Mississippi State

Wendell Lewis, Jamil Wilson

Report: Senior center Wendell Lewis dismissed from Mississsippi State program

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In late June 6-foot-9 senior center Wendell Lewis was granted a fifth year of eligibility by the Southeastern Conference, a move that was supposed to give Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray some added experience in the paint in 2013-14. Lewis played in just eight games last season before fracturing the patella in his right knee, with the injury occurring after a two-game stretch in which Lewis accounted for 20 points and 16 rebounds.

“We are pleased that the SEC has granted Wendell another year of eligibility,” Ray said in June.  “I really believe that Wendell needed another year in our program to improve on the court because he was just beginning to make strides right before his injury after coming off two straight games where he scored career highs. This move is beneficial for both Wendell and our basketball program.”

Unfortunately for Lewis he’s played his last game as a Bulldog, with Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com reporting on Thursday that Lewis has been dismissed from the program. Lewis is the second Bulldogs to be ruled out for the 2013-14 season in the last month, with guard Jalen Steele seeing injuries play a role in his Mississippi State career coming to a premature end in mid-September.

In the eight games Lewis played in last season he averaged 8.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest, more than doubling his scoring average from the 2011-12 campaign (3.8 ppg). His season-ending injury was just one of the many blows the Bulldogs incurred in the first season of Ray’s tenure in Starkville. The lack of depth did the Bulldogs (10-22, 4-14 SEC) no favors last season, and with Lewis no longer in the fold that could once again be a concern entering the 2013-14 campaign.

Inside the Bulldogs return senior Colin Borchert (9.0, 5.0), junior Roquez Johnson (8.8, 4.5) and sophomore Gavin Ware (8.4, 6.4), with Ware coming off of a season in which he was named to the SEC’s All-Freshman Team. All three were productive last season, but Lewis’ dismissal puts the Bulldogs in a spot where they can ill afford to lose any of their three remaining interior options (signee Fallou Ndoye has to sit out the 2013-14 season but will be eligible to play next year).

Scheduling improvements won’t occur overnight for the SEC

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Last season was not a particularly good one for the Southeastern Conference on the basketball court. The conference went through one of its worst seasons in recent history, managing to place just three teams in the NCAA tournament field. While the struggles of the league’s premier program (Kentucky) didn’t help matters, the true culprit for the conference was its non-conference scheduling.

While some programs scheduled ambitiously, putting together a slate that was designed to get them ready for conference play and (hopefully) give them a resume worthy of inclusion in the NCAA tournament field, others cobbled together slates that weren’t befitting of a power conference program. And with some of those teams losing games to programs that reside in the lower regions of Division I, the SEC’s computer numbers took a beating.

Auburn lost to Winthrop. Mississippi State lost to Troy and Alabama A&M. South Carolina lost to Elon. Texas A&M lost to Southern. Vanderbilt lost to Marist. Georgia lost to Youngstown State. Alabama lost to Mercer and Tulane.

And there were plenty of bad wins. The SEC played 30 games against teams Ken Pomeroy ranked 300th or lower out of 347, with every team but Kentucky playing at least one. Arkansas and LSU each played four 300-level teams, which is a virtual invitation to miss the NCAA tournament. Pomeroy rated five SEC schools between 302 and 344 in non-conference strength of schedule: Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Auburn and South Carolina.

With that in mind SEC commissioner Mike Slive saw the need to make changes, hiring former NCAA tournament executive Greg Shaheen as a scheduling consultant and making Mark Whitworth the league’s associate commissioner for men’s basketball (a newly-created position). The conference that has won the last seven national titles in football would now focus on improving its basketball product. And given the way in which some programs have scheduled in recent years, these moves were necessary.

But Rome isn’t built in a day, and a list compiled by ESPN’s Jason King on the ten worst non-conference schedules among power conferences shows that there’s still some work to do in the SEC. Three SEC programs made the list (Arkansas, Mississippi State and Texas A&M), but to be fair each has significant question marks to address entering the 2013-14 campaign.

