South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Rick Ray (24-41, third year; 24-41, third year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 14-19 (3-15)
2013-14 postseason: None
He’s outta here: Colin Borchert (senior, 8.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg); Dre Applewhite (transferred to Toledo, 5.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg); Jacoby Davis (transferred to Odessa (Texas) College, 2.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg); Tyson Cunningham (senior, 1.8 ppg, 0.5 rpg)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-2 G Maurice Dunlap; 6-7 F Demetrius Houston; 6-9 F Johnny Zuppardo (transfer from Jones (Miss.) Junior College); 6-2 G Jeffery Johnson (walk-on); 6-6 G Elijah Stanley; 6-8 G Travis Daniels (transfer from Shelton (Ala.) State); 6-9 F Oliver Black; 6-2 G Isaiah Butler (senior walk-on)
Top returners: 6-3 G Craig Sword (13.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg); 6-9 F Gavin Ware (10.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg); 6-7 F Roquez Johnson (9.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
It’s been this way for three years, ever since Rick Stansbury left at the end of a tumultuous season. Mississippi State is well aware of its winning past, and has vowed to equal it in the future.
How far into the future it will take is still in question.
The Bulldogs again aren’t expected to do much. The past two years have been rocked with injuries and attrition (Davis, after tearing an ACL as a freshman, decided to transfer closer to his North Carolina home to be near his ill mother. Yet, he’s at a Texas junior college this season). Ray reloaded with some solid recruits, many with a lot of height to help the Bulldogs’ battered post game, but received three pieces of bad news before playing a game.
Leading scorer Sword is questionable for the season-opener after having a procedure to relieve nerves in his back, caused by a bulging disc. He should be fine for most of the season, but JUCO transfer Zuppardo is out for the year with a blown-out knee. Point guard I.J. Ready is out 4-6 weeks (targeted for a mid-December return) with the same back surgery that Sword had.
MSU has great depth at guard, with Ready and Trivante Bloodman joining Sword and Fred Thomas, although Ready is out for a while. The Bulldogs have height, with seven players 6-foot-6 or above, but only two have played at this level. De’Runnya Wilson also has to decide if he will return to the basketball team (he is a former Alabama Mr. Basketball) after having a stellar season for the football team.
MSU won’t overwhelm anybody and like many of the teams expected to finish in places 9-14 in the SEC, simply hopes to last. If the Bulldogs can just hang in there for most of the game, perhaps they can find a way to win in the last five.
Then again, having a backcourt named Bloodman-Sword-Ready isn’t too shabby, no matter the record.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Vic Schaefer (35-31, third year; 115-141, 10th year)
2013-14 record (SEC finish): 22-14 (5-11)
2013-14 postseason: Fourth round, WNIT
She’s outta here: Katia May (senior, 6.8 ppg, 1.9 rpg); Candace Foster (senior, 0.6 ppg, 0.4 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-7 G Blair Schaefer; 5-5 G Morgan William; 5-10 G Kayla Nevitt; 6-1 F Victoria Vivians; 6-1 F LaKaris Salter; 6-5 C Chinwe Okorie (sat out last year due to eligibility issues)
Top returners: 6-4 C Martha Alwal (14.9 ppg, 8.8 rpg); 5-11 G Kendra Grant (11.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg); 6-1 F Breanna Richardson (9.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg)
The SEC is loaded with extremely talented teams, which is why South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Kentucky were picked to finish top-four and are locks for the NCAA tournament. Yet there’s always that sleeper team, the one that has talent but maybe not as much as those others.
Or maybe it was just missing a couple of pieces to really challenge, and found them just this offseason.
A disappointing 5-11 SEC season turned into a stirring run to the WNIT quarterfinals for Mississippi State last year, a two-point loss to USF ending the journey. The Bulldogs were pleased, though – they knew that this season has the chance to be special.
The top five scorers return, including Alwal, the Co-SEC Defensive Player of the Year and a player who’s been on All-SEC lists since she arrived. Schaefer signed the No. 20 recruiting class in the country, including Vivians, the No. 24 overall prospect in the nation. The Bulldogs have height, depth and the memory of a hot streak to end the season to help them along.
It will take a lot to eke into the top four of the league, since the others are so talented and experienced. But MSU should be feeling fine while feasting on a soft non-conference schedule. The first big test comes in the SEC opener, hosting Georgia.
The (maroon, not red) Bulldogs win, and perhaps MSU is on its way to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010.
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