An all too familiar feeling is yet again sweeping through the Mississippi State fan base. Mediocrity. You would think that a team that started 12-1 would have plenty of hype surrounding it, with most fans already eyeing a spot in the Big Dance. But as we have seen all too often, our team of very talented and capable players has yet to step up and solidify it’s spot among the top tier teams of the SEC. That being said, there is still so much potential for this team to return to the form they had to start the season.
Ben Howland’s first few years were obviously a huge rebuilding process to forget the abysmal years under Rick Ray. That is no knock on the players from the Ray era because they certainly played hard every game, but the talent level was never there to truly compete. The hire of Howland was certainly a splash. From his stellar resume of turning teams around quickly, to making a trip to the Final Four four times in a row, to coaching the likes of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love, there is certainly reason to be optimistic. Thinking like most State fans, we all expected him to return us to at least the level of play shown during the Stansbury years almost immediately, but college basketball is a fickle game full of parity, Cinderella stories, and the inevitable ups and downs.
Now, let’s fast forward to where we are heading into the Alabama game Saturday. Fresh off an 18-point win against Vanderbilt should usually bode well for building confidence, but Vandy is having a down year surprisingly. Still, it is a conference win which the Dogs desperately needed heading into the game at Tuscaloosa. The emergence of Aric Holman as an all-around great player is becoming evident and the Dogs play great defense, giving up 64.6 points per game, which is good for 1st in the SEC. The problem, however, is the offense, which sits at 12th in the conference with 67.6 ppg. Lamar Peters has been rather underwhelming coming off a big summer, but the biggest concern is a lack of leadership. Quinndary Weatherspoon has been thrust into that role, but it doesn’t seem to suit him, in fact, it seems to have put unnecessary pressure on him to perform, which is evident in many of his shot selections and decisions. I still love his play and he is a great character guy, now we need that to transfer into his being able to lead a group of young, talented players. There is still plenty of time for this team to start clicking on all cylinders and maybe the win against Vandy can get us going to get our first road win over Bama on Saturday, but that remains to be seen. I have high hopes for this team this year and beyond. The foundation is in place, the big recruits are coming, and now we need to show that we can back it up with success on the court or risk having all of our talent begging for an invitation to the NIT.