Ben Howland

Mississippi State men's head basketball coach Ben Howland addresses his team following a practice.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland.

The holiday season might still be several months away, but Howland can’t help but be in a festive mood as his Bulldogs (22-9, 10-8) face Texas A&M (14-17, 6-12) Thursday night at approximately 8:30 p.m. to start the postseason at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

“I was thinking, ‘This is my favorite time of year,’” Howland said. “No offense to Christmas, but it’s close. This is my favorite time of year. When you’re participating in this time of year, it’s pretty special, especially with all of the work that these guys have put in. All of the sweat, (and) everything they’ve done, It’s fun right now. Our guys are playing well, and I’m excited for this time.”

Thursday night starts a thrilling couple of weeks for MSU. Next week, the Bulldogs will almost certainly start play in their first NCAA Tournament in a decade. That’s then though. First, it’s the SEC Tournament.

MSU will need four wins in four days to win this week’s event. Should State win Thursday night, they’d face Tennessee on Friday at approximately 8:30 p.m. From there, if MSU can get to the semifinals, that’d be played at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. The championship game is set for Sunday at noon.

Despite all the potential excitement, State is singularly focused. The Bulldogs say, for now, the SEC Tournament is all about Thursday night.

“We want to worry about the first game first,” MSU freshman forward Reggie Perry said.

Perry’s words reflect the attitude of his head coach. Howland has always been one to adopt the one-game-at-a-time philosophy. He was asked earlier this week about the prospects of getting a rematch with Tennessee on Friday. Howland was quick to point out that, right now, there is no MSU game against Tennessee. The Bulldogs have to win tonight first.

“Never look ahead,” Howland said. “I’m only concerned about one thing – trying to get to that opportunity of playing Tennessee, who is an incredible team. That would be great.”

Still, State has the weaponry and momentum to earn a shot against the Volunteers. The Bulldogs have been playing good basketball of late, winning six of their last eight.

They’ll go into battle Thursday night boosted by first team All-SEC selection Quinndary Weatherspoon and SEC All Freshman Team member Reggie Perry. Weatherspoon led the SEC in conference games with 19.4 points per game. Meanwhile Perry just missed averaging a double-double in conference action with 11.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The 8.2 boards per outing were third-most in the league in SEC-only contests.

The Bulldogs will look for Weatherspoon and Perry to keep their successful regular seasons rolling right into postseason play. If they do, State will have a great chance to get to Friday’s action and beyond. Still, for MSU, Friday can wait. Thursday night is the only for sure game on the schedule.

“Anything can happen and we’ve got to take care of our business one game at the time,” Howland said. “I know that’s boring, but it’s real. That’s how you do it.”

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