- Ky McKeon
Key Returners: Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters, Aric Holman, Nick Weatherspoon, Abdul Ado, Tyson Carter
Key Losses: Xavian Stapleton
Key Newcomers: Reggie Perry, Robert Woodard, DJ Stewart, Jethro Tshisumpa
Outlook: Be afraid of the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Be very afraid. The Dogs look poised to challenge for the SEC crown coming off an NIT semi-final appearance in 2017-18. Ben Howland returns nearly everyone from a squad that notched a 25-12 record despite featuring a roster that ranked 325th in the country in experience.
On paper, Miss State is right up there with the SEC elite heading into the 2018-19 season. The Dogs are rock solid at every position on the floor and bring in a top-20 recruiting class featuring a McDonald’s All-American and another top 50 prospect. Defense was and will continue to be the calling card for the Dogs, who ranked 40th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, the best school mark since the Rick Stansbury days. A unique combination of quickness and athleticism at nearly every spot on the floor makes Miss State a challenge to score against on any given night.
Shooting was Miss State’s Achilles heel last season and likely ended up costing the Dogs a spot in the NCAA Tournament. While MSU ranked 23rd in the country in 2PFG% and gobbled up offensive rebounds at a high rate, the Dogs ranked just 329th in 3PFG% shooting just over 31% on the season. This led to some anemic performances during the year like a 0.76ppp output against Cincy, 0.82ppp against Florida, and 0.84ppp against Tennessee. Howland’s offense is heavily reliant on the creation of Lamar Peters and the playmaking of Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon. An off night from any of the three often spelled disaster in 2017-18.
A new year will hopefully bring an uptick in shooting percentage as the aforementioned guard trio heads into another season under Howland. The Brothers Weatherspoon carry the brunt of the scoring load for the Dogs, as Howland often runs sets to bring either Quinndary or Nick off double down or flex screens along the baseline in order to free the pair up for an open shot or potential attack:
Both brothers finished at a high rate inside the arc and shot well from the charity stripe, so there’s reason to believe the sub-30% three-point percentage that both players sported was simply an aberration. Prior to 2017-18, Quinndary Weatherspoon shot 39.4% and 37.3% from behind the arc in his freshman and sophomore seasons, respectively.
Peters, the Miss State point guard, and Tyson Carter, an instant offense spark plug off the bench, make up the remaining returning guard corps outside of the Weatherspoons. Peters was overall excellent in his sophomore season, ranking 8th in the SEC in assist rate and 1st in steal rate. Turnovers plagued the young guard occasionally and he was statistically one of the worst shooters on the team, but the talent is clearly there. Carter shot the ball well during his sophomore year and will likely continue to be an important role player off the pine.
Two freshmen, Robert Woodard and DJ Stewart will bolster the backcourt rotation. Both froshies are wings and look to have the skillset and physical maturity to contribute immediately. Woodard is built like a prototypical NBA wing prospect at 6’6” 222 lbs. He’s the 44th ranked recruit in the class of 2018 per ESPN and should compete for a starting spot in his first season in Stark Vegas. Stewart is a ridiculously explosive athlete that should be good for a highlight reel dunk or seven during his time in Starksville.
While the guards garner the most attention on Howland’s roster, the Miss State frontcourt is made up of some talented pieces as well. Redshirt sophomore Abdul Ado looks to build off a freshman year in which he started every game he played and ranked 1st in the conference in effective FG%. Ado is a monster on the offensive glass (3rd in the SEC by rate last year) and possesses skilled footwork on the block. Aric Holman, a rising senior, is Ado’s higher scoring counterpart. At 6’10”, Holman’s ability to score from the post or beyond the three-point line makes him a tricky matchup for most SEC foes. Howland moved Holman to the bench the final six games of 2017-18, choosing instead to feature more of a 4-guard, spread-out look on offense. If he continues this trend, look for incoming freshman Reggie Perry to get a few starting nods. Perry, a McDonald’s All-American and top 15-30 recruit depending where you look, is a 3/4 tweener at 6’10” 240 lbs. Perry can shoot from beyond the arc and was a scoring machine in high school; a one-and-done season for the gifted freshman isn’t out of the question.
Jethro Tshisumpa, a JUCO import and former Arizona State Sun Devil, will likely assume a frontcourt reserve role in the crowded Miss State lineup.
Bottom Line: Mississippi State is loaded with talent this season, with Howland having the ability to go 8 or 9 deep on any given night. Peters is the lone “true PG” on the roster, but either Weatherspoon can handle the rock at any given time. If the shooting woes improve and the once-young roster can quell last season’s occasional lapses in judgment, the Dogs will be a surefire Tourney team and compete for a top-4 seed line in March.