The Mississippi State men's basketball team recently ended the 2013-2014 season with a 78-66 loss to Ole Miss in the 2nd round of the SEC Tournament after winning a first-round game against Vanderbilt 82-68.
Mississippi State ended the season with a 14-19 overall record and a 3-15 won-loss record in SEC play. This came after a 10-22 overall, 4-14 SEC record in 2012-2013, current head coach Rick Ray's first season at MSU.
While the overall record improved by 4 games this season, the SEC record was 1 win less.
Mississippi State, during the 2012-2013, played with seven scholarship players, three freshman and two junior college transfers, as well as two returning players from the previous season, Jalen Steele, a junior, and Roquez Johnson, a sophomore. Steele was the only one of the two who had scored a point in SEC play during the previous season, averaging 8.6 points per game. Johnson only played a total of 4 minutes in SEC action as a freshman.
During the 2012-2013 newcomers and freshmen had all of the SEC starts in the SEC, other than 9 starts by Jalen Steele. And as you would expect, the results matched the lack of experience, 4 wins in the SEC.
I'll focus on the SEC games since it's easier to compare SEC teams (the teams don't change) than it is to compare pre-conference teams.
While the 2012-2013 team lost 14 games, the 2013-2014 team lost 15. You might think, based on the record alone, there was no improvement. But that's not the case. Here is why I say that.
The 2014 team, which played with 8 scholarship players, increased its scoring average in SEC games by 5.8 points per game while giving up an increase of 1.1 points per game. The 2014 team also defended well on the perimeter, allowing opposing teams to make just .327 of their three-point shots (opposing teams made .342 in 2013), which is the fourth best three-point defensive percentage for an MSU team during the last twelve seasons. The only MSU teams that defended the three-point shot better were the 2005, 2008 and 2010 teams with percentages of .326, .307 and .308.
The 2014 team also improved several other categories, including their free throw percentage (.658 to .680), field goal percentage (.393 to .422), three-point shooting (.284 to .297) and their rebounds per game (30.5 to 31.4).
There were some down sides for the 2014 team such as being last in the conference in defensive field goal percentage (.471) and last in block shots (2.7 per game). But those stats, very likely, can be attributed to a lack of enough big men and inexperience.
On a brighter note, most of the individual players improved from 2013 to 2014.
Sophomores Craig Sword and Gavin Ware saw their points per SEC game average increase by 1.0 and 1.1 points. Junior Roquez Johnson's points per game average increased by 3.3 points while junior Trivante Bloodman's increased by 1.9 points. Two players saw decreases in their points per game average, sophomore Fred Thomas (-0.6) and Borchert (-1.2).
And based on past history, most of the players, especially the ones who are going from their sophomore to junior season, should see an additional increase in their scoring averages between 1 to 4 points per game. Plus, freshmen such as I.J. Ready (SEC ppg average was 5.1) and Jacoby Davis (2.4 ppg in the SEC) should also see an increase.
And on that improvement note, I'll discuss next season and what type improvements I see for it.
First, as I previously wrote, most of the players should see improvements in their points per game totals. They'll also be bigger and stronger, which is part of the reason they'll be able to score more points. That'll also allow them to have more stamina in games, which means their minutes played will be better quality minutes on both ends of the court.
And probably the most important factor that will allow next year's team to improve is more depth at every position.
This past season, Gavin Ware was the only true big man that Mississippi State had. Next season, Mississippi State will have redshirt freshman center Fallou Ndoye, a 6-foot-11, 220-pounder who will give MSU a much needed boost defensively. He won't provide much offense his freshman season but his defense will provide a great deal of help for Ware when MSU faces teams with several big men. Plus, he will likely allow Ware more time to rest during games.
You can also add to the inside mix redshirt junior forward Travis Daniels, a 6-foot-8, 225 to 230 pound athletic big man with a high basketball IQ and good offensive skills in the paint.
True freshman forward Oliver Black (6-foot-8, 225) will give MSU a good rebounder, especially on the offensive end. He's more of a defensive presence than offensive threat as of now.
MSU is in dire need of a consistent three-point threat and have one of those coming in next season, true freshman Maurice Dunlap (6-foot-0, 170). Based on seeing him in person, I believe Dunlap has the best outside shooting ability, especially three-point shooting, that will have played at MSU since Darryl Wilson, another player who was 6-foot tall. In addition to being a great outside shooter, he also has a high basketball IQ, is a good athlete, a good passer and handles the ball well. He'll need to get bigger and stronger but should be able to provide immediate help with outside shooting even as early as his freshman season.
Another freshman, forward Demetrius Houston (6-foot-6, 200), will be the most athletic player on the MSU team as soon as he steps foot on campus. He's a highlight film waiting to happen. A tremendous leaper, he has the potential to provide MSU fans with a lot of excitement whenever he's around the goal. The alley-oop pass will be back at MSU thanks to Demetrius. He plays high school ball for Carver High School in Montgomery, AL, the same school that Craig Sword and Roquez Johnson played at, so you know he'll be a hard worker and play hard on the court.
With the improvement of the returning players and the help that the new additions will provide, look for MSU to win anywhere from 18 to 20 games next season, including between 7 and 9 SEC games.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.