Fresh off of their third 20-win season, Ben Howland and the Bulldogs from Starkville have experienced a major overhaul of the roster, seeing only three players who played for them last season returning to the Humphrey Coliseum for the 2020-21 season. The amount of players that left was perhaps unexpected for Howland, who saw three non-senior starters depart for the professional ranks when only one (Reggie Perry) was expected. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs must find a way to overcome these losses in pursuit of their fourth straight 20-win season.
Who’s Back, Who’s Gone?
The losses for the Bulldogs are numerous in draft declarations, transfer defections, and graduation. G Tyson Carter (13.9 PPG), known for his three-point shooting at the guard position, exhausted his eligibility after four solid seasons. G Nick Weatherspoon, F Reggie Perry, and F Robert Woodard all departed for the NBA draft, with Woodard and Perry looking at the potential of getting drafted. The Bulldogs were most affected by the transfer portal, with F Keyshawn Feazell (McNeese State), Prince Oduro (USF), Elias King (MTSU) and Devin Butts (ULL) all entered the transfer portal, while E.J. Datcher is still in the transfer portal but not on the Mississippi State roster. That totals to 9 departures from the program, which is a major shakeup to any school not named Kentucky or Duke.
Despite these departures, the Bulldogs do return a few key pieces, specifically in their backcourt. G D.J. Stewart and G Iverson Molinar both earned significant minutes last season, especially while Weatherspoon was suspended for the first ten games due to NCAA violations. Stewart was able to carve out a starting role as a slasher, averaging 8.5 PPG and starting 17 games, while Molinar was an important reserve that is looking to take the step up as a sophomore. Additionally, starting C Abdul Ado (5.7 PPG, 6.7 RPG) is returning after entering the NBA Draft for a brief time. His role is mostly as a space eater inside that can be physical with opposing centers. The other returnees are reserve F Quinten Post, a seven-footer who sparsely played last season and F Galen “Tolu” Smith, who was a sit-out transfer from Western Kentucky that is eligible to play this season.
There are quite a few newcomers to this Mississippi State program, mostly in the form of a freshman class that was ranked in the top 40 by 247’s team rankings. This class is headlined by four-star G, Deivon Smith, who will be looked to early to replace some of the production that is vacated by Weatherspoon from the point guard position. Smith is joined by a crop of four three-star forwards Keondre Montgomery, Derek Fountain, Andersson Garcia, and Cameron Matthews, who all range between 6’6” and 6’8.5” and will provide wing depth that was vacated by Carter and Woodard.
This recruiting class is also joined by two transfer players that are both immediately eligible, one of which Alabama fans will definitely be familiar with. First, F Jalen Johnson (Louisiana Tech) joins the Bulldogs as a small forward that averaged 15.5 points last season after starting his career at Saint Louis. Secondly, former Alabama C Javian Davis will join the Bulldogs to presumably back up Ado and fill the roles of Feazell and Datcher after averaging 6.0 points over his redshirt freshman campaign.
G: Deivon Smith
G: Iverson Molinar
G: D.J. Stewart
F: Jalen Johnson
F: Adbul Ado
Bench: Tolu Smith
Bench: Javian Davis
Bench: Quinten Post
Bench: Keondre Montgomery
Bench: Andersson Garcia
Bench: Derek Fountain
Bench: Cameron Matthews
Mississippi State’s starting lineup is straightforward, with the four-star freshman taking over the reigns after the departure of Nick Weatherspoon, with Iverson Molinar sliding over to an off-ball position, which he played with Weatherspoon at times. Stewart takes the other starting guard spot as a slashing guard, while Johnson and Ado man the front court spots. The issues start to arise with the Bulldogs past the starting lineup, where there are question marks about who will back up the trio of guards in the starting lineup. If there isn’t a clear answer to that, then Howland might elect to move Molinar to the bench and start another big at the 4, while Johnson moves into the 3. The question then becomes: who can play that role while providing the floor spacing that Reggie Perry provided to allow Ado to have room inside to back down smaller opponents? The Bulldogs also need a freshman wing to step up and be able to play behind Stewart and maintain a level of production while Stewart is off the floor.
Looking to the Future
The Bulldogs have one commitment in the 2021 class in former Western Kentucky commit F Keshawn Murphy. The Bulldogs still have two spots to fill for the 2021 class, and while they have a logged crystal ball pick for F Aiden Applewhite, there is no visible smoke for any other prospects at this moment. The Bulldogs could be angling for transfers or lesser-known prep players in 2021, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the transfer portal and the crystal ball predictions for the rest of the 2021 cycle.
The Mississippi State basketball program has seen a lot of turnover in the last few months, and Ben Howland has had a tough challenge put in front of him in the form of making a team in a short amount of time, and to his credit, he has found players that have some relative pedigree behind them. However, the talent level in Starkvegas is not as flashy as the lights of the city the nickname is referencing. Jalen Johnson is a nice stop gap option for Howland to bridge the gap, but this is a bonafide rebuilding year for the Bulldogs.
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