Key Departures: DJ Stewart (NBA); Abdul Ado (Grad); Deivon Smith (–>Ga Tech); Jalen Johnson (–>Texas A&M)
New In Town: Garrison Brooks (🡨UNC); Rocket Watts (🡨Mich St); DJ Jeffries (🡨Memphis); Shakeel Moore (🡨NC St); Camryn Carter (#111); KeShawn Murphy (#141); Alden Applewhite (#164)
State of the Program:
Ben Howland has had an illustrious career as a HC and has been scratching and clawing, in what is likely his last stop, to get this Mississippi St program to the upper echelon in the SEC. They’ve cracked through to the tournament one time in 6 seasons thus far, and were in the bubble conversation a year ago. What they’ve been missing is star power and depth, as even when they’ve had a guy or two, the load was just too much to bear for those 1 or 2 guys to carry. Howland has turned to the transfer portal to remedy that problem, bringing in a really solid group of transfers that have a chance to give this Bulldog program its best season in years. They will pair those incoming pieces with several key contributors from last season’s NIT runner-ups, including leading scorer Iverson Molinar (JR), alongside starter Tolu Smith (JR) and key reserves Derek Fountain (SO) and Cameron Matthews (SO). The loss of D.J. Stewart to the NBA hurts, but the incoming group more than makes up for what has exited the program, as Howland enters this season with the highest expectations in his time with the program.
Highlighting this incoming group is former All-ACC selection Garrison Brooks (SR) from UNC. Brooks has been a mainstay in the UNC frontcourt for the last 4 seasons, starting 108 games for the Tar Heels and being a consistent beast in the paint. Every fan has likely seen him play and knows he’s an efficient scorer and rebounder and should come right in and be an impact player at the 4 next to Tolu Smith inside. They played big inside with Smith and Ado last season and Brooks comes in as an immediate upgrade for the departed Ado. Also coming in looking to start is former Big Ten All-FR Rocket Watts (JR). Watts was often in Tom Izzo’s doghouse a season ago, mostly due to his colorful playstyle that didn’t fit well into Izzo’s more structured ideology. His scoring ability at all 3 levels jumps off the page, and with some more open looks created by this inside duo for the Bulldogs he should improve his efficiency and start alongside Molinar in the backcourt. The 3rd potential new starter added via transfer is former Memphis F DJ Jeffries (JR), who comes in looking to transition to the wing from the stretch 4 role he played at Memphis. His ability to shoot from outside combined with his size and strength on the attack give him unlimited potential, and while he didn’t emerge as a star at Memphis he has a chance to blossom here. He should round out a starting group that will be huge and have the weapons and potential to compete with the top SEC schools. The last transfer coming in is G Shakeel Moore (SO), who comes in after one season at NC St where he filled a similar role he looks to this season as a backup PG. Moore will join Fountain and Matthews as key players off the bench. Moore has shown promise as a scorer, with a pretty southpaw stroke and he gets after it defensively. He will be vital off the bench behind Watts and Molinar. The leader of the Freshman group is 6’3” G Camryn Carter (#111). Carter is an undersized 2 guard but has potential to be a dangerous 3-level scorer with some development, as he flashes a nice jumper and plays with strength around the rim. He may be called on as a 9th man in the rotation this season and should blossom later down the road. Big man KeShawn Murphy (#141) shows potential as a stretch big who can also have an impact defensively as a shot blocker. He is a bit of a project and will need time to fill out his frame and develop his jumper, but he could get some backup minutes and certainly should improve battling Garrison Brooks every day in practice. The last Freshman coming to town is 6’7” wing Alden Applewhite (#164) who has a pretty lefty stroke and at his size could transition to a stretch 4 role. He is not an explosive athlete however, and that limits his upside in that role and on defense. His jumper could allow him to become a really productive offensive threat down the road and maybe see some minutes this season.
This Mississippi St team is flying under the radar in the pre-season, but I look at the potential starting lineup of Molinar/Watts/Jeffries/Brooks/Smith as a really solid group that can contend with anybody in the conference. The backcourt is dynamic and they have an enormous frontcourt that has proven production. Molinar is not a household name but he averaged almost 17 ppg on 44% shooting from outside, and Garrison Brooks is a go to threat on the interior. The offense should be one of the best in the country with 2 legit all-conference players, but the defense will really determine how high the ceiling is. They were 54th a year ago, but it was very inconsistent as far as energy and effort, highlighted by losses to Vandy and Texas A&M at home. For this season to go as well as it could on paper they need consistent effort on the defensive end, as they should be able to score with anybody they just need to be able to get stops. Howland has the pedigree to go on runs in the postseason he’ll just need to find cohesion with the newcomers. Expectations should be the highest they’ve ever been, with a legit shot at a run into the 2nd weekend or beyond for Howland and the Bulldogs.