SEC Make or Break: Mississippi State BulldogsPosted by Brian Joyce on October 31st, 2011
The Make or Break series will tell us what we need to know about each SEC team by looking at the three most important non-conference games on each team’s schedule. Depending on the outcome, these three games could make OR break that team’s season because of the strengths it shows or weaknesses it could expose. The next team in the series is the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Mississippi State is ready to forget about last season. The Bulldogs had their share of troubles. Point guard Dee Bost was suspended for the first nine games of the season. Renardo Sidney had missed all of the 2009-10 season and the first nine games last year due to eligibility reasons. Then Sidney marred the Bulldogs’ reputation by getting into a fight with a teammate in the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii. The team never appeared to get its chemistry down pat and limped to a 17-14 record and failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season.
But there are reasons to be more optimistic this year. Everyone is eligible to start the season. Sidney has lost over 20 pounds and is allegedly making strides to be a better teammate. The Bulldogs welcome transfer Arnett Moultrie to help him out down low. 2011-12 could be the year Rick Stansbury’s team turns things around and gets back to the NCAAs for the seventh time in 11 seasons.
The three key non-conference games that will make or break the Bulldogs schedule this season:
- November 17 – vs. Texas A&M (at Madison Square Garden as part of 2KSports CvC Classic): Texas A&M’s strength is Mississippi State’s downfall — consistency. The Aggies have gone to the Big Dance the last six years, including advancing past the first round every year during that stretch until last year’s first-game exit to Florida State. A&M has a deep frontcourt led by 6’7″ forward Khris Middleton. Middleton averaged 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last year, but struggled against physical defenders when the Aggies played Texas, Kansas and Missouri. Mississippi State needs to play aggressively to take Middleton out of his game, and that shouldn’t be a problem for the imposing front line of the Bulldogs. Billy Kennedy’s experienced Aggies squad will serve as a great early season test to see if the Bulldogs are ready to shake off last year’s malaise and take the next leap.
- December 3 – vs. West Virginia: Despite its strength in the low post, Mississippi State was not a good rebounding team last year. The Bulldogs ranked ninth in the SEC in rebounding margin at -0.7 RPG. State expects to improve drastically on the boards in order to be successful this year. The first team that could put them to the test in that area is Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers. Huggins’ teams are almost always strong rebounding and defensive-minded teams, and this year’s version will surely be built upon the same. West Virginia returns Kevin Jones who averaged 7.5 rebounds per game as well as 6’9″ junior Deniz Kilicli and his four rebounds per game. Several incoming transfers as well as 6’10” medical redshirt Kevin Noreen should bolster an already tough frontcourt. How Mississippi State’s big men respond to the physicality of the Mountaineers will prove a lot about whether or not this team is ready to bang with the best down low.
- December 28 – vs. Baylor (at American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX): Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears have one of the nation’s best frontcourts with 6’11” Perry Jones, 6’9″ newcomer Quincy Miller and 6’7″ dunking machine Quincy Acy. The Bears are long and athletic with five players who stand at 6’9″ or taller. As talented as Baylor is this year, its weakness will be at the point guard position. If the Bulldogs can pressure the Bears into poor ball control then Mississippi State may have a chance of hanging in this one. MSU point guard Dee Bost is a proven leader, and the Bears are hoping they can find their floor general in JUCO transfer Pierre Jackson or Boston College transfer Brady Heslip. If Baylor hasn’t found a stabilizing force by this December matchup then Bost and company could have a very nice RPI-improving win against a highly ranked opponent.