Arkansas has to replace its top two leading scorers (B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell), Mississippi State is in the second year of a massive rebuilding project and Texas A&M lost Elston Turner and Ray Turner (no relation). Those three being called out for their respective non-conference schedules is countered by Kentucky and Florida ranking among the nation’s best, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

The SEC’s scheduling issue isn’t about all 14 members putting together brutally difficult schedules, but rather understanding the impact of their non-conference slates on the entire conference and scheduling accordingly. Accomplish that task and the SEC shouldn’t have to worry about going through seasons like the 2012-13 campaign in the future.

Mississippi State’s Jalen Steele suspended indefinitely

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An already thin Mississippi State roster has gotten thinner as junior Jalen Steele was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules, the school announced Saturday.

Steele, a native of Knoxville, Tenn., has been a constant amidst all of the changes in Starkville, but now must sit on the sidelines for an indeterminate amount of time. He has seen action in 13 games this season, 11 of them starts, after retuning from a wrist fracture that kept him out of eight games early in the year.

In those 13 games, Steele averaged 9.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. His best game of the season came Jan. 12 in a road win over Georgia when he scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Without Steele available, Mississippi State now has only six scholarship players available and two eligible walk-ons. Coach Rick Ray inherited a difficult situation with the Bulldogs, and it has been made no easier with this news Saturday. They take on No. 2 Florida at 4:00 p.m. ET and the host Gators are favored by 29 points.

Steele reportedly did not make the trip to Gainesville with the team.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Mississippi State’s Andre Applewhite out for season with knee injury

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Mississippi State freshman wing Andre Applewhite will undergo season-ending knee surgery after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his left knee, the school announced Tuesday.

Applewhite, a 6-5 native of Memphis, Tenn., suffered the injuries in practice Friday and becomes the second Mississippi State player to tear his ACL in three months after fellow Jacoby Davis suffered the same injury in July.

New head coach Rick Ray is now left with eight scholarship players for the Bulldogs’ season opener against Troy on Friday.

Ray welcomes a seven-man recruiting class to Starkville after a mass exodus of players followed former coach Rick Stansbury out the door after the 2011-12 season. Among the key departures are forward Arnett Moultrie, now with the Philadelphia 76ers, guard Dee Bost, and center Renardo Sidney.

The Bulldogs were chosen to finish last in the SEC coaches poll for the 2012-13 season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

SEC preview: Embrace the change

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

So much change in the SEC this season. And it’s not all in Lexington.

That change, for the most part, stays the same. Coach John Calipari brings in another top-flight recruiting class for a run at a second-straight national championship.

To continue the trend of change league-wide, the conference welcomes two new members in Missouri and Texas A&M and three new coaches. Add in that eight teams have recruiting classes of six players or more and there’s going to be a lot of new faces and places for fans and programs alike to take notice of during the 2012-13 season.

Change is a constant. It’s how the teams adjust to it that will determine how the SEC shakes out.

Five Things To Know

1.) Missouri and Texas A&M enter their first seasons in the SEC. In the media poll, the Tigers were picked to finish second behind Kentucky in the league. The Aggies were tabbed 9th.

2.) Kentucky, the defending national champions, just keeps hitting the conference with quality newcomers. A four-man freshman class paired with transfers Ryan Harrow (N.C. State) and Julius Mays (Wright State) will give the Wildcats a solid shot at a repeat.

3.) Mississippi State lost five important players to graduation, going pro or transferring. In total, the Bulldogs will have to make up for 59.6 points and 28.3 rebounds lost, and you can also factor in the 10.3 assists per game lost between Rodney Hood, who transferred to Duke, and Dee Bost, who exhausted his eligibility.

4.) Along with joining a new conference, Missouri brings in almost an entirely new roster. The Tigers offseason haul included 11 newcomers, with five transfers from four-year schools. Only three players return off last season’s roster, including forward Laurence Bowers, who missed all of the 2011-12 season with a torn ACL.

5.) SEC coaching experience is at a minimum this season. Three programs will have new coaches: LSU (Johnny Jones), South Carolina (Frank Martin) and Mississippi State (Rick Ray). Four other programs, Missouri (Frank Haith), Texas A&M (Billy Kennedy), Tennessee (Cuonzo Martin) and Arkansas (Mike Anderson) have coaches that are in their second seasons in the conference.

