Howland looks forward to start of MSU men's basketball season

Mississippi State men's basketball coach Ben Howland
Staff Writer

More than four months remain before Mississippi State is back on the basketball court playing a game that counts.

On the heels of one of the Bulldogs’ best seasons in years, the days can’t go by fast enough for head coach Ben Howland.

“We’re working really hard this summer,” Howland said earlier this week on the Southeastern Conference coaches summer teleconference. “We're excited about all the depth and talent that we have returning from last year’s season when we finished really strong.”

Howland’s eagerness stems in large part from the way MSU performed down the stretch last year. The Bulldogs flirted with an NCAA Tournament at-large berth before settling for a spot in the National Invitation Tournament. It was MSU’s first postseason appearance in six seasons.

Once in the NIT, State was one of the last four teams standing in the event before being eliminated by Penn State in the semifinals at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Howland believes his team is primed to take another big step forward in the coming season with what he has returning, as well as some exciting newcomers.

“I think our two seniors – Aric Holman and Quinndary Weatherspoon – they’ve been together for four years and are providing great leadership and doing a great job with our younger players,” Howland said. “Our freshman class that’s coming in this year has done an outstanding job. I really like our guard play in the backcourt with (Lamar) Peters, Nick Weatherspoon, (Quinndary) Weatherspoon and Tyson Carter. That gives us four really good guards.

"I love the addition of Robert Woodard and what he’s bringing to the table. I think Reggie Perry bolsters our front line and I’m really excited about D.J. Stewart in terms of his abilities. He’s really, really looked good. Our entire team is really excited right now about the opportunity to come back and compete in this really tough SEC this coming season.”
State’s 2018-19 efforts received a boost earlier this year when both of the Weatherspoons, Holman and Peters elected to return. Those four were Mississippi State’s four leading scorers last season and all tested the waters of the NBA Draft before electing to return to school.

Howland actually praised the process and thinks it was good for his guys to go through it, but he’s grateful to have them all back in the fold ready to lead MSU’s charge this fall and winter.

“I think the NBA has done a good job of the feedback process for players to give them a good sense of where they potentially would be drafted,” Howland said. “I think it’s really helpful. They are the ones that are giving the feedback and they are being very straightforward and honest with the kids. I’ll tell you what though, we’re really blessed to have all these players that tested the waters from our program – the Weatherspoon brothers, Lamar Peters, Aric Holman – they all return.”

The quartet of the Weatherspoons, Peters and Holman hope to be the foundation of MSU’s first NCAA Tournament team in a decade. Many outlets are already projecting the Bulldogs to return to the big dance for the first time since 2009.

State is No. 15 in the country on the CBS Sports way-too-early Top 25 rankings. Yahoo Sports placed the Bulldogs at No. 18 in a similar ranking while Athlon Sports put MSU at No. 19.

It’s far too soon for any of that to really matter, but it does speak to the high hopes of the Bulldogs for the coming season. As for all the expectations, Howland welcomes them.

“We’ve been together here for a couple of years now,” Howland said. “Guys are really into what our potential is this season at Mississippi State. It’s just really exciting for us to go into a season with so much optimism about our opportunity to do something really special this year.”