Andy Lyons/Getty Images

No. 21 Mississippi State: Is Year Four when Ben Howland gets MSU to the tourney?

Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 21 Mississippi State.


We are heading into Year Four of the Ben Howland Experience in Starkville, and to date, it seems like the story is less what the Bulldogs have accomplished in his tenure and more what they’ve failed to do: Win with the talent that he has brought to Starkvegas.

Howland’s first recruiting class included top ten recruit Malik Newman. In 2016, he had a top ten recruiting class, according to 247 Sports, that included six four-star prospects. This past season his recruiting class didn’t rank all that high — he didn’t needed to bring in many bodies after 2016 — but he did manage to land Nick Weatherspoon, a top 30 recruit that held a five-star designation by some recruiting services. This year’s class is loaded as well, with Reggie Perry — a McDonald’s All-American with serious NBA upside — and four-star wing Robert Woodard the headliners.

Getting talent into the program has not been an issue for Howland.

Winning with that talent, however, has not proven so easy. In three seasons, he has gone just 55-45 overall with a 22-32 record in SEC play. He has not finished over .500 in league play to date, and last year’s run to the semifinals of the NIT was the first time he played in a postseason that wasn’t the SEC tournament.

Keeping that talent in the program has been the most elusive task. Prior to Nick Weatherspoon opting to return for his sophomore season, every player in the top 95 of 247 Sports composite rankings that Howland signed transferred out of the program — Newman, Mario Kegler, Schnider Herard and Eli Wright.

I’m not sure that this is how the Mississippi State administration envisioned it when they hired Howland two years after he was fired by UCLA.

That said, on paper, this should finally be the year that the Bulldogs get over the hump, but can they live up to the expectations they’ll have entering the season?

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

MOREMid-Major Power Rankings | The Hot Seat | Perry Ellis All-Stars

MISSISSIPPI STATE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

Is it too simple to state it like this: They have good players at every position?

Sometimes, it just doesn’t have to be complicated.

Let’s break it down position-by-position.

Quinndary Weatherspoon is the star of this team, the best scorer on the roster for the last two years and a senior that will deservedly be named a preseason first-team all-SEC player. He’s very good, as is his brother, sophomore Nick Weatherspoon. Nick did not acclimate all that quickly as a freshman, struggling with his shot, but he was a starter in every game he played and finished third on the team in scoring. And you know what they say, the best thing about freshman is that they become sophomores.

Lamar Peters is turnover-prone and regressed as a shooter during his sophomore season, but he is still a talented lead guard that has some potential as an NBA player, although the hype around him has died down in the last 12 months. He split time as a starter last year with fellow junior Tyson Carter, who is bigger, more athletic and more of an off-guard. That quartet will spend the season battling it out for the three starting spots on the perimeter assuming that they can hold off four-star freshman Robert Woodard, a physically-imposing wing coming into the program with a reputation for being a big-time scorer.

The frontcourt is just as promising. Aric Holman is a former four-star prospect that has developed into a solid SEC big man, averaging 10.9 points, 6.7 boards and 1.8 blocks while shooting 44 percent from three. Abdul Ado was strong in his role as well, scoring around the rim, rebounding the ball and defending the rim as a redshirt freshman. The x-factor — which we’ll get to in a bit — is Reggie Perry, who is probably the most talented player on the floor. Throw in a couple guys at the end of the bench (D.J. Stewart, E.J. Datcher, Jethro Tshisumpa) and there seven or eight guys talented enough to push for a starting spot and a roster that will provide flexibility and lineup versatility with talent at every position.

Yes, Mississippi State needs to shoot the ball better from distance this season, and yes, they need better point guard play (read: fewer turnovers), but that can be worked through. They have talent, depth, competition for positions, experience.

How much more can you ask for?

Quinndary Weatherspoon (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games

BUT MISSISSIPPI STATE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

They’re still Mississippi State.

I really don’t mean to say this flippantly, but these are facts: Ben Howland hasn’t been a great basketball coach for a decade now. He hasn’t been bad, per se — he went to three NCAA tournaments in his last five years at UCLA, he won the Pac-12 regular season title in 2013 and he won 25 games just last year — but we are now more than a decade removed Howland reaching his third consecutive Final Four.

To put that into perspective, the last time that UCLA played a game in the Final Four, I had still never sent a tweet and Mariah Carey had a No. 1 song (seriously).