Impact Newcomers

Nerlens Noel, Kentucky – The general consensus on Noel, a 6-10, 205-pound Top-5 player in the Class of 2012, is that he’s a more raw Anthony Davis, which is funny considering Davis was a freshman just a year ago. But Calipari has developed a reputation for developing big men, and Noel should be no exception.

Ryan Harrow, Kentucky – Calipari’s attack is predicated on an aggressive point guard. Harrow, a 6-2, 175-pound transfer from North Carolina State, will have to be it. He’s apparently shown flashes in practice, and being a third-year guy in the college game — with a redshirt year, obviously — he can command some respect from the youth on the team. He averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 assists for the Wolfpack two seasons ago.

Devonte Pollard, Alabama – The Crimson Tide’s lone incoming recruit this season is a good one. A 6-8, 200-pound wing who can slash and shoot. There’s a decent base coming back for coach Anthony Grant, and it will all be built around Pollard.

Alex Oriakhi, Missouri – The Tigers needed a center, badly. The former UConn forward was arguably at his best during the Huskies’ 2010-11 national title run as a sophomore, but a lack of playing time last season — he averaged 6.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 21.5 minutes per game — and general discontent left the 6-8, 255-pound banger looking for a change. He’ll use the graduate transfer rule to be eligible immediately.

Charles Carmouche, LSU – The 6-3, 183-pound guard’s story is a weird one. He played his first two seasons at New Orleans before they dropped to Division III, spent the past two seasons at Memphis, graduated, and now will finish at LSU. The New Orleans native averaged 7.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 2010-11, but sat out most of last season due to suspension and injury and the NCAA granted him a fifth-year as a result.

Breakout Players

Phil Pressey, Jr., Missouri – A lot of pundits are picking the 5-11, 175-pound Pressey to have a monster season for the Tigers. He’s the most complete player in the SEC, averaging 10.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 6.4 assists last season. With Marcus Denmon gone, the control is all his and he’s going to do a lot with it.

Anthony Hickey, Soph., LSU – It’s too bad LSU wasn’t very good last season, or Hickey might’ve gotten more pub. The 5-11, 182-pound guard stuffed the stat sheet with per-game averages of 8.9 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists while starting 31 of 33 games.

Archie Goodwin, Fr., Kentucky – Noel is getting a ton of the copy. But it’s Goodwin who could thrive as a result. He was one of the best prep players in the nation at getting to the hoop and word is he’s retooled his jumper. Goodwin’s size at 6-4, 180 pounds, paired with his skill, puts him between a shooting guard and a smaller wing, positionally. But he’s the type of player that develops best in Calipari’s system.

Erik Murphy, Sr. Florida – He’s a big man who can shoot the three with consistency. The 6-10, 238-pound forward shot 42.1-percent from deep last season, averaging 10.5 points per game. He’ll get more shots with Erving Walker gone, but the main reason for the breakout will be his inside game. He led the team with 37 blocks last season and pulled in 4.5 boards per game.

Rickey Scott, Jr., Arkansas – Scott may benefit the most from Anderson’s system. The 6-3, 205-pound Irving, Texas native averaged 9.1 points, 3.5 rebounds and a team-leading 2.5 assists last season and could up that this season.

Player of the Year

Kenny Boynton, Sr. Florida – Boynton can score (a team-leading 15.4 points per game last season), rebound well for a guard (2.6 rebounds) and distribute (leading returner at 2.7 assists per game). Losing Walker means more shots for Boynton. What can he do with those shots? If he can stay steady or improve on his 44-percent field goal percentage and his 40.7-percent clip from three-point range, Boynton gets the nod at the end of the season. Though there’s about 8-10 players that could win it.

All-Conference Team

G: Phil Pressey, Missouri
G: Kenny Boynton, Florida
F: Murphy Holloway, Ole Miss
F: Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
C: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky

Coach Under Pressure

Andy Kennedy, Ole Miss – It’s time for Kennedy to do something other than trudge into the NIT. He’s got his best team in his seven seasons at the helm, including Murphy Holloway as the rock. Four starters return and the Rebels bring in a six-man recruiting class, anchored by junior college transfer Marshall Henderson, and he returns four starters. Kennedy has pumped out 20-win seasons, but how long until just 20-win seasons aren’t enough?

