STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State head basketball coach Ben Howland met with the media on Monday to preview the season opener against Florida International on Tuesday.
To start, he said he would not divulge his starting lineup at this time.
Howland says FIU is not an easy opener.
“It’s not an easy opener that’s for sure. They’re a very good team. This kid Andrews is a preseason first-team [All-Conference USA] — really good player. They have really tough guards. They have a little point guard who’s like 5-8, cat-quick, out of junior college that’s a real problem because he’s so quick and active,” Howland said.
Senior forward Devon Andrews is FIU’s leading returning scorer after averaging 15.3 points per contest in his first season with the team. And that point guard he is referring to is junior guard Tevin Brewer, who is joining FIU after averaging 11.8 points-per-game at Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, Kansas. He shot 45.1% from the field, 41.1% from behind the 3-point line and an impressive 92.2% from the free-throw line.
Howland also points to FIU’s pace that makes this such a difficult matchup.
“Last year they were No. 1 in the country in pace. They played faster than anybody in the United States of America. They force a lot of turnovers with this style of play, so it’s a very difficult team to play,” Howland said. “They press for 40 minutes and It’s kind of a small-ball lineup, so it’s going to be a difficult matchup game for us.”
Howland was asked about the difficulty of playing without junior guard Nick Weatherspoon for the first 10 games. He says the exhibition games and scrimmages were good because two of the three guards who will be filling in for Weatherspoon are freshman. “No question we’ll miss Nick,” Howland said.
Howland also says that the first step for this year’s team is to get back to the tournament and advance.
“After being out for 10 years, it was a great accomplish to get the program back in the NCAA Tournament, so the next big achievement for us as a program would be to get back in the tournament and win in the tournament and advance,” Howland said.
The Bulldogs are coming into the season after a 23-11 season a year ago, which ended with an 80-76 loss to 12th-seeded Liberty in opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore forward Reggie Perry enters the year with a lot of promise after averaging 9.7 points on 50.2% shooting to go along with 7.2 rebounds per game. He secured a spot on the All-SEC Freshman Team. Coming into the season, Perry has earned selections to the Citizen Naismith Trophy List and garnered an All-SEC First-Team pick by the league’s coaches on Monday.
The Golden Panthers enter the season after a 20-14 record a year ago. They ranked first nationally in forced turnovers (19.6) and steals per game (5.6).
Tuesday’s tip time is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT at Humphrey Coliseum and can be watched on SEC Network+ on the WatchESPN app.