds something similar to the belief a team composed of a recruiting class rated as highly as the 2016 class was should play better. Whenever someone says the team is young and inexperienced, the critic says it shouldn’t be an excuse and then brings up Kentucky and Duke.
The inexperience of the team is not an excuse, it’s a reality. One of the reasons the 2016 class was ranked 9th was due to the number of prospects signed. Of the six signed, five were four stars and NONE were five stars.
And that last part is key. The five star players Kentucky and Duke sign are ready to play pro ball the moment they stepped on the floor for those teams. The guys Mississippi State signed need time to develop, and when you literally have the youngest team in all of college basketball, the team is going to have to get some playing time under their belt before the results can start to show up.
Yes, this is frustrating when the program continues to struggle. No, it doesn’t make losing okay. But it does mean you shouldn’t give up on the program because this season isn’t going as well as some of us might have hoped. It’s been well documented that Howland’s teams don’t usually have a lot of success until his third year. We’re still in the middle of season two. It will get better, and we need to let Howland show he can do what he has done in every other coaching job he has had up until this point.
There’s no easy fix. The team has issues that need to be corrected, but it will take time. Losing isn’t fun, but the future is bright. We just have to endure some dim moments until we get there.