South Carolina beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other basketball team in the SEC as the season approaches.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Ben Howland (30-33 third year; 431-239 22nd year)
2016-17 record (SEC finish): 16-16 (6-12)
2016-17 postseason: None
2017-18 media predicted finish: 12
DC’s predicted finish: 13
He’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G I.J. Ready (7.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg), F Joe Strugg (transferred, 0.5 ppg, 0.5 rpg), G Mario Kegler (transferred to Baylor, 9.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg), C Miles Washington (transferred to Northwest Mississippi Community College, 0.3 ppg, 0.0 rpg)
He’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 6-2 G Nick Weatherspoon, 6-8 F KeyShawn Feazell, 6-7 F Mitch Storm (So., transferred from East Mississippi Community College, immediately eligible), 6-2 G Tate Clayton, 6-0 G T.J. Gray (So., DNP last year),
Top returners: 6-4 G Quinndary Weatherspoon (16.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg), 6-0 G Lamar Peters (10.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg), 6-10 F Aric Holman (8.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
The ingredients were certainly there for the turnaround they hoped for when Ben Howland was hired. Malik Newman was signed the first year, Mario Kegler the second, and Quinndary Weatherspoon has become one of the best – and also criminally under-rated – players in the SEC.
Newman and Kegler transferred after a year in Starkville. MSU has yet to sniff a NIT berth in two years, much less the NCAA tournament. If they couldn’t do it with that kind of talent in some merely decent years from the rest of the SEC, what are they going to do this year when the league got so much better?
That’s what they have to figure out.
Weatherspoon will lead the team after having an all-conference season last year, and should be better since he played most of last year with torn ligaments in his wrist. Thought to be done for the season, Weatherspoon sought a second opinion, delayed the surgery and averaged nearly 17 points per game.
His little brother Nick Weatherspoon is in town, which should remove some of the onus from Quinndary, who can concentrate on shooting while Nick handles point guard. The Bulldogs seem set in the backcourt, but after losing Kegler, who do they have down low?
Abdul Ado was denied his freshman year by the NCAA, but the 6-foot-11 bruiser is good to go this year. MSU has 6-10 Aric Holman, 6-10 Schnider Herard and signed 6-8 KeyShawn Feazell.
There’s talent on this team but the league got so much better, talent may not be enough. Of course a fan base starved for the basketball success it used to have wants much more from Howland, who led UCLA to three straight Final Fours. Three years without a postseason may be too much to swallow, but as long as MSU makes some significant progress (a winning record would be key), then he shouldn’t have to sweat too much.
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Vic Schaefer (124-50 sixth year; 204-160 13th year)
2016-17 record (SEC finish): 34-4 (13-3)
2016-17 postseason: National runner-up
2017-18 media predicted finish: 2
DC’s predicted finish: 2
She’s outta here (senior unless otherwise noted): G Dominique Dillingham (6.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg), F Breanna Richardson (7.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg), F Ketara Chapel (3.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg), C Chinwe Okorie (7.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg)
She’s here (freshman unless otherwise noted): 5-11 G Bre’Amber Scott, 5-7 G Myah Taylor, 6-0 F Jonika Garvin (Jr., transferred from Palm Beach State (Fla.) Community College, immediately eligible), 5-8 G Jordan Danberry (So., transferred from Arkansas, eligible after first semester), 6-0 G Nyah Tate, 6-1 Fr. Chloe Bibby
Top returners: 6-1 G Victoria Vivians (16.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg), 5-5 G Morgan William (10.9 ppg, 2.1 rpg), 6-7 C Teaira McCowan (8.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
It shouldn’t be this way, but it is. Mississippi State has posted the best two seasons in program history the last two years and became the “One Shining Moment” for the women’s NCAA tournament when they beat UConn last season to snap a 111-game winning streak.
Yet the Bulldogs are The Silver Medalists. They had three championships last year right within their grasp and lost all of them. That the gold went to a conference rival, South Carolina, was more salt in the wounds.
“You always have something in the back of your mind,” star guard Victoria Vivians said. “‘Still got something to work for.’”
MSU had a one-game lead in the standings with two to play for the SEC regular-season championship. It lost both and the Gamecocks snuck past to claim their fourth straight title.
MSU played USC in the SEC tournament championship game, in Greenville but with the Gamecocks missing center Alaina Coates. USC still won.
After Morgan “Itty Bitty” William slayed the UConn dragon with a shot for the ages, the Bulldogs played USC for the national championship. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to four points with seven minutes to play, even as William sat the entire period.
The Gamecocks out-scored MSU 13-5 the rest of the way.
Magnificent, terrific, amazing season.
But, man. That. CLOSE!
Vivians and William will helm the backcourt and while MSU lost three starters from last year among four starters that have started at some point in their careers, they brought back the stars. Center Tearia McCowan didn’t start last year but the 6-foot-7 paint-filler has learned how to catch the ball in the post – good luck stopping that.
The biggest obstacle is learning how coach Vic Schaefer plays defense. His relentless style isn’t easy to pick up.
“It’s the last thing you’re going to get. The good news is I got seven kids back that they understand it,” Schaefer said. “The chemistry piece, defensively, is so critical that when you got one off, that’s bad.”
But MSU is still a loaded team. Perhaps it finds that one missing piece that will turn those silver medals a much lovelier color.
Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.