Ben Howland has experienced quite a bit of success during his coaching career. He took Northern Arizona from one of the worst teams in the country to the NCAA Tournament in just four years. He turned around the Pittsburgh Panthers in just three years, taking Pitt to consecutive Sweet 16 appearances. And he made three consecutive Final Four appearances with the UCLA Bruins from 2006-2008.
But Howland may have never faced as big of a challenge as the one he agreed to take on earlier this year. Howland was hired as the head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs and he inherits a program that is in serious need of help. The Bulldogs were 13-19 last season, including a 6-12 mark in SEC play, but that record doesn’t indicate how far away Mississippi State was from being competitive.
The Bulldogs were 13th in the SEC in scoring last season and 14th in assists. That indicates a team that doesn’t run its offense well and tries to create offense by using individual talent. And on a team that didn’t have great talent, the results were disastrous.
Howland was hired by athletic director Scott Stricklin to turn the program around. He brings a record of success with him, but he also faces an ever-improving SEC. Of course, the Kentucky Wildcats are still the top dogs (cats) in the conference, but the LSU Tigers should be better next season. The Florida Gators, Texas A&M Aggies and Vanderbilt Commodores should also be better. And it won’t be long before the Tennessee Volunteers and Auburn Tigers will be better as well.
If Howland can build the MSU program as he has done in the past, the Bulldogs should compete in the SEC. But this challenge may be the biggest that Howland has ever faced.