First off, how about them Lady Bulldogs with the HUGE win last night to improve to 24-0?!!! WOW!! What a time to be alive in Mississippi State sports? In the last decade, Mississippi State has seen some of its most competitive sport teams in school history, but one sport which has struggled here lately is Mississippi State Men’s Basketball. However, are the bulldogs finally ready to turn the tide (check out the irony)? The Bulldogs enter tonight with an overall record of 17-6 and a .500 conference record (5-5).
Many fans seem to have given up on the dogs earlier this season, but what most people do not realize is this team is better than they are taken for. Of the bulldogs’ six losses, five of them come from teams who rank in the RPI top-50- Auburn (5), Cincinnati (11), Kentucky (16), Alabama (39), and Florida (49). The only loss falling out of the top-50 is of course to Ole Miss, but for those who have actually kept up with the bulldogs know this team was in each of those games (except Florida, that one was ugly). The point is this team may not have reached the point of the Stansbury years everyone wants to compare them to, but these guys are getting better EVERY SINGLE game and they deserve a chance to be cheered on for the remainder of the season.
Look at what the nation got to witness last night as an attendance record 10, 794 strong showed up to cheer the Lady Bulldogs to victory in one of the biggest sporting events in school history. Now, I realize the men are not playing a top-25 team tonight, but they are playing a strong tournament caliber Alabama team, who defeated the dogs earlier this year by a close score of 68-62. YOUR noise could make a difference in a close game like the previous matchup of these two teams just like YOU helped make a difference last night in a game to remember for the ages. Being an ex-basketball player, I know how much of a difference a crowd atmosphere can have in the game of basketball where people witness more collegiate upsets than perhaps any sport. Why? Think of the jitters a young basketball player has when he/she has 10,000+ yelling around them in a closed-in environment, it will have a person sweating like they never thought possible.
So yeah, we all should know a crowd noise can make an impact, but why should WE attend a non-ranked match-up tonight instead of watching from the warmth of our homes and save money? Well, if YOU are having to ask yourselves that question in the first place, then maybe YOU should question YOUR fandom for Mississippi State. Anyone can throw on a jersey for a team in the good times, but it takes true fans like each of YOU to be a part of a team getting there. In fact, who is to say Coach Howland’s team is not already there? I believe this team is forming into a tournament caliber team down the stretch, and each of US could be a big part of helping them reach that goal. So what do you say? Still not convinced? Well, let me try to give you six more reasons why I feel YOU ALL should give these bulldogs a chance and come to the game tonight.
- The Dogs are on a 3-game Win Streak- Just wanted to state the obvious first, the dogs are on a 3-game win streak (Missouri, South Carolina, and Georgia) and none of those games were cupcakes. Going back to the RPI rankings, Missouri (33), Georgia (59), and South Carolina (63) were all quality wins in the moment we played each of those teams. The Bulldogs shot over 50% from the floor and over 70% from the free throw line in each of those wins, and even shot extremely well from 3-pt range against both Missouri and South Carolina (We do not have to talk about the Georgia game). I could honestly understand fans not attending the games if this team looked like it was hitting its peak, but honestly if this team continues to shoot like it has the last three games, then there is no telling what the ceiling could be for Coach Howland’s bunch. What fan does not enjoy watching a hot basketball team play? Bulldog fans, the dogs are getting hot at the right time, and they need OUR support. Let’s give it to them.
- #1 Defense vs. SEC Freshman of the Year- First, I know there is a smart aleck who will read this and say, “Well Slimy, actually they do not release rewards for basketball until the end of the season, so how can you say a guy has won SEC Freshman of the Year?”. My response to that person would simply be to watch Collin Sexton of Alabama play and look at how the young man’s stats stack up against other freshmen in this conference. Right now, he is the lead candidate for SEC Freshman of the Year and, with the exception being Kevin Knox of Kentucky, I cannot see anyone coming close to beating him out for the award. Collin Sexton is one of the most versatile guards in the entire country regardless of class, who nearly every NBA mock draft board has as a lottery pick for this year’s NBA draft. However, as intriguing as it can be to come watch an explosive player go to work, I am encouraging you to come watch your Mississippi State Bulldogs’ SEC leading defense, specifically vs. Sexton. Collin Sexton, the SEC’s second leading scorer, is going to have his hands full against a pair of the quickest feet in the country- Lamar Peters and Nick Weatherspoon. Coach Howland has already announced the team will begin with Peters defending Sexton (who did not play in Alabama’s win over the bulldogs at home), but I am sure both point guards will split time guarding the young man tonight. Collin Sexton maybe the guy getting all the hype this year, but I know both Lamar Peters and Nick Weatherspoon are guys who have the talent for the next level and will both be up for the challenge of proving it to the country tonight. If you love match-ups and you love fast-paced defense like I do in basketball, then you are all in for a good one tonight. The Bulldogs are gritty on defense from the tip-off until the final whistle, and I LOVE it!
