There’s been a lot of hype for different Mississippi State sports over the last few years. 2014 featured big time hype for the baseball team, but we were let down. That fall there was a lot of hype for the football team and we were satisfied. This summer and fall you’re likely to hear plenty of hype for the basketball team….and deservedly so.
The perfect storm has brewed to get the MSU basketball out of the cellar. Ben Howland is hired, he inherits a senior-laden team, then secures a top 5 player in Malik Newman. A lot of folks seem to be talking about a potential bubble team, but I don’t see that at all. This should be a solid NCAA Tournament team.
Imagine for a minute that Ben Howland is coaching the 2014-15 Mississippi State team that went 13-19 (6-12). I think we can go ahead and say the Bulldogs would not have lost to Arkansas State, South Carolina Upstate or McNeese State. It wouldn’t be too crazy to suggest they would have beaten Tulane or Oregon State either, but I’ll just stick with those three really bad losses. That would’ve made State 10-3 in the non-conference schedule and 16-16 overall…so just that puts us near the NIT.
In the SEC schedule there were six games decided by six points or less. With a record of 6-12, those six games could turn your season completely around. I think with Howland’s coaching and preparation, State could have won half of those close games. That would’ve made them 9-9 in the conference and 19-13 overall. There’s an NIT bid – what we should have had all along.
Now, let’s add in a couple of variables to the equation. First off, the fact that Craig Sword, Travis Daniels, Gavin Ware and Fred Thomas are all seniors. That’s four players who will all play significant minutes and will have a sense of urgency because it’s their final year.
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Then you add in the two best high school players in Mississippi: Malik Newman and Quinndary Weatherspoon. These two will play major roles on the 2015-16 team.
With the mix of veteran and new talent on the team, plus a seasoned coach, how will they not take a substantial leap forward next year? Aside from injury, it shouldn’t happen.
If the team probably would have had a six game increase in wins with just a different coach, adding a super star player and quality depth with Weatherspoon – plus the fact that those four seniors want to make this year count – we should be talking about 22-25 wins. That’s a firm NCAA tournament team. To me, it’s not about whether or not they’ll make the big dance, it’s whether they’ll be a 5 seed or an 8 seed.
Look out for this team next winter. They’ll be escalating quickly.