Heading into the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament, Mississippi State has an overall record of 13-18 and are 6-12 in SEC action. Although the team is a No. 12 seed in the tournament, when you look a little closer at this year's team record you realize they weren't that far away, maybe one player away from being one of the top 3 seeds in the tournament and an NCAA Tournament lock. And that player very well could be Malik Newman.
During the first three years of the Rick Ray tenure, Mississippi State has shown steady improvement. During his first year, MSU had an overall record of 10-22, then it was 14-19, then 13-18 this year. In SEC play, MSU's record the last three years has been 4-14, 3-15 and 6-12 this season.
Not only has the record improved but the point margin of the losses has improved significantly from year to year.
After being blown out by more than 20 points in 9 games during the first season under Rick Ray, this year MSU has only had 2 losses that were by 20 or more points. Another improvement is the number of losses that were by 6 points or less. There were 8 of those type losses (6 were SEC games).
In other words, if MSU had scored just 7 points in those losses, this year's record would have been 21-10 overall and 12-6 in SEC play. That overall record would have been the third best in the SEC and put MSU into the NCAA Tournament
The main thing that MSU lacked the entire season was a consistent outside scoring threat, something that Malik Newman is known for. This season Newman is scoring 29.9 points per game (31st in the nation according to MaxPreps), which shows how consistent he is shooting the ball. And he is shooting 40% from three-point range. And he's not just making a couple of threes per game but over 3.5 per game. His 96 made threes is among the top 15 in the nation according to MaxPreps.
Although the talent level on the collegiate level is definitely much better than what Newman has faced in high school, there is no doubt that he has the talent that will transition much easier in college than 95% of college freshmen.
If there is someone that I could compare him to, it would be Mississippi State true freshman women's basketball player Victoria Vivians. She had a storied high school career, has SEC talent and an SEC body, just like Malik Newman.
Just like Vivians did for the women's team, Newman will immediately give more firepower to the MSU offense. I could even see him averaging in double figures as a freshman, maybe even in the 15+ range like Vivians did for the women's team.
And with the emergence of Craig Sword at the two-guard position for Mississippi State, Newman could play the position that he will play in the NBA, point guard.
After struggling early due to a back injury, Sword came on like gang busters during the latter half of SEC play. During the last seven SEC games, he averaged 18.1 points per game and made 43% of his three-point shots (11-of-26). He was even better in the last three SEC games, scoring 20.3 points per game and making 64% of his attempted threes (7-of-11).
Having an outstanding shooting point guard playing alongside of Sword would make Mississippi State's backcourt one of the most formidable in the nation offensively.
Both players are extremely athletic, one is emerging as a very good three-point shooter (Sword), while the other one (Newman) has been an outstanding outside threat his entire high school career.
And Newman is turning into a very good distributor at his guard position. After averaging just 1 assist per game during his sophomore season, he has averaged 3.2 and 4.3 assists per game as a junior and senior.
But next year's Bulldog team wouldn't just be the Sword-Newman show, although those two would be the go-to guys on offense.
The inside game should be very good with seniors Gavin Ware, Travis Daniels, Johnny Zuppardo and sophomores Demetrius Houston, Oliver Black and Fallou Ndoye all returning.
Houston might be the best of that bunch due to his exceptional athleticism and emerging offensive prowess. After starting the season slow, he came on late and showed glimpses of how good he can be. After scoring just 2.2 points per game in his first 22 games, during his last 6 games he averaged almost 7 points per game. And that number should increase as a sophomore.
In addition to those players, you can add in junior point guard I.J. Ready, senior guard Fred Thomas, redshirt freshman guard Maurice Dunlap, and incoming freshmen Quinndary Weatherspoon and Tookie Brown as well as freshman big man Joseph Strugg.
You would have a couple of go-to offensive talents in Sword and Newman, solid big men and excellent depth at every position.
When you add all of that together, there is no reason why next year's team couldn't be one of the best in the SEC and an NCAA Tournament team.
Malik Newman's Callaway High School team plays in the Mississippi High School Championship tournament at the coliseum in Jackson, MS this Tuesday at 6 pm. It would be a great chance for you to see him in person.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.