I’m not saying that Mississippi State can’t win with Howland as their head coach. I would never say that. I thought Rick Barnes was washed up and looking to cash in with one last job when he took over at Tennessee after getting run out of Texas. Three years later, he’s the reigning SEC regular season champion returning a team that is going to be ranked in the top ten this preseason and just beat Duke for a top 15 recruit.

I would not be shocked in the least to see Howland lead this group to a top four finish in the SEC and a run to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. My point is, simply, that we are a long way removed from assuming a team is going to hit their ceiling simply because Howland is their head coach.

Reggie Perry, via McDonalds

THE X-FACTOR

Reggie Perry is the crown jewel of Ben Howland’s 2018 recruiting class, a McDonald’s All-American and one of the most interesting — and high-upside — prospects in the class.

“The biggest NBA sleeper in the freshman class,” is how one longtime scout in the state of Georgia described the 6-foot-10 Perry, “if [Ben Howland] doesn’t ruin him.”

That got me to thinking: When was the last time that an elite, five-star prospect that Howland recruited lived up to the hype that he had entering college? Malik Newman didn’t. Neither did the class that included Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, which ultimately got Howland fired. Josh Smith was eventually run out of Los Angeles. J’Mison Morgan was dismissed by two different programs in his college career. Jrue Holiday has turned out to be a pretty good (and underrated) pro, but he went from being the No. 2 player in a recruiting class where B.J. Mullens was ranked No. 1 to the No. 17 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft as six point guards were picked in front of him.

You have to go all the way back to Kevin Love in the Class of 2007 to find a five-star freshman that played for Ben Howland the way you would expect a five-star freshman to play.

Which brings me back to Perry.

For my money, he is the guy that will determine what Mississippi State’s ceiling will be. Howland has good players on their roster. Peters, the Weatherspoons, Holman, Carter. All of those guys are above-average SEC talents and I would not be surprised to see a couple of them end up on an all-SEC team by the end of the season. But Perry is the pro. At 6-foot-10, 245 pounds, he’s more physical than most combo-forwards but more skilled than most power forwards. He’s gifted athletically, he has a face-up game and he space the floor a little bit.

If he can make the kind of impact his talent says he should, he changes the dynamic of what this team is.

But given Howland’s track record with five-star prospects, who knows what will happen.

Aric Holman (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

2018-19 OUTLOOK

The Bulldogs absolutely have the pieces to be a team that makes a run at finishing top four in the SEC this season.

They have guard depth, they have size, they have veterans, they have a proven star in Quinndary Weatherspoon and an incoming freshman with the potential to be a difference-maker in Reggie Perry. Throw in a coach that has been to three Final Fours in his career, and it’s impossible not to like this team on paper.

That said, I just don’t think it’s a guarantee the Bulldogs are going to be good. We’ve already been over some of the narratives that are at play — Mississippi State is Mississippi State, Ben Howland is a decade removed from playing in a Final Four — but there are also some valid concerns about the way this team plays on the court that come into play.

Mississippi State only shot 31.5 percent from three last season, which is a number that is going to have to go up this year. Their three starters on the perimeter — both Weatherspoons and Lamar Peters — all shot under 30 percent from beyond the arc individually.

Those numbers have to be better, as does Mississippi State’s point guard play. The Bulldogs turned the ball over on nearly 20 percent of their possessions last season. Peters had a turnover rate of 22.9 percent. If Mississippi State is serious about being better than they were last year, those guards that look so good on paper have to actually play like it for an entire season.

If they do, Mississippi State should be right there with Kentucky, Tennessee and Auburn atop the SEC.

If they don’t, another trip to the NIT isn’t out of the question.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette

Four-star guard Tyrell Jones commits to Auburn

Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Auburn landed its fifth verbal pledge in the Class of 2019 Tuesday evening, as four-star combo guard Tyrell Jones announced his commitment. The 6-foot-1 Jones, who currently attends West Oaks Academy in Orlando and played for the Showtime Ballers program on the adidas Uprising circuit, took his official visit to Auburn in mid-September.

https://twitter.com/nebexantus/status/1052366104075661314/video/1

Jones is one of three four-star commits in Auburn’s 2019 class to date, with wings Allen Flanigan and Jaylin Williams being the others, and guard Isaac Okoro and forward Babatunde Akingbola round out the quintet.

During Bruce Pearl’s rebuild at Auburn the program’s had multiple perimeter players who can create off the dribble, opening things up for themselves and their teammates, and Jones fits the mold. At minimum Auburn will have to account for the loss of senior guard Bryce Brown after the upcoming season, with junior guards Jared Harper, Samir Doughty and J’Von McCormick all being upperclassmen as well.

