When the buzzer sounded in Memorial Gymnasium it felt like the last hope for making the NCAA tournament had vanished for Mississippi State. Vanderbilt, aided by a few controversial calls, had pulled out yet another home win over a more talented team. The loss made it two tough SEC road losses in a row for the Bulldogs, and they limped back to Starkville needing to win out just for consideration.
However, since the Vandy loss they’ve strengthened their case for making the tournament, beating Ole Miss at home and Texas A&M on the road. The Bulldogs kept their current streak and postseason hopes alive with a thrilling 72-68 overtime win over South Carolina at the Hump. State next host no. 11 Tennessee and end their season at LSU.
There is still a chance, and the Bulldogs have shown they still have some fight in them through a hard fought, draining SEC campaign, but fans shouldn’t be concerned if the Bulldogs don’t make the tourney. This is a team much improved from a year ago, and despite tough games and close losses the improvement is showing on the court and in recruiting.
The 2017-18 Bulldogs are a 20 win team for the first time in 5 years, they’re currently 3rd in the SEC standings, and only 5 players in the team are upper classmen. They’ve shown considerable improvement on both ends of the floor, and are boosted every year by highly rated recruits.
This season freshman Nick Weatherspoon has made a difference starting at guard alongside his brother, Quinndary Weatherspoon. The two brothers share a 3-man back court with Lamar Peters, another skilled guard who has emerged as a reliable player this season. Though a bit unconventional in basketball, the formation allows the guard heavy roster to rotate the best current options. However, given the current 2018 recruiting class, the Bulldog faithful can expect more front court options next season.
Mississippi State’s 2018 class features 5-star power forward Reggie Perry as well as 4-stars Robert Woodard II (guard) and DJ Stewart (forward). The front court reinforcements in the 2018 class will be a welcome addition to the back court heavy team, and will provide more diverse scoring options. Offensively State has struggled to make plays in the paint, and it puts more pressure on the guard positions to keep the offense moving.
This Mississippi State team has had to endure growing pains for several seasons now, but the Bulldogs are showing bite once again in one of the most competitive conferences in the country. The patience of fans is already paying off. Howland’s squad is headed in the right direction.