From the highly talented Stansbury teams that could not meet expectations, to the three seasons of the disastrous Rick Ray era, and even in the first two years of the Ben Howland era, Mississippi State basketball has been frustrating for years.
All of that is about to change.
Everywhere Ben Howland has been, he has won. It has been a process, but the result of winning has occurred time and time again.
In his first two seasons at Northern Arizona, Ben Howland’s team won 9 and 7 games, respectively. Year 3? 21 wins, a conference championship, and a berth in the Big Dance.
In Howland’s first two seasons at Pittsburgh, he won a lowly 13 games in year one and jumped to 19 in the second year. Year 3? 28 wins, a conference championship, a 2-seed, and an Elite 8 appearance.
When Howland landed his dream job at UCLA, year one was a struggle and year two did not meet expectations, winning 11 and 18 games each. Year 3? 32 wins and a season that jump-started three consecutive Pac-10 Championships and three straight Final Four appearances.
Year 3 is THE season for Ben Howland teams.
His playbook and culture have been implemented, standards and expectations are communicated, and players that fits what he wants to do are in the program.
Howland has coached two completely different teams in his two seasons in Starkville.
While many have wanted instant success, it takes time to build up a rebuilding program. That magnifies when the coach deals with a senior-led team in his first year and a team full of underclassmen the next. Year one consisted of six seniors, a solidified big man in Gavin Ware, and a highly touted recruit by the name of Malik Newman.
Meanwhile, the six Seniors are gone and Newman left the program in hopes of fitting in better in Lawrence, Kansas. Senior Point Guard I.J. Ready is the lone upperclassmen on the team, star sophomore Quinndary Weatherspoon is playing with a wrist injury that almost ended his season as soon as it hardly began, and a large and talented, yet raw Freshmen class is learning on the fly while missing a member in 4-star big man Abdul Ado — a position of need for the Bulldogs.
The second youngest team in all of college basketball, according to KenPom, is going to have struggles with getting off to a hot-start, turnovers, decision-making, and closing out games. Mississippi State has been in games late with the top three teams in the SEC — losing by 7 to Kentucky, and by 9 combined points to Florida and South Carolina — but the next step is making the needed plays to change a close-loss to a signature win.
One player that can do just that is 5-star Point Guard Nick Weatherspoon. The younger brother of Quinndary, Nick Weatherspoon has the speed to penetrate defenses, the range to pull up from three, and the attitude needed to take over games. Weatherspoon has the ability to play both back-court positions as well, making an explosive pair with Lamar Peters possible for Howland to play with to frustrate defenses. Drawing comparsions to Russell Westbrook by the man who coached him, the elite playmaker can be a major factor in helping Mississippi State close out games to get to The Dance.
The three additions up front next season - Garrison Brooks, Keyshawn Feazell, and the aforementioned Abdul Ado - can have the potential to flip the horribly-frustrating losses to big wins. While freshman Schnider Herard has certainly been improving all season and sophomore Aric Holman is one of the conference's best shot blockers, it is no secret that the Bulldogs lack a consistent post presence and struggle to win the battle on the boards. Garrison Brooks is a big-bodied forward with a post game that Mississippi State is looking for.
When the three’s are not falling, Brooks will have the ability to make an impact down low. Brooks also adds an element of stretching the floor, which is great news for the slashing Weatherspoon brothers and the guards. Keyshawn Feazell is full of athleticism. While considered a raw prospect, the Lawrence County product will add much-needed post depth for the Maroon and White.
Ado is an athletic freak that will be another rim protector on the roster. His length will be able to impact shots in the paint for the Bulldogs’ defense. The three big men will help change the fortunes of the front court next season.
Lamar Peters has shown star potential. The freshman out of New Orleans has quickly become a fan favorite. His quick handle, deep range, and fearless attitude is something Mississippi State has been missing. A year of experience will only help the young guard reach his potential. Mario Kegler is improving in big ways every game.
Kegler has seemingly embraced the stretch-four position for Howland and it has paid off. The Oak Hill product has the size to battle inside to go along with the shot and touch to stretch the floor. Tyson Carter can get hot at any moment. While slim in size, the Starkville native has added hot shooting when on the court. His talent was shown off in a big way against South Carolina, going for 22 points on 50% shooting beyond the perimeter.
The development of Schnider Herard continues to grow. The raw big man from Hati struggled to find a niche early on the season. As the season as gone on, his offense has improved and the defense is coming around, too. While fouling needs to go down, Herard looks to be developing into a solid big man for the Bulldogs. Eli Wright has struggled at times this year, but his slashing-ability can be shown in big ways next season with a more open floor to operate in. The freshmen class has the potential to do high-level things in their time in Starkville.
While this season has had disappointing moments, the future is as bright as the sun at midday. A fully healthy Quinndary Weatherspoon, a year of experience and development for the large group of underclassmen, and the continuous influx of major talent makes Year 3 of the Ben Howland era a chance to be very special.