If you haven’t paid much attention to the Mississippi State basketball team, it will look a lot different than it did in year’s past.
Most SEC fans only pay attention to college basketball during November and December under three circumstances. Here are those circumstances.
- Their football team is terrible.
- Their basketball team is really good.
- They are fans of Kentucky.
Mississippi State’s football team was pretty good, the basketball team has been very up and down so far, and we aren’t Kentucky. So most of us haven’t watched a whole lot of basketball so far. But that will likely change tonight.
Texas A&M is rolling into the Hump with a Top 20 ranking. They have established themselves as possibly the second best team in the SEC. It’s a big game to start with, and with trips to Arkansas and Kentucky looming, getting a win tonight would be enormous. But what does Mississippi State basketball look like under new coach Ben Howland?
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Be prepared for a lot of zone defense
The NCAA changed a lot of rules in the offseason regarding the way fouls would be called this season. The reason they did so was to try to make the game more similar to the NBA game. College basketball had gotten to the point where players were getting bogged down with a lot of clutching and grabbing. The NBA is less physical than it has been in years, and the NCAA wants that for the college game. So the way fouls are called was changed.
Eventually the change will make for a better brand of basketball, but for now, it means there are a lot of fouls called. It is especially true for teams that want to play a lot of man-to-man defense. Ben Howland hates zone, but the number of fouls being called means he has had to switch to using a 2-3 zone primarily. Even if the Aggies start draining threes, don’t look for Howland to abandon the zone.
Malik Newman is a special talent
Newman is very talented and you won’t have too many more opportunities to watch him play, so do it while you can. He’s averaging 13.3 points per game, shooting 41.5% from the field, and 37.1% from three point range. All of those numbers are a little lower than most people thought they would be. Newman was hampered early in the season with a turf toe injury, but he is starting to put up some nice numbers.
In the past five games, Malik Newman is averaging 16 points a game, shooting 45% from the field, and 45% from three point range. Considering the Bulldogs are shooting just over 30% from three, that last number might be the most important.
Gavin Ware has thrived under Ben Howland
Gavin Ware was arguably used the least effectively under former coach Rick Ray. Ware averaged just under 10 points a game combined in his first three seasons as a Bulldog. Under Howland, Ware has exploded.
Here were the numbers for Gavin Ware under Rick Ray.
- Points Per Game: 9.5
- Rebounds Per Game: 6.9
- Filed Goal Percentage: 54.1%
Now look at what Ware has done under Ben Howland.
- Points Per Game: 17.7
- Rebounds per game: 7.8
- Field Goal Percentage: 70.4%
Ware could play his way into a second round pick in the NBA Draft if he can continue this level of play in conference games. Ware and Newman need to strap this team on their backs if they want to be competitive against SEC teams.
Craig Sword has regressed as a shooter
One of the reasons the Bulldogs might make some noise this season was Craig Sword had made significant improvements from season to season as a three point shooter. This season has seen that part of his game take a severe step backwards. He shot 19.4% as a freshman from behind the line, 27.3% as a sophomore, and 36% as a junior. Each year was significantly better than the previous one. His senior season, Sword is only shooting 21.6% from beyond the arc.
Sword needs to be able to hit at lest like he did as a junior from three point range if the Mississippi State Basketball team wants to have more success in 2016. Defenses will collapse on Ware and double team Newman if he isn’t able to knock down a few more open jump shots.
Howland will build around Quindarry Weatherspoon and Aric Holman in 2016-17
As much attention as Malik Newman was given, the future of how good Mississippi State basketball will be revolves around the other two high profile freshmen on the team, Quindarry Weatherspoon and Aric Holman. Theose two players teaming up with the highly touted recruiting class Ben Howland has signed should be fun to watch next season.
Weatherspoon has operated as the 6th man for the Bulldogs. He averages just over 8 points a game and is shooting 48.8% from the field and 34.6% from three point range. He’s really good, and many might argue should be starting in place of I.J. Ready. Holman just got his first game action the last two games because he is recovering from an injury. Look for his minutes to increase as the season goes on, and for Holman to add some much needed depth as we get closer to the SEC Tournament.
This team looks much different than it did in Game 1 and will look much different than it does now at the end of the season
Some fans are a little disappointed the Bulldogs didn’t perform better before the SEC portion of the schedule began. It’s understandable, but this team has a core of four seniors in Craig Sword, Gavin Ware, Travis Daniels, and Fred Thomas who were never really coached to play a decent brand of college basketball. It’s been a tough transition.
The good news is this team has made steady improvement from game to game. The defense looked awful at the beginning of the season, but it has made steady improvements. The offense is getting more efficient as well. There are no easy wins on the schedule, but there also aren’t any teams that look completely unbeatable. January will likely be rough, but the team might find another gear in February. But unlike the last three seasons, this team will get better. And that is a big step in the right direction for Mississippi State basketball.