Monday’s confirmation of a season-ending wrist injury to guard Quinndary Weatherspoon forces Coach Ben Howland into yet another adjustment. “We’re a man short, and obviously a very good player.”
Mississippi State’s best player, he meant. Weatherspoon was off to a fast sophomore start at 18.8 points on 47% shooting, as well as hitting the glass for five boards per game. Plus, “It takes away 34 minutes a game, the best perimeter defender.”
Weatherspoon was to have surgery next week, with the only bright spot it is his non-shooting left wrist. Recovery will take six months.
Mississippi State (3-1) has a lot of games to play before then without his services. Beginning this Friday evening, as Lehigh (1-2) comes to Humphrey Coliseum for a 7:00 tipoff. Until the injury the Bulldogs had regained some momentum after a first-round loss at the Charleston Classic to Central Florida.
Howland’s team rebounded, and scored and defended too, with wins over Boise State and Texas-El Paso. After a Monday-off the Bulldogs returned to practicing Tuesday where Howland began shuffling his deck.
“It opens up more opportunity for others,” the coach said. Though “It hurts at practice to keep the competition up.”
Howland figures to slide freshman Mario Kegler down to Weatherspoon’s swing position. Actually this would be Kegler’s natural role in an ideal lineup. Forced to play forward in four starts he has averaged 8.3 points with 4.8 rebounds, and been a ‘stretch’ matchup on offense with his three-pointing.
Playing on the baseline has cramped Kegler’s style some certainly. “He’s been in foul trouble three of the four games, and that’s limited his minutes,” Howland said. So maybe moving outside will reduce the post-up fouls Kegler is drawing.
At the same time, “It’s going to be asking a lot of him,” Howland said. “Because he’s going to have to know two positions in our sets, out-of-bounds plays, press offense, everything.”
As for rotations, Howland hopes by late December that Xavian Stapleton will be able to provide at least some minutes at the three-spot. The transfer has yet to play as he continues recovery from a year-long knee condition. Freshman Joe Strugg has been battling shin issues but might be about to make his Dog debut out of necessity.
Howland could fill Kegler’s four-spot with a big body to pair with forward Aric Holman (11.8ppg, 6.8rpg). A really bigger body at that, as forward Schider Herrard and center E.J. Datcher have been in the post rotation with Holman. It seems just as likely though State would stick with a four-guard starting squad.
Even, a two point guard pair. Senior IJ Ready (12.0ppg, 5.0apg) has opened at quarterback all four starts, with freshman Lamar Peters (4.3ppg) spelling him. But putting Peters on the tipoff team is a realistic option now.
That would also mean three frosh starting. Rookie Tyson Carter (12.3ppg, 11 treys) is already second in squad scoring and will naturally need to provide even more points now. At least there is adequate backcourt depth to cobble-together for 40 minutes.
Around the rim fouls are the consistent problem. Some of this is Howland’s emphasis on close man-defense which under the revised rules emphasis is going to draw whistles. The rest is just having young big Dogs still learning how to play this level. There were some encouraging signs at Charleston.
“It’s going to be a process throughout the year,” Howland said. “The first half with Boise State I was pleased with Schnider and E.J., they played good defense. Aric had a good game against UTEP especially the first half.”
Lehigh’s record deceives, Howland said. “They’re picked to win their league, they’ve got the two-time reigning player of the year in their conference. They lost to Xavier on the road by three and had a chance to win. So they’re very good.”
That POTY in the Patriot League is Tim Kempton, a 6-10 post/forward. “He has all the skill level of a stretch-four. He can score inside, over either shoulder, he can shoot from the perimeter.” Kempton is averaging 26.3 points on 55% shooting so far with 9.7 rebounds.
State’s last test against a talented big man didn’t go well in the loss to Central Florida. Though Kempton isn’t 7-6, he is still the sort to draw fouls from the raw Bulldog post players. This was one of Howland’s takeaway from Charleston.
“It was a wake-up call, this is how it’s going to be, how physical and hard. I was happy the way we responded the next day.”
The Bulldogs will practice around Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday. Friday also begins a four-game homestand with State hosting Northwestern State next Monday.