Mississippi State underwhelmed last season, finishing 12th in the SEC with a 6-12 record. Now, the Bulldogs have a well-seasoned head coach in Ben Howland as he replaces Rick Ray, who finished with a 37-60 overall record and a pretty bad conference record of 13-41 in three seasons in charge.
One thing was evident from the team a year ago as only two players finished with averages of 10 points or more per game in returning seniors Craig Sword and Gavin Ware.
They finally have some offensive firepower in freshman shooting guard Malik Newman. He comes over to Mississippi State after an impressive high school career at Callaway in Jackson, MS where he averaged 29.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 4.2 APG as a senior.
At 6-foot-3, 178 lbs, Newman has the ability to play both guard positions, but Sword should be the man running the point while he looks for an open Newman more often than not this season.
Sports Illustrated ranks Newman third in its prediction of the top 10 high-impact freshmen for 2015-16 behind only LSU’s Ben Simmons and Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere. That goes to show you the kind of impact Newman is expected to make on a team that finished just 13-19 a season ago and hasn’t punched a ticket into the NCAA Tournament since 2009.
Kentucky (No. 1), Vanderbilt (No. 15) and Texas A&M (No. 25) are all ranked in Athlon Sports’ top-25 preseason rankings while LSU is listed as an honorable mention. Outside of those four SEC foes, Mississippi State has a big chance to turn things around in conference play with 20th-year head coach Ben Howland.
Howland has posted a 401-206 record in 19 seasons with UCLA (2003-13), Pittsburgh (1999-03) and Northern Arizona (1994-99) previously. At the very least, Howland will bring the Bulldogs some credibility and hope, two things they have been lacking for quite a while.
The starting lineup is certainly up in the air for Mississippi State, but seniors Sword and Ware and freshman phenom Newman are locked in. Ware finished with a team-high 7.1 RPG and has the ability to play both power forward and center.
Another big that could find his way into the starting five rather quickly is freshman power forward Aric Holman. The 6-10 Holman played center at Owensboro High School in Kentucky and was listed as a four-star recruit by 247Sports.
The Bulldogs also added another four-star commit in shooting guard Quinndary Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon starred at the local Velma Jackson and could in time be paired with Newman to create a very athletic backcourt.
Mississippi State isn’t the deepest team and it should take some time for Howland to assess his bunch, but this season should serve as a building block for the future.
With Newman providing the Bulldogs with hope on both sides of the ball with his pure athleticism, this team will be much better off. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone if they manage to post a winning conference record and find a spot into the tournament.
This certainly won’t be an easy task for Howland and his staff, but he’s been there before and has all the insight on how to turn things around. Having Newman as his next star in the making will make his job a whole lot easier as the Bulldogs look to bounce back.