David Cloninger

Previewing SEC basketball: Mississippi State

Victoria Vivians
Victoria Vivians AP

Other previews

Oct. 29 Alabama

Oct. 30 Arkansas

Oct. 31 Auburn

Nov. 1 Florida

Nov. 2 Georgia

Nov. 3 Kentucky

Nov. 4 LSU


Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Ben Howland (14-17 Mississippi State, second year; 415-223, 21st year)

2015-16 record (SEC finish): 14-17 (7-11)

2015-16 postseason: None



2016-17 media predicted finish: 10

DC’s predicted finish: 12

He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Fred Thomas (5.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg), F Johnny Zuppardo (3.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg), F Gavin Ware (15.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg), G Travis Daniels (5.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg), G Craig Sword (13.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg), F Demetrius Houston (2.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg, transferred to Alabama State), F Fallou Ndoye (0.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg, transferred to Cal State Bakersfield), G Malik Newman (11.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, transferred to Kansas), G Carter Holmes (0.0 ppg, 0.0 rpg), G Reggie Patterson (0.7 ppg, 0.1 rpg), G Jett Jobe (0.0 ppg, 0.3 rpg, walk-on)

He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): G Tyson Carter, C Schnider Herard, F Mario Kegler, G Lamar Peters, G Eli Wright, C Abdul Ado, G Drew Davis (Jr., walk-on), G L.J. Singleton (So., walk-on), C Miles Washington, C E.J. Datcher

Top returners: 6-4 G Quinndary Weatherspoon (12.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg), 5-11 G I.J. Ready (9.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg), 6-10 F Aric Holman (1.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg)

Ben Howland admitted that the presence of Malik Newman, one of the most hyped recruits in school history, hurt his team. The freshman was put too much in front of his veterans and the team suffered.

Newman’s gone now, off to Kansas after thinking of going to the NBA, and a lot of talent left with him. Howland’s second team is frightfully young after he signed eight freshmen among 10 newcomers. Only five players from last year’s team are back.

But that can be a good thing.

The recruiting class was highly regarded (due to the sheer size of it, and the star rankings many of them toted) and added to guards Quinndary Weatherspoon and I.J. Ready, the Bulldogs may be able to make some noise in an open SEC. The newbies have to grow up quickly and the veterans have to stay off the injured list (Aric Holman, Ready, Xavian Stapleton and Joe Strugg are either recovering from injuries or fighting new ones) for MSU to have a chance.

Howland hoped to have a quick turnaround but MSU, despite Newman, wasn’t equipped for it last year. He’s had to go back to Year Zero in Year Two, starting over with a group that will hopefully lead the return to elite status.

It’s a big team, eight of the 15 players 6-foot-6 or above, but can play quickly. The Bulldogs raised their pace of play significantly last season to benefit a guard-based attack, and Weatherspoon and Ready’s presence should keep that intact.

Howland will have a lot of options on who to play when or against whatever opponent. His non-conference schedule somehow passed the SEC’s restrictions despite not having one big name on it, and if the Bulldogs can get themselves acclimated throughout it, they can take a lengthy winning streak into SEC play. Their first three SEC games are very winnable, before two brutal tests against Texas A&M and Kentucky.

But those are the only two times MSU has to play the Aggies and Wildcats. After that it’s very feasible to finish in the top half of the league.


Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Vic Schaefer (90-46 Mississippi State, fifth year; 170-156, 12th year)

2015-16 record (SEC finish): 28-8 (11-5)

2015-16 postseason: Sweet 16



2016-17 media predicted finish: 2

DC’s predicted finish: 2

She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Kayla Nevitt (3.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg, transferred to Jacksonville), F Sherise Williams (2.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg), F LaKaris Salter (3.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg, transferred to Jacksonville), F Jazmine Spears (1.6 ppg, 1.6 rpg, transferred to Arkansas-Fort Smith)

She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): F Ameshya Williams, G Jacaira Allen

Top returners: 6-1 G Victoria Vivians (17.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg), 5-5 G Morgan William (9.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg), 5-9 G Dominique Dillingham (7.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

There’s no denying the greatness of Vic Schaefer’s rebuilding of Mississippi State. He’s taken the Bulldogs from three straight losing seasons to 22, 27 and 28 wins with a berth in the Sweet 16.

MSU set a school record for wins last year, played for the SEC tournament championship and got to host two NCAA tournament games. Guard Victoria Vivians is one of the country’s best players and the Bulldogs return all five starters this year.

So why isn’t anybody talking about them?

Probably because as good as MSU has been, it hasn’t quite gotten that program-defining moment. And folks keep harping on some of the other games.

The Bulldogs lost that SEC tournament championship game to South Carolina, part of the Gamecocks’ run to the national top five. Their presence has overshadowed MSU’s rise in the SEC, and then MSU had the bad luck to draw UConn in the NCAA tournament.

It was a 60-point whipping to end what had been a wonderful season. The Bulldogs became a footnote as the Huskies advanced to their fourth straight national championship.

What to do to make the country take notice?

Keep doing what they’ve been doing, which they’re very primed to do.

MSU is bound to catch a few breaks this year, in the regular season and postseason, and perhaps the Gamecocks don’t adjust to their newcomers and MSU can eke ahead of them in the standings. MSU probably has the most talented roster in the league and almost all of them are veterans, so it’s no stretch to say the Bulldogs could find themselves lifting a trophy at the end of the year.

That would make everyone realize the outstanding job Schaefer has done.

Not that he doesn’t deserve that credit anyway.

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