Dec 2, 2015; Starkville, MS, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Malik Newman (14) sets the play against Texas Southern Tigers guard Jerron Martin (20) during the game at Humphrey Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports
With a new coach and a consensus top 10 prospect, fans had a lot of hope for the 2015 Mississippi State Basketball team. So far, those hopes are being unfulfilled.
The formula seemed simple to those of us on the outside looking in at this season’s Mississippi State Basketball team. A new coach and a one-and-done player being added to a team full of veterans was sure to produce a lot more wins in 2015-16. What has actually been the case is a team that is sputtering along to find a way to gain traction in the early portion of the schedule. So were expectations too high for this year’s team?
We told you why we thought there was plenty of room for optimism. The logic seemed strong. Add in two highly talented players in Malik Newman and Quinndary Weatherspoon with a highly accomplished coach with a veteran lineup and pile up the wins. But unlike the football team, we should have been listening to what the national media was telling us about this team.
The national media has steadily been predicting the Men’s Mississippi State Basketball team to finish anywhere from 7th to 10th in the the SEC during the 2015-16 season. To them, an NIT tournament bid was possible with an NCAA bid being a big time long shot. Despite the large number of seniors getting ready to graduate after this season, experts have pointed to 2016-17 being the year Mississippi State basketball making its step forward. Bulldog fans have been flabbergasted by those predictions, but we are starting to see why the predictions about this team were so pessimistic.
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Despite the fact this team has a lot of experience, the one thing it is lacking is talent. Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Travis Daniels, Gavin Ware, and I.J. ready are solid players, but they simply lack the natural skill of elite level players. They could be molded into great players, but they spent the last three years not getting the development they needed under coach Rick Ray. It is taking time for new head coach Ben Howland to change some really bad habits these players have developed under the previous coaching staff.
The team’s most recent loss to the University of Missouri-Kansas City showed how much more this team has to grow. They couldn’t seal the win when they had a lead late in the game. The Bulldogs took a 64-61 lead with three minutes to play. But the inability for the Bulldogs to consistently make shots allowed UMKC to outscore Mississippi State 11-3 over those three minutes and walk away with a 72-67 victory.
The team is going through some growing pains. They are having to learn a new system and incorporate some new players all at the same time. The team has made some positive steps forward, and will continue to do so as the season progresses, but there will be missteps along the way.
Complicating matters has been Malik Newman’s recovery from a turf toe injury. Newman is going to be headed to the NBA regardless of what happens this season, but his injury has hampered what he can contribute to the Mississippi State basketball team this season. The only way a turf toe injury can heal is to simply let it rest. And while he was resting his injury, Newman was slowly getting out of basketball shape. Malik Newman has spent the last few weeks getting his body in the proper playing shape, and he is starting to show flashes of the player we thought he would be.
So how can people look at this team and expect them to be better when the 2016-17 rolls around? Again, it goes back to talent.
Ben Howland and his staff have made a tremendous impact for the Bulldogs on the recruiting trail. Mississippi State has the 6th rated class according to 247 Sports. The Bulldogs will be adding a lot of talent to pair up with Quinndary Weatherspoon and I.J. Ready.
Unlike football, experience can not make up for a lack of talent in basketball. Dan Mullen has had success the past two seasons taking players who have played significant time in his system and turned them into an overachieving success story. It’s much more difficult to do in basketball. The year’s team will get better, but it likely won’t be as good as many were hoping for Mississippi State basketball at the start of the season.