Ben Howland and is entering his sixth season as head coach of Mississippi State. As in his previous three stints he has found success with the Bulldogs as they finished as one of the better teams in the SEC last year. He’ll have his work cut out for him this year in what shapes up to be a rebuilding year.
2019 Record: 20-11 (11-7), 4th in SEC
2019 saw the most SEC victories or a Mississippi State team since the 2007-2008 season. The Bulldogs struggled a little in the out of conference schedule posting just a 9-4 record. And while they did win a lot of games there were no major upsets on the schedule.
Still, Mississippi State won the games they were supposed to. Using a high powered offense that ranked 13th nationally along with one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams, the Bulldogs were set to make the NCAA Tournament.
Guys like Reggie Perry made for an entertaining spectacle for the fans. The potential first-round pick used a powerful 6’10” frame to lead the Bulldogs in points (17.4) and rebounds (10.1) per game a year ago. Fellow NBA prospect Robert Woodard provided similar intensity averaging 11.4 points and 6.5 rebounds along with a team high 35 steals.
Projected Starting Lineup: Deivon Smith (G, Fr), Iverson Molinar (G, So), D.J. Stewart Jr. (G, So), Jalen Johnson (F, Sr), Abdul Ado (F, Sr)
The obvious elephant in the room is the giant hole left behind by the four departures. Perry, Carter, Weatherspoon and Woodard were the 2019 team’s four leading scorers as well as four of the five leading rebounders. Each averaged over 28 minutes per game and were the bulk of the Bulldogs production on both sides of the ball.
Stewart and Molinar are coming off very promising freshman seasons. The pair have starting experience as Stewart secured a starting role in the second half of the season and Molinar started for Weatherspoon when he missed the beginning of the season. Stewart averaged the most points last season among returning players and Ben Howland will be hoping he shoulders more of the offensive production this season.
Deivon Smith will be thrown into the fire right away as he should be taking the point guard role. He’s shown excellent ball handling abilities and could be on his way to a potential All-Freshman team should he step up and excel.
Abdul Ado returns for his final season and will take over as big man for the Bulldogs. At 6’11” Ado was one of the best offensive rebounders in the SEC as well as one of the best defenders averaging nearly two blocks per game.
Louisiana’s best player from a year ago Jalen Johnson also should secure a starting position. Johnson led the Cajuns in points (15.5) and rebounds (6.6). He gets to the free throw line more than any Mississippi State player last year except for Reggie Perry, and does pose a moderate three-point threat for opposing defenses.
The bench is very thin for Ben Howland this year as it was a year ago. The Bulldogs ranked 320th in bench minutes per game last season as they tended to only play two players off the bench.
Alabama transfer Javian Davis was finally granted a waiver for immediate eligibility last month and this is very big news for Mississippi State. The 6’9″ Mississippi native had a good freshman season averaging 6.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. He will be able to provide Ado a legitimate backup. Western Kentucky transfer Tolu Smith may also provide a little depth in the frontcourt but had menial production with the Hilltoppers last season.
Beyond that Howland will be hoping for some emergence from his incoming freshmen. Keondre Montgomery was the top ranked recruit in Mississippi according to 247Sports. Cameron Matthews comes in with great size at 6’7″ 220lbs that have him ready made to keep up physically at the college level. Two other guys from the 2020 class Derek Fountain and Anderson Garcia also look to vie for some time off the bench.
With only two proven reserves coming off the bench, it figures there will be an emergence from at least one of the incoming freshmen. The lack of depth though is concerning and a large reason the expectations aren’t very high for the 2021 season.
2020 Prediction: 12th
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