Add in senior wing Malik Dunbar and junior Danjel Purifoy, and Auburn has six perimeter upperclassmen on the current roster. The 2019 recruiting class will go a long way towards bolstering that area of the program, with regards to both depth and talent.

Recruitment of Zion Williamson discussed during Tuesday’s FBI trial proceedings

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The trial focused on James Gatto, Merl Code Jr. and Christian Dawkins continued Tuesday, and the biggest news out of New York City focused on information that attorneys were not allowed to use in building their case. As a result, the information was discussed before jurors entered the courtroom for Tuesday’s session.

The name of Duke freshman forward Zion Williamson was mentioned for the first time, by way of the transcript of a phone conversation between Code and current Kansas assistant Kurtis Townsend that was read by defense attorney (representing Code) Mark Moore.

Per the transcript, Code and Townsend discussed the recruitment of Williamson, with Code saying that the prospect’s father was asking for “opportunities from an occupational perspective,” money and housing in exchange for his son’s commitment.

Moore would go on to read Townsend’s response per the transcript, with the coach being recorded saying that “so, I’ve got to just try to work and figure out a way. Because if that’s what it takes to get him for 10 months, we’re going to have to do it some way.”

Due to the lack of context to the conversation, this evidence cannot be used by either the prosecution or defense in the case. That being said the recorded transcript doesn’t match the testimony of T.J. Gassnola, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in late April and is working as a federal witness as part of the plea.

Gassnola testified that neither Townsend nor Kansas head coach Bill Self knew anything of any payments being made to prospects or their families in exchange for their commitment to Kansas, one of the adidas brand’s most important college partners.

Two other names mentioned on Tuesday were those of LSU head coach Will Wade and four-star 2019 prospect Balsa Koprivica. The transcript of the conversation between Wade and Christian Dawkins, which according to Gatto attorney Casey Donnelly included the head coach saying that “I can get you what you need but it’s got to work” regarding the recruitment of Koprivica, was not admitted as evidence due to the fact that none of the defendants are being charged for any activity involving Wade, LSU or Koprivica.

The Brian Bowen recruitment was also discussed during the session prior to the jury’s arrival, with attorneys reading a transcript of a conversation between Bowen Sr. and Dawkins in which the former said that he favored Michigan State for his son. Bowen Sr. told Dawkins that Michigan State hadn’t offered anything for his son’s commitment, but that never happened since Bowen Jr. did not want to go to Michigan State. He ultimately landed at Louisville, with his pledge coming just days after an alleged payment of $100,000 was agreed upon.

This case has seemingly focused on the question of what laws/rules the trio of Gatto, Code and Dawkins have broken. The prosecution has argued that the they’ve broken federal laws (in addition to NCAA rules) as the prosecution has argued, with the defense arguing that they haven’t broken federal laws but instead ran afoul of NCAA rules on behalf of the coaches they worked with. Beyond what the jury ultimately decides, there’s also the matter of what the NCAA could do to the programs and coaches mentioned during the trial.

One day after Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said that he felt this current scandal was nothing more than a “blip” on the radar of the sport, a member of his highly-regarded freshman class was mentioned in the courtroom.

While there’s no telling where this will all end, and how the cases will impact college basketball moving forward regardless of the verdicts to come, this trial feels like more than just a blip.

Boston College and Seton Hall schedule charity exhibition for October 27

Corey Perrine/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tuesday afternoon Boston College and Seton Hall announced that its basketball programs will play an exhibition on October 27 at Conte Forum. Volunteers will be accepting donations from those in attendance, and the proceeds will be sent to the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Raleigh to help with hurricane relief efforts.

In recent years the NCAA has allowed Division I programs to substitute an exhibition game — usually played against a Division II or III team — for a charity exhibition against another Division I school.

While Seton Hall will have a second exhibition, a home game against New Haven scheduled for November 9, this will be Boston College’s lone preseason contest before it begins regular season play on November 6 against Milwaukee.

Both teams lost some significant contributors at the end of the 2017-18 season, with Seton Hall bidding farewell to a four-member senior class that led the program to three straight NCAA tournament berths and Boston College moving on without first-round draft pick Jerome Robinson.

But there are some talented players for head coaches Kevin Willard and Jim Christian to work with as well, with guard Myles Powell back for his junior season at Seton Hall and Ky Bowman and Jordan Chatman among the returnees at Boston College.

Jury concludes hearing evidence at college basketball trial

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York City jury is done hearing testimony at a federal trial about secret payments in college basketball.

