The Mississippi State Bulldogs. Picked to place SIXTH in the Western Division of the SEC.
Despite personnel problems, the Mississippi State Bulldogs made it to the NIT last year, winning two games before losing by just two points to Tulsa, the team that ultimately won the tournament. The Bulldogs had a record of 7-9 in conference play and 18-13 overall. Gone are two players that were expected to return, robust 6'8" center Robert Jackson (255 lbs), and 6'7" forward Tyrus Boswell (240 lbs). Jackson, 11.3 ppg and 7.3 rebounds, was suspended for poor attitude in the final six games and then transferred to Marquette. Boswell, 6.8 ppg and 4.1 rebounds, was out of the final nine games for breaking team rules and is not likely to return. The Bulldogs also lost four senior scholarship holders: 6'4" guard Antonio Jackson (12.8 ppg and the assist leader); 6'7" forward Tang Hamilton (12.2 ppg and 6.8 rebounds); 6'9" reserve center Quentin Smith (3.2 ppg); and little-used 6'4" swingman T.J. Billups. It appears that Mississippi State will have great difficulty in equalling last year's achievements.
6'2" junior Derrick Zimmerman had the most assists of any returning player, but he averaged fewer than three per game. He is quick and actually led the team in blocked shots (20), but isn't much of an outside shooter and averaged just 4.6 ppg. He is expected to run the show. Guy Gardner, 6'2" senior walk-on who transferred from a junior college, played some point guard last year and should back up Zimmerman. He averaged just 3.2 ppg. Another possibility to play the point is Timmy Bowers, 6'2" sophomore, who scored 2.5 ppg while seeing limited duty.
With the loss of Antonio Jackson, who led the team with 12.8 ppg, the shooting guard position is up for grabs. 6'5" freshman Winsome Frazier is a talented young player who is likely to get more time at this position than anyone else. Roy Goffer, 6'2" sophomore walk-on from Israel, is considered to be a good shooter, but averaged just 2.9 ppg after joining the team for the last 14-15 games. If he plays, another possibility is Ontario Harper, 6'5" sophomore, who got into only five games last year.
The starting wing forward position will be in the capable hands of Marckell Patterson, 6'5", 190 lbs, senior. Patterson was third in both scoring (12.1 ppg) and rebounding (4.4) on last year's team and saw much more action than any other returning player (823 minutes). He hit 37.2% of his three pointers. His backup will be 6'5" senior Michael Gholar, who may be the best defender on the team, but he is a notoriously weak shooter (2.9 ppg, 29.1% from the floor, 43.8% from the free-throw line).
Starting at power forward, and quite possibly the key to the team's success, will be a JUCO All-American, Michael Ignerski. Ignerski, who is from Poland, is 6'10" and weighs 225 lbs. He averaged 17.3 ppg and 8.2 rebounds at Eastern Oklahoma State Collcge. He is a shooter; 47% from three point range last year, and 78% from the free-throw line. The only backup in sight for him is redshirt freshman Lincoln Smith, 6'9', 275 lbs, who is not considered to be a notable talent.
Mario Austin should be the starting center and he could become the team's star. An All-American in high school, the 6'9", 265 lbs Austin found last year that he had a lot to learn about defense, but improved greatly in the latter part of the season. His ability to score is not in doubt as he averaged 7.9 ppg in about 18 minutes play per game, but he must do a better job of rebounding (only 3.6 last year). Austin's backups will be two freshmen, 7'1" Marcus Campbell (from Albany GA) and 7'2" Wesley Morgan (Gallatin TN). Morgan weighs only 230 lbs and is a project, but Campbell should see more action.
The frontline of Austin, Ignerski, and Patterson should provide decent firepower. Ignerski and Patterson are good outside shooters.
Playmaking is questionable. There appears to be a lack of depth at some positions. Rebounding is likely to be weaker than last year. Rick Stansbury is often said to be one of the less capable coaches in the conference, but he did pull things together at the end of last year after losing Robert Jackson and Boswell. The Bulldogs had heavy losses from last year's team and will depend greatly on newcomers and other inexperienced players.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
Derrick Zimmerman must become a competent point guard. More team dissension could cost Stansbury his job. Ignerski and Austin must take over in a big way and Frazier must fill the shooting guard position adequately and play a lot of minutes. I am doubtful that everything will fall together and predict that the Bulldogs will fall to sixth in the division.