Mississippi State Basketball: Looking at potential 2018 signing class

GAINESVILLE, FL - JANUARY 19: Head coach Ben Howland of the Mississippi State Bulldogs gestures during the game against the Florida Gators at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on January 19, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
GAINESVILLE, FL - JANUARY 19: Head coach Ben Howland of the Mississippi State Bulldogs gestures during the game against the Florida Gators at the Stephen C. O'Connell Center on January 19, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) /

Mississippi State basketball is entering year-three of the Ben Howland-era. Who does Howland have his sights set on to bring to The Hump?

Since arriving in Starkville in March of 2015, Ben Howland has turned Mississippi State into a force on the recruiting trail.

Howland convinced four-star guard Quinndary Weatherspoon to honor the LOI he signed with Rick Ray and remain a Bulldog. Howland then made a huge splash when 5-star guard Malik Newman chose the Bulldogs over basketball blue bloods Kansas and Kentucky.

In the 2016 cycle, Howland brought in a top-ten class. 4-star center Schnider Herard, 4-star forward Mario Kegler, 4-star guards Lamar Peters, Eli Wright, and Tyson Carter, and 4-star big man Abdul Ado all chose Ben Howland and Mississippi State over numerous attractive offers.

And in last year’s class, 5-star guard Nick Weatherspoon decided to stay home and play with his brother over offers from the likes of Kansas, Indiana, and North Carolina. Howland compared the younger Weatherspoon’s playing style to his former star guard, Russell Westbrook.

Sure, things didn’t exactly work out with Newman and Kegler. But, Howland has proven that he can attract some of the nation’s best talent to The Hump.

He’s on a mission to continue bringing in elite talent into the Mississippi State basketball program.

The state of Mississippi features four four-star recruits in the 2018 class, per the 247Sports Composite rankings:

  • Robert Woodard, SF, Columbus
  • DJ Stewart, SF, Riverside
  • Javian Fleming, C, Canton
  • Miles Miller, PG, Meridian

As of now, Mississippi State is expected to get the top two players in the Magnolia State yet again. The 247Sports Crystal Ball currently sits at 100% for both Woodard and Stewart.

Robert Woodard is a 6-foot-6 and 220 pound wing that simply knows how to put the ball in the basket. The Columbus native filled up the stat sheet en route to taking home Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year after his tremendous junior campaign.

Woodard averaged 25.2 points, 13.1 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 3 blocks per game for the Falcons over the course of the 2016-2017 season. He also has experience playing with the nation’s best, as he was named to the 2015-16 USA Basketball Men’s Junior National Team, helped the Under-16 team take home Gold in 2015, and is regarded as one of the best players around the country.

The best player in the Magnolia State lists offers from the likes of Baylor, Florida State, Iowa State, and Memphis, but Mississippi State is hoping he follows the steps of his father.

DJ Stewart is a 6-foot-6 and 190 pound wing that also knows how to take basketball games over. The Greenville, Mississippi, native averaged 19 points and 10 rebounds per contest, according to 247Sports. He knows how to score the basketball, but isn’t afraid to battle for boards, either.

Stewart holds offers from programs such as Alabama, Illinois, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State. State and the Tide are considered to be the top two teams on Stewart’s list. The Riverside product is currently projected to play his college hoops in The Hump. This will be an intriguing recruiting battle between Howland and Alabama’s Avery Johnson.

Javian Fleming and Miles Miller are also prospects to watch in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Fleming is an undersized center, but the 6-foot-9 big man averaged a double-double for Canton during his junior season. The main schools in Fleming’s recruitment are Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn, and LSU. With the Bulldogs likely returning Schnider Herard, Aric Holman, and Abdul Ado for the 2018 season, it remains to be seen how interested the staff is in adding another big man with limited open scholarships.

Miller, on the other hand, is a 6-foot point guard out of Meridian. While 247Sports doesn’t list any offers, Miller is rated a 4-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings. Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Southern Miss have all expressed interest.

Assuming that neither leaves early for the NBA or transfers, the Bulldogs will be bringing back both All-SEC Freshman Lamar Peters and 2017 5-star Nick Weatherspoon to run the point. Like the case with Fleming, it remains to be seen how interested the Bulldogs will be in adding another player at a position that is already set.

In the wild and chaotic world of college basketball, it is seemingly impossible to predict what will happen next offseason. A player may become frustrated with playing time and decide to transfer. Maybe one of the Weatherspoon brothers or Peters makes the jump to the NBA. The point is that things can change in a big way in the college hoops landscape.

But, if everyone were to return next season, here is how the scholarship distribution would look like for 2018-2019:

  • 3 sophomores (N. Weatherspoon, Feazell, Ado — redshirt)
  • 5 juniors (Peters, Carter, Wright, Herard, Datcher)
  • 3 seniors (Q. Weatherspoon, Stapleton, Holman)

That’s 11 scholarships taken. Each program has 13 available scholarships to offer each season. So, assuming no one were to leave, Howland will have two open spots for the 2018 class. If he doesn’t go into the grad-transfer market, the top two priorities for the 2018 class seem to be Woodard and Stewart.

If Ben Howland can work his magic yet again and pull in both Robert Woodard and DJ Stewart, Mississippi State will have the opportunity to make a major leap in the 2018-19 season. With Kegler gone, Howland needs a reliable scoring wing to compliment both Quinndary Weatherspoon and Lamar Peters in the backcourt.

Next: Take a look at next year's hoops squad

A potential lineup of Lamar Peters, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Robert Woodard, Aric Holman, and either Schnider Herard or Abdul Ado would capitulate the Bulldogs into the upper-echelon of the SEC.

Year-three and four of the Ben Howland-era should be very exciting.