SEC Transition Basketball: Mississippi State BulldogsPosted by Brian Joyce on September 5th, 2012
Let’s finish these off this week with the last few of what we’re calling it Transition Basketball, an offseason look at each of the 14 SEC basketball programs. Today’s update: Mississippi State.
State of the Program
After starting last season 19-5, Mississippi State’s year didn’t turn out quite like head coach Rick Stansbury had hoped. The Bulldogs were cruising through the early part of the year behind tireless forward Arnett Moultrie and senior guard Dee Bost. After getting vindication with a home victory over rival Mississippi, however, the Bulldogs fell apart by suffering through a five-game losing streak late in SEC play. For a team that was nationally ranked and looked to be on cruise control for an NCAA berth, a 2-7 record to finish out the year was quite the letdown. MSU then lost to Georgia in the first round of the SEC Tournament, and proceeded to lose to Massachusetts in the first round of the NIT. That team gave up on Stansbury. And Mississippi State gave up on itself.
Quick, name one player on next year’s Mississippi State roster? We’re waiting. Can’t do it? Yeah, didn’t think so. Well, that’s because not a single starter from last year remains in Starkville. Moultrie was a first round NBA Draft pick and will play in the big leagues next season. Bost and Brian Bryant graduated. Freshman Rodney Hood transferred to Duke. Deville Smith transferred. Renardo Sidney is most likely being Renardo Sidney somewhere. Six of the Bulldogs’ top seven scorers will be somewhere other than Starkville next season. That leaves Jalen Steele and Wendell Lewis as the only returning players who averaged more than one point per game. The 2011-12 season was frustrating for Bulldogs’ fans, but the first year under new coach Rick Ray might be downright depressing.
Ray has a lot to replace after the mass exodus out of Starkville, but he has seven incoming recruits lined up to compete for playing time. 6’8″ center Gavin Ware and 6’3″ shooting guard Craig Sword highlight his first class. “He has put in a lot of hard work,” Starkville high school head coach Greg Carter said about Ware’s development. “He has gotten better and better each year. Over the years, he has improved his game. As a sophomore, he came in and was a little overweight. He lost about 30 pounds. He improved his scoring ability in the post. He came back as a junior and you could see him starting to show signs of being a dominant player, and by his senior year, he was that dominant player.” Sword won the Alabama boy’s basketball player of the year award this past season.
While Ware and Sword have grabbed a lot of the headlines, Ray has five other players signed up to put on the Mississippi State jersey. Junior college All American Colin Borchert and 6’5″ shooting guard Fred Thomas both hail from Mississippi, which will obviously be crucial ground in the recruiting war for Ray going forward. 6’1″ point guard Trivante Bloodman comes to the Bulldogs from Olney Central Community College. Finally, 6’4″ forward Andre Applewhite and 6’1″ point guard Jacoby Davis round out the class. In another bout of bad news this summer, Davis tore the ACL in his left knee and will likely miss the entire upcoming season. “As a coach, you always hate to see this happen,” Ray said in a prepared statement. “But Jacoby is a tough kid and I know he’ll bounce back from this injury.” With Davis out, Ray will likely go with Bloodman at starting point guard after he averaged 15 points and three assists per game this past season at the junior college level.
Well, it’s not like we have much to choose from here, but that doesn’t negate the progress that guard Jalen Steele made over the past two seasons. Steele shot 39.3 percent from three-point range last season while playing in 23.7 minutes per game. He averaged 8.7 points per game, but the the reason he ends up highlighted here is because he advanced when everyone else disappeared. When the rest of his team seemingly gave up, Steele stepped up. Over the last three games of the year, Steele averaged 16 points, three rebounds, and just over an assist per game while shooting 48 percent from beyond the arc. There weren’t any signs of quit in the sophomore guard, and that will come in handy throughout his junior year under a new coach. Steele is aware it is his time to break out as a player and leader this year. “This year I’m focused more on dribbling and driving, facilitating, getting my other players involved and being more of a leader on the court,” Steele said. “Last year, I was helping the offense out with my shots with a little defense here and there. Really, this year, I have to step up into a bigger role than I did last year. I’m ready to do that.”
Three Questions With For Whom the Cowbell Tolls’ winstoncountysfinest
Yes, his name is winstoncountysfinest. Got that? We’ll call him WCF. No, not WTF. That would be mean, and only people in Oxford are mean to our Starkville friends. WCF is a student at Mississippi State University, a diehard Bulldogs fan, and of course a writer for the SB Nation site For Whom the Cowbell Tolls. He is the resident basketball expert over at FWtCT, so check him out there or on twitter @RobbieFaulk.
RushTheCourt: Seriously, can the Bulldogs have any worse luck than they’ve had over the past several weeks? Things are bound to get better, right?
Winstoncountysfinest: I won’t jinx the team and say that they can only get better because lets face it, they can get worse. But as it stands now things are pretty bad. You lost every starter from last season, you have no true proven post player or point guard, and now two talented freshman go down. Gonna be a rough season.
RTC: What is the general excitement level over new coach Rick Ray? What can we expect from Ray in the near future in terms of style of play, personality, and recruiting within the SEC?
WCF: I think state fans are generally excited about a new direction more so than personally excited about Rick Ray. Any kind of change would have brought excitement. With that said, Ray has done a tremendous job by getting the fan base to rally around the program even with this tough situation. And his no-nonsense attitude is refreshing for fans around here.
RTC: With Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie gone from Starkville, Wendell Lewis will be the man in the post. What can we expect from Lewis and how much progress do you think he will make this year?
WCF: Wendell simply can’t be what he’s expected to be in this new regime. He’s just not a low post scorer or a scorer period. I think that he adds a little extra defensively and being active on the boards but averaging double digits scoring just won’t and can’t happen.
Twitter Style 2012-13 Outlook
Jalen Steele can shoot the lights out, but not sure he can shoot his way out of this one. MSU lost too much to be a threat in the SEC race.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball @bjoyce_hoops.