Prosecutors have accused a former Adidas executive and two other defendants of conspiring to funnel funds to the families of prized prospects to get them to commit to programs sponsored by the sneaker company. They’ve all pleaded not guilty.

Government evidence on Tuesday focused a flurry of texts and phone calls last year about prospect Brian Bowen Jr. before he committed to Louisville, an Adidas school.

In one text, then-Louisville coach Rick Pitino expressed interest in Bowen. But there was no clear sign the legendary coach knew about an alleged scheme to give the player’s father $100,000 in violation of NCAA rules.

Closing arguments were expected to begin Wednesday afternoon.

College Basketball’s Breakout Stars

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

One of my favorite things to do heading into each season is to put together a list of the players that are primed to become breakout stars.

Sometimes, these players are painfully obvious — Hi, Carsen Edwards.

Other, these players take a year to reach their full breakout potential — Hey, Mikal Bridges — at the expense of their painfully obvious teammate — Hello, Donte DiVincenzo.

There are players that shock the world when they become an All-American (Luke Maye, Bryce Brown), some that shouldn’t have actually surprised us when they turned out to be awesome (Keita Bates-Diop) and still others where all the dots connected but the stars never quite aligned (VJ King).

Some people have strictly-defined parameters for putting together a list like this. I do not beyond the basic principle that the player will be going from playing a role to being a star, whether that means he was a starter that will become an all-american or a bit-player slated to be a key cog on a potential Final Four team matters not.

Anyway, here is the list.

Feel free to drop me a note here (or on twitter) yelling at me over who I missed.



ERIC PASCHALL, Villanova

Paschall is hardly an unknown name at this point in his career. A fifth-year senior that was a double-figure scorer for Villanova’s national title team a season ago, Paschall popped off for 24 points on 10-for-11 shooting in the win over Kansas in last year’s national semifinal, and if it wasn’t for Donte DiVincenzo turning himself into a lottery pick with a 31-point explosion off the bench in the title game, he would have been one of the great out-of-nowhere stories in recent Final Four history.

Except he’s not really out of nowhere. Paschall averaged 15.9 points as a freshman at Fordham before heading to Villanova where, during their run to the 2016 national title, he lost more than 20 pounds, streamlining his body and fine-tuning his athleticism and jumper to the point where he is an ideal fit as a role player in the modern NBA. For me, he’s a top 20 pick, and I think that will come out this year. It’s important to remember two things here: Paschall is a terrific defender with the athleticism to guard down and the size to guard up, and while he shot just 35.6 percent from three last season, he made 35 of his final 76 threes (46.1 percent) after starting his junior season 1-for-25.

I think he turns into an all-american for the Wildcats this year, following in the footsteps of Josh Hart and Mikal Bridges before him. Buy stock now.

DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

I am the conductor of the De’Andre Hunter hype train. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-2 wingspan and the versatility to defend multiple positions while possessing the discipline that is inherent in playing under Tony Bennett for three years, my money is on Hunter becoming an all-american this year.

I’ve said this before, but I think the reason that UMBC was able to upset Virginia last season was due to the fact that Hunter was not there. Without Hunter, the Wahoos could not defend a team that played with four guards. There was more to it than that — UMBC played out of their minds, UVA choked — but what let it get to the point where UVA was in a position to choke was that they couldn’t get stops. Hunter is the piece that will allow them to play that way, and oh-by-the-way, he will be their best one-on-one scorer this season.

The question now becomes whether or not UVA has the guards to let him play the four, but that’s a different conversation for a different day.

De’Andre Hunter (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

PJ WASHINGTON, Kentucky

This Kentucky team is one that is hard to figure, as they run just about two-deep at every spot on the floor without a clear delineation between who is the best at a given position and who should be coming off the bench.

That’s certainly true up front, where Reid Travis, Nick Richards and Washington are all putting together preseasons that, in a vacuum, should earn them a starting spot, but for my money I think that Washington ends up being the best of that group, and probably the best player on this Kentucky team.

CHRIS LYKES, Miami

Jim Larrañaga’s best teams have come when he has a clearly defined star at the point guard spot. It happened with Shane Larkin in 2013, when they won the ACC, and it happened with Angel Rodriguez in 2016, when they finished second in the ACC. I think it will happen again this season, as 5-foot-7 dynamo Chris Lykes looked primed to takeover a backcourt that had all the talent and even more question marks last season.

