I do not know about many of those who will read this, but I grew up a Mississippi State fan loving Mississippi State basketball, because frankly it was the only sport Mississippi State was having consistent success with year in and year out. In a matter of fact, I could go all day listing exciting players who came and went in the Mississippi State basketball program. Derrick Zimmerman, Shane Powers, Mario Austin, Jamont Gordon, Lawrence Roberts, Charles Rhodes, Jarvis Varnado, Dee Bost, and my personal favorite Winsome Frazier are just a handful of Mississippi State players to compete at high levels while I was growing up.
Under Rick Stansbury (Mississippi State’s all-time winningest coach in program history), the bulldogs had ten 20-win seasons in the 14 years he served as the head coach, and the bulldogs went to the Big Dance six of those ten years (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, & 2009). Four of those six years the dogs made it to the Round of 32 (2002, 2004, 2005, & 2008), but the bulldogs could never seem to get over the hump despite the constant success with Coach Stansbury as the head coach. In 2004, the bulldogs even entered the NCAA tournament as a #2 seed (highest seeding in program history) and the bulldogs still went home after a second round loss to then #7 seed Xavier by a final score of 89-74.
Now, most Mississippi State fans are at the point where they finally see how good the Mississippi State basketball program had it with Rick Stansbury as the bulldogs’ head coach. Ten 20-win seasons is impressive no matter what program an individual is coaching, but the Stansbury departure had more to do with some off-the-court issues than not getting further in the Big Dance. Rick Stansbury brought in the highest recruit in Mississippi State basketball history, a five-star power forward and number 7 overall player in the 2009 basketball class, named Renardo Sidney. Let us just cut to the chase and say the young man did not play close to the hype he brought when he signed with the bulldogs. Instead, the 6’9” 300 lb. power forward brought a lack of hustle and a ton of off-the-court drama which only damaged what was a really good basketball team. In Stansbury’s last season, the 2011-12 team began the season red hot to a 19-5 start, but the bulldogs flopped down the stretch losing five of their last seven and missing out on the Big Dance. Before the 2012-13 season, Rick Stansbury was pushed out the door, Arnett Moultrie declared early for the draft, Dee Bost graduated, Rodney Hood (Duke) and Deville Smith (UNLV) transferred, and bulldog basketball as we knew it disappeared.
The Rick Ray years are something we rather not discuss in detail, but in my opinion, they did bring us two of the grittiest players to ever play in maroon and white (Craig Sword and Gavin Ware). We then move to our existing Ben Howland era, and fans are still uncertain things will ever get back to the good ole days where The Hump stayed packed for big games (like our women’s games now). My question to each of you is whether this year’s Mississippi State Men’s Basketball team is as bad as people say it is?
I believe this year’s Mississippi State team has shown much improvement from last year to this year, and I also feel they can make some noise by the end of this 2017-18 basketball season. We have to remember that this is a team with no seniors, and they bring in three very, very talented players in next year’s class (Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, and DJ Stewart), who will provide some much needed depth in key areas on the court. Therefore, this is a team with a very high ceiling for next year, but again I think people underestimate how good this team has been this season. Let’s look at a few things for this bulldogs basketball team that many of you may not have known.
Here are some national and conference statistical rankings for the bulldogs I found to be quite impressive:
- The bulldogs are the 23rd best field goal percentage defense in the nation (40% opp fg %) (3rd in SEC) (Georgia and A&M)
- The bulldogs are the 30th best scoring defense in the nation (1st in SEC)
- The bulldogs are 16th in most blocks per game in the nation (5.6)
- The bulldogs are the 48th best 3pt% defense in the nation (31.8%)
- The bulldogs are 27th for fewest fouls committed in the nation
- The bulldogs rank in the top 5 of the SEC in rebounds, steals, and blocks
After examining the numbers, there may not be a more sound team defensively than the Mississippi State bulldogs in the SEC. Those are all way better numbers than last season, which makes a lot of sense when you think about Nick and Ado being added to the floor this season, especially both being in starting roles. If you want to talk about improvement, how about Aric Holman elevating his game the way he has this season? The guy has been huge for us in some very key games and he seems to only be getting better. Holman and Ado both rank in the top-10 of the SEC in rebounding, which is also a significant difference from last season where we could not buy a rebound. Having a bit more athletic size this year has definitely been a key for Mississippi State this season and hopefully they can find ways to utilize it more on the offensive side of the ball.
Looking at guard play for Mississippi State, Nick Weatherspoon definitely stands out for his physicality on defense, but it is actually both Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters whom rank in the top 10 of the SEC in steals. I enjoy watching this team play defense game in and game out, because they play with grit the entire length of a game. So you ask why is Mississippi State losing all these SEC games in the second halves then? Well, there are three things I feel the Mississippi State bulldogs could improve on, and if they do, we may very well be a team to try and slide into a late tournament spot.
- Stop relying on the 3-pt shot when they get behind- I know most of you fans are aware that the bulldogs have taken many 3-pt shots this season and not many have fallen for the dogs. In fact, the bulldogs are 342nd in the nation in 3-pt percentage (29.7%). That’s pretty bad... Ok... It’s REALLY bad! Every game I watch the bulldogs get behind in, I see them start chunking up 3’s as if they feel like they have to in order to stay in the game. It would be way different if they were moving the ball around like the lady bulldogs do in their games, but these guys force too many bad shots in games to be honest. Tyson, Lamar, and Q are all three really good shooters when they want to be, but when it is not their night, they need to realize it and starting getting the ball inside. That leads to my second point.
- Get the ball inside- Tell me if it is just me, but it seems like every game the bulldogs have played this season, the dogs have started off driving inside and utilizing the post game well with enough balance to be successful. However, then it seems like every second half the bulldogs start jacking up the shots they do not need to take and dig themselves into holes they cannot get out of. In my opinion, I think if Coach Howland can get Nick and Lamar driving to the basket more in the second halves of ball games and feeding Holman and Ado inside, then the bulldogs will be able to add to their win column more often down the stretch. The raw talent and NBA potential of Nick and Lamar is unreal, but they have to see the importance of sharing responsibilities of getting the ball inside being a HUGE key to success for their team.
- Capitalize at the free throw line- The bulldogs are 13th in the SEC in FT% only ahead of Arkansas. There is not much to say about this other than you HAVE to be able to hit free throws if you want to win close games, which explains why Mississippi State has lost so many close ones. Mississippi State, as mentioned before, is one of the best teams in the country on the defensive side of the ball and avoiding fouls, BUT they have to take advantage of that on the other end when the teams they play put them on the line.
Other than that, these dogs just need to continue doing what they have been doing on defense and on the boards. The rest will fall into place. Get behind these dogs, because I do not think they are out of the hunt for some postseason hopes quite yet. The dogs face the two lowest scoring teams in the SEC in their next two ball games (South Carolina and Georgia), which means with the defense Mississippi State plays, those both become very winnable ball games. The two games could also serve as a huge momentum swing for the season if the dogs could get off to a 3-game win streak. Time will tell. Until then, Hail State!