Mississippi State Bulldogs
Overall Rank: #96
Conference Rank: #9 SEC
2007-08: 23-11, 12-4, 1st West
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
Mississippi State only had six players that averaged over ten minutes per game last year. Coach Rick Stansbury had few opportunities to bring in his younger players to give them experience. And now three of those six guys are gone. Whether the lack of playing time for the youngsters says a lot about the six veterans or says very little about the freshmen, the Bulldogs have some rebuilding to do.
It could have been much better. Jamont Gordon left early for the NBA after averaging 17.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists. His versatility held the team together. To make matters worse Ben Hansbrough transferred to Notre Dame. The younger Hansbrough was the team’s most prolific long range shooter and ended the campaign averaging 10.5 points per game. As big of losses as those two are, especially Gordon, the absence of Charles Rhodes might hurt the most. Rhodes tallied 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds during his senior campaign, but he was also a great floor leader by the end of the year and always a threat to compile a double-double. Seldom used Billy Begley and Joseph Lupe have also wrapped up their playing careers in Starkville.
Last year’s newcomers might not have made an immediate impact, but this group will get more of an opportunity. Point guard Twany Beckham can fill multiple holes in the backcourt. The 6-5 guard originally out of Louisville, Kentucky can handle the ball, has the scoring touch to play the two and the size to play the three. For a team that could use some depth, that is a great thing. However, it is Dee Bost who is expected to play a big role as a freshman. Bost who can also play multiple positions, could be the starting point guard right away. No matter where he plays, Bost can handle the ball and score a bunch of points in a hurry. Walk-on Christopher Gay, who was a team manager for the Bulldogs last season, will add some emergency depth. Up front, Jacquiese Holcombe and Romero Osby will compete for playing time. Holcombe, a 6-6 small forward, was a second-team All-American at the junior college level last year. He is a decent scorer around the basket and will at least provide some experience and rebounding. Osby is the most highly touted recruit of the class. The 6-8, 230 pound power forward tallied a double-double in every prep game during his senior year except one. He made up for missing that one with a triple-double. He will need some time to adjust to the level of competition, but Osby could work his way into the regular rotation as a freshman. Walk-on freshman Taylor Luczak will give the team another big body who can eat up a few fouls if necessary.
Who to Watch:
Jarvis Varnado, Barry Stewart and Phil Turner are the three experienced players. Varnado, a 6-9 center, is a superb shot blocker and led the nation with 4.6 blocks per game. When Varnado is in the game the opposition has to change their offensive game plan. He is also a solid rebounder and a capable scorer around the basket. He will not score like Rhodes, but Varnado can still put up a decent amount of points. Stewart was forced to play nearly 36 minutes per game as a sophomore. With some more options emerging, that number should go down, but Stewart could still match his 11.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game output of a year ago. Stewart can run the point, but Bost could take that job from him. If that is the case, Stewart will play at the two guard spot much of the time. That would likely leave Phil Turner coming in off the bench. Turner started 11 games as a redshirt freshman and could be a solid scorer if he can find his stroke.
Those experienced players will need to be the new leaders, but Mississippi State needs last year’s freshmen like Ravern Johnson, Riley Benock, Elgin Bailey and Kodi Augustus to step up into more prominent roles. Senior big man Brian Johnson will be on that list as well. If those players can handle a larger role after playing very few minutes last year, Mississippi State will compete for another postseason berth of some sort. If not, it will be a long year.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Barry Stewart, Junior, Guard, 11.5 points per game
Phil Turner, Sophomore, Guard, 4.0 points per game
Ravern Johnson Sophomore, Guard, 2.5 points per game
Brian Johnson, Senior, Forward, 2.3 points per game
Jarvis Varnado, Junior, Center, 7.9 points per game