Something that most of the SEC tends to forget when focusing on college basketball due to the success of teams like the Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators is that the team with the third most conference titles and tournament wins since 2002 is not the LSU Tigers, Arkansas Razorbacks or any of the other storied programs from the conference. No, it’s the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
Following disappointing season after disappointing season, the Bulldogs finally got rid of their head coach Rick Ray. Ray is a great coach who will do great things at Southeastern Missouri State, but he was just unable to get it done with Mississippi State. So, naturally, the Bulldogs went out and made one of the biggest coaching hires of the offseason by hiring former UCLA Bruins head coach Ben Howland.
A Final Four caliber coach, Howland rapidly jumps the Bulldogs from an expected lower half of the SEC team to a team that could easily finish within the top five. Not only does this team boast massive amounts of experience in players like Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware, but Howland is bringing in multiple elite recruits that include the No. 1 SG in the country, Malik Newman.
One of the deepest teams in the SEC talent-wise, the only major concern for this team will be the tendency to underperform and the lack of a clear, shot-blocking inside player. If Ware can take another step forward, the Bulldogs could make the 2016 NCAA tournament as a 9-12 seed in Howland’s first season.
Mississippi State has been the spoiler for the big-name teams in the SEC in the past. With this squad and Howland at the helm, they are definitely ready to do it again.