Predicted Finish

1.) Kentucky – John Calipari just reloads with another crazy-talented recruiting class. Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein anchor the post. Alex Poythress on the wing and Goodwin and Harrow at the guard spots. Can Mays and Kyle Wiltjer anchor a seven-man rotation?

2.) Tennessee – There’s a lot of love for Jarnell Stokes. Rightfully so. If Trae Golden and and Jeronne Maymon are as consistent as they were last season, this squad has a proven shot at catching and beating Kentucky.

3.) Missouri – The guys coming back are as solid as anyone in the nation. Pressey, Laurence Bowers and Michael Dixon, Jr. Problem is, they’re it. The 11 newcomers will have to gel quick for this team to keep pace.

4.) Florida – A solid corps of veterans return in Boynton, Eric Murphy and Patric Young. The play of fifth-year senior Mike Rosario and how he improves on that 33.7 three-point percentage might be a key.

5.) Arkansas – B.J. Young surprised some folks last season in having the best season of any freshman outside of Kentucky in the SEC. As long as Marshawn Powell returns healthy and the nine-man recruiting class hits the ground running, Mike Anderson will have a good squad.

6.) Ole Miss – This is Andy Kennedy’s major proving year. He’s got one of the most underrated players in the SEC in Murphy Holloway, a solid perimeter presence in Nick Williams and returns four starters off an NIT team.

7.) Alabama – Six players come back that started at least 10 games for Anthony Grant’s squad, plus Devonta Pollard is the only incoming freshman and a stud. The Crimson Tide could be the biggest surprise of the season and finish better than seventh.

8.) Georgia – This isn’t really Georgia’s fault. They have a number of starters back and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope makes this team run, but the talent above them is just better.

9.) Texas A&M – Not sure what to make of this team. The Aggies lost Khris Middleton to the NBA, but return four players that started at least 13 games last season. It’s going to depend on what the bench does.

10.) LSU – What can the Tigers expect in Johnny Jones’ first season? A lot of Hickey and Carmouche in the backcourt. The question lies in the paint and who can help out Johnny O’Bryant.

11.) Auburn – Two full-time starters return for the Tigers, but Frankie Sullivan is going to have to do a lot for Tony Barbee’s team to be successful.

12.) Vanderbilt – Commodores, the Missouri Tigers feel your pain. However, they loaded up on transfers to heal their wounds. Kevin Stallings didn’t. Or a top-flight recruiting class. It’s going to be a tough drop in Nashville.

13.) South Carolina – Frank Martin took a big chance leaving Kansas State for the Gamecocks, and he isn’t inheriting much. Four players return that started at least 12 games, but those players haven’t experienced many wins.

14.) Mississippi State – This team was demolished by a mass exodus of transfers after Rick Stansbury “retired” or whatever you want to call it. If this team can even earn respectability, it’ll be an accomplishment.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Mississippi State freshman Craig Sword arrested after police find BB gun in dorm room

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New Mississippi State head coach Rick Ray has had a setback on the court with an injury to Jacoby Davis, and now he must deal with an incident off the court.

Craig Sword, a 6-3 freshman guard for MSU, was arrested last weekend for misdemeanor possession of a BB gun on a educational property, according Matt Stevens of The Dispatch.

The gun was reportedly found in Sword’s dorm room, prompting campus police to make an arrest. Sword was on campus and enrolled in the second semester of summer school at MSU.

“I am aware of the situation involving Craig bringing a BB gun into the dorm, which is a misdemeanor,” Ray said in a statement Wednesday, as reported by The Dispatch.

“Craig did not point it at anyone or towards anyone,” he went on to say. “Craig realizes the severity of his actions, is extremely remorseful and fully understands that he must be held accountable. There will be disciplinary action carried out once I have all the facts and details.”

Mississippi State is in the midst of a transition to its time under Ray, who is taking over for the retired Rick Stansbury. The Bulldogs are also looking to compensate for the loss of four of their biggest pieces from last season—Dee Bost, Rodney Hood, Arnett Moultrie, and Renardo Sidney.

Ray reportedly maintains that Sword’s punishment will be handled in-house by the time the 2012-13 season begins.

Photo: highschoolsports.al.com

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_