- The Twin Towers - Who do I personally think has been the key to Mississippi State’s turn towards success? The Twin Towers. Abdul Ado and Aric Holman. Why those guys? Let me start with Abdul Ado. The 6’11” big man signed as a part of the huge 2016 class, but he had to sit out all last season for some eligibility reasons. However, unlike Renardo Sidney when he sat out, Ado went to work all last season putting on 50 POUNDS!!! Now, if you watch the bulldogs play, then you can tell every bit of it was muscle too and he contributed every practice towards making his teammates better. Coach Howland harped on him over an over leading up to this season, and man was he right about the talent the young man brings to the hard floor! Well if he isn’t scoring that much, then what am I talking about?! Let me get to the point. Abdul Ado’s interior defense is some of the best I have witnessed with my own eyes, drawing comparisons to Jarvis Varnado and Anthony Davis. In fact, Abdul Ado is only 22 blocked shots away from tying the amount Varnado had in his freshman season at Mississippi State. The biggest contribution of Ado’s presence on this team is the door he opened for fellow teammate Aric Holman to play more to his potential. Aric Holman has been Mississippi State’s most consistent player all year long, averaging 11.4 ppg on an impressive 61% from the field and a team leading 46% from the 3-pt line. Having Abdul Ado on the court allows Aric Holman to play his game as a stretch forward, meaning he has the body composition of a post player but he can also shoot the ball well outside the paint hence Mr. Holman’s stats show. It also means Aric can play a more aggressive style of defense this year knowing if he happens to get into foul trouble, the team still has another big body who can grab boards when he goes to the bench. The team struggled a lot with that last year. The Twin Towers of Mississippi State complement each other so well and push each other to play better every game. In fact, it is like the two guys are having a rebound competition both averaging close to 7 rebounds a game (Holman with 161 on the season and Ado with 154). Only thing left to say is ask Mr. Chris Silva (South Carolina big man) or Mr. Yante Maten (SEC leading scorer from Georgia) how much they enjoyed playing the duo inside having to work on every single possession.
- The Two Brothers- My gosh!! If you haven’t seen the alley-oop the other night from Q Weatherspoon to his younger brother Nick Weatherspoon, then you are missing out and need to go watch it. As I have said in previous articles of mine, chemistry is one of the most important aspects of the game and what more chemistry could you ask for than that which exists between brothers who grew up playing together. Now, it took a little while for this team to get used to playing together, but for these brothers it picked right up in the first few games and it gets more beautiful to watch every single time. And to think there is a younger Weatherspoon brother out there is just insane to think about, what an athletically-gifted family?! However, these guys did not just get their game naturally. The two Weatherspoon brothers are two of the hardest working guys I have personally seen come through the Mississippi State basketball program, and the two are so good on both sides of the ball. Why wait for Sport Center top-10 plays to come on television when you could come to The Hump and watch some top-10 plays live, probably involving this dynamic duo!?!
- Selfless Basketball Mentality Forming- My personal favorite moment of the 3-game win streak was not a top-10 play, or a certain game, but it was the Georgia post-game interview with Lamar Peters. Lamar was asked after the game what he felt the difference was for him that changed his game around, and his answer honestly blew me away. Lamar’s answer was to the effect that he needed to learn how to be more disciplined, even stating further how his teammates had been working hard while he was not being the disciplined player he needed to be. He explained how learning to be more disciplined and humble as a player had really helped him to work well with his teammates and improve his own game. There are no stronger characteristics a coach wants from his starting point guard than discipline and humility, because it is the point guard’s duty to run a disciplined offense and find ways to get his teammates the ball in situations which help them excel at each of their games. Now, normally players just say what you want them to say in interviews, but in these last few games it has been very noticeable how this team has done such a better job of getting the ball moving around (especially Lamar Peters). Seeing good ball movement on your basketball team is always a great sign for future success. But if those are not enough, I got one more which should put the icing on the cake and really motivate you to PACK THE HUMP!!!
- THIS TEAM CAN MAKE THE TOURNAMENT!!!!- No, I am not kidding you. Ben Howland and the bulldogs are very much still in the hunt for a spot in the NCAA tournament. The bulldogs sit at number 57 in the RPI as I type this article, and the team still has big enough games remaining on its schedule, including Alabama tonight, to make it to the Big Dance. Will it be easy? No. Is it reasonable? Yes, very much so. I cannot say it enough how this team can play defense with the best of the best. There were three things I wrote about in my last article that the bulldogs struggled with (Shooting dumb shots, not getting the ball inside enough, and not hitting at the free throw line) and man it was as if they heard me! The bulldogs showed major improvement in all three of those areas, and I do not think it was a fluke. I think these bulldogs understand what they have to do if they want to be playing in the postseason. Let’s just look at what they have left on their schedule to wrap up this point.
The Bulldogs remaining schedule:
Team & Location RPI
Alabama @home tonight 39
Missouri on the road 33
Vanderbilt on the road 120
Ole Miss @ home 82
Texas A&M on the road 30
South Carolina @home 63
Tennessee @home 13
LSU on the road 75
Now, looking at the RPI numbers, here’s what needs to happen and what cannot happen:
-We CANNOT lose to Vandy, Ole Miss, or LSU. We need to take care of business all three of those games if we want in.
-We also need to at least win 3 of the other 5 in my opinion
-One of those wins needs to be Tennessee. We get them at home, we NEED people there at that game, because that could really be a big enough win to get us into the tournament if we can take care of other business. However, we also NEED them to continue winning until they play us.
-In fact, we NEED to pull for all these teams winning games to boost their respective RPI’s, so they mean more when we play them.
Do I feel this team can win 6 of the last 8? You are dang right I do! I love this team and I love the way they play. But man a crowd could really be the difference in winning some of those key games. I hope you all share this article to all the Mississippi State fans you know and that we can get another big crowd tomorrow night, because these boys have earned that! No matter what, it’s HAIL STATE right here baby!!