The big issue that Miami dealt with was that they just didn’t have the shooters to be able to create spacing. Lonnie Walker was inconsistent while Bruce Brown and JaQuan Newton weren’t shooters. They struggled with who was supposed to play what role and where they were going to get shots. It was only after Brown went down for the year with a wrist injury that Lykes stepped up. He scored in double-figures in nine of the final 12 games, including 19 points against UVA and 18 points and four assists in a win at North Carolina.

The backcourt will be his this season, and around him will be a trio of guys that can shoot the cover off of the ball with a monster in the middle in Dewan Hernandez. I’m not sure if this team will be able to stop anyone, but they are going to be an efficient team scoring the ball.

JORDAN POOLE, Michigan

Someone is going to have to score some points for Michigan this season as the Wolverines lost their three-best offensive weapons — Mo Wagner, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson. Poole seems as likely as anyone to takeover that go-to guy role. He certainly likes to shoot, as he managed to average 6.0 points in just over 12 minutes with the highest shot rate of anyone returning this offseason.

I’m not sure if he’ll be Michigan’s leading scorer — my money is still on Charles Matthews for that role — but John Beilein has proven that he has the ability to make skilled offensive players effective at the Big Ten level, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Poole is the next in that line.

MITCH BALLOCK, Creighton

There are going to be a lot of shots opening up for Creighton this year, as Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas are both off to the NBA, and I fully expect Ballock to soak up plenty of those opportunities. A 6-foot-5 guard from Kansas that picked the Bluejays over the Jayhawks, Ballock showed flashes during his freshman season of being the next Creighton star. He finished the year averaging just 7.3 points while shooting 32.6 percent from three, but those numbers will be heading up this year. Another former four-star recruit, Ty-Shon Alexander, is eligible for this list as well.

Chris Lykes (Eric Espada/Getty Images)

HERB JONES, Alabama

Jones might end up being one of the guys that we end up being a year too early on. A 6-foot-6 lead guard with terrific measureables and defensive instincts, he’s going to be asked to play a much bigger role this season as the Crimson Tide look to replace the production they lose with Collin Sexton turning pro. He may be a better fit at the NBA level than in college.

MJ WALKER, Florida State

Walker is a former five-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American that spent last season playing off the bench for the Seminoles. With Braian Angola off to the professional ranks, Walker is going to be one of the guys tasked with taking over his role offensively. He’s a talented scorer with big-time athleticism — he was a high major recruit as a wide receiver — that will play an important role for a team that looks like they could finished fourth in the ACC.

CANE BROOME, Cincinnati

Cincinnati lost three of their best players off of last year’s team, and that is not going to be easy to replace. But someone is going to have to. Jarron Cumberland is the guy that’s going to end up being Cincinnati’s leading scorer, and there is some talk that he could end up being an all-american-caliber player, but I think the guy more deserving to be on this list is Broome.

A former Sacred Heart Pioneer, Broome averaged 23 points before transferring to Cincinnati. After redshirting the 2016-17 season, Broome played as more of a distributor last season, but that’s not what he’s best at. He’s a bucket-getter, and with the lack of scoring pop on this roster along with the fact that senior point guard Justin Jenifer is still around, I think Broome ends up averaging north of 15 points this season.

NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Alexander-Walker had some one-and-done buzz heading into last season, but the cousin of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a bit of an up-and-down freshman season. He ended up averaging 10.5 points, but he did not shoot the ball as well as he needed and he was less of a playmaker than many expected him to be. Still, he’s a talented player on a Virginia Tech team that is going to need their sophomore class to take a step forward if they want to live up to their hype this season.

MYLES CALE, Seton Hall

Cale is a guy that I loved in the high school ranks. At 6-foot-5, he has the kind of size and athleticism that should let him be a perfect wing in the Big East. With everything that Seton Hall lost this offseason — Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Ishmael Sanogo — they are going to need someone to pick up the slack, and there’s only so much more than Myles Powell can do.

BRANDON RANDOLPH, Arizona

The big issue that Arizona faces this season is that the FBI investigation into college basketball torpedoed their recruiting. They were not able to go out and replace Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier and Rawle Alkins with pieces that will be able to impact the program immediately, so they are going to have to promote from within. Randolph was a four-star prospect in high school that played on the same high school team as Mo Bamba. Is this the year the shackles come off and he can show what he can do?

NOJEL EASTERN, Purdue

Eastern at this point is probably best-known for being the guy that declared for the draft after averaging 2.9 points as a freshman. But he’s also a 6-foot-6 guard that will see a ton of minutes next to Carsen Edwards as the Boilermakers try to replace four starters off of last season’s roster.