Mississippi State Makes a Push Toward March Madness
Mississippi State has never been a basketball success. Aside from a successful women’s team for a few years, the Bulldogs have always looked to their football and baseball programs to represent the school on the biggest stage. However, Mississippi State head basketball coach Chris Jans is looking to change that. In just his first year in Starkville, Jans has turned the Bulldogs into a defensive monster who has consistently sat on the bubble of the NCAA tournament.
Jans Bringing Starkville to Life
Under Ben Howland, the Mississippi State men’s basketball team underperformed. Thanks to a few NBA-level players in Quinndarry Weatherspoon and Reggie Perry, the Bulldogs made some waves in 2019, but ultimately the program lacked excitement and quality basketball. Enter Chris Jans.
Not many fans expected much out of this season. Chris Jans, who was the head coach at New Mexico State, had a very short time to recruit and build his team before the season started. Then the Bulldogs got on the floor and showed fans that they were there to play. Jans’ lockdown defensive strategy has pulled Mississippi State into a likely March Madness appearance. So much so that despite being a very poor shooting team, Jans has led his team to a chance at a spot in March Madness.
Jans’ defensive mind has been a blessing to the Mississippi State team. The Bulldogs have held their opponents to only 59.5 points per game and just over 38% shooting. In addition, the Bulldogs are fifth in rebounds and second in steals in the SEC. This Mississippi State team has also shown its toughness and longevity, winning two of the three overtime games they have been in. Just imagine what Chris Jans can do with a full recruiting class and some shooting. One thing is for sure, the SEC should look out for the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Chris Jans.
Tolu Smith is a Game Changer
Every team needs a “that guy”. That player who can do it all and do it well. Chris Jans may have turned this program around in less than a season, but he has to have the players for it. While Coach Jans has the game plan on the sideline, Tolu Smith has executed it to perfection on the floor.
Smith has been dominant since he stepped onto the court in the SEC. Shooting 58.7% from the field, Smith leads the SEC in field goal percentage and is third in the SEC in rebounds. Smith has consistently put-up points for a Bulldog team in desperate need of offense. In seven games this season, Tolu Smith scored 20 or more points, including four against SEC opponents.
Smith has been a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the court. A constant presence in the paint and above the rim on offense, Smith is always a threat to score. Down on the defensive end, Smith’s length makes opposing teams think twice about driving inside. When it comes down to it, Tolu Smith is Mississippi State’s best and most needed player. If he has a good game, chances are good for a Bulldog victory.
Mississippi State Back in Contention
While Mississippi State’s women’s program has had tremendous success, with one of the biggest upsets in basketball history and multiple NCAA championship game appearances, the Bulldogs men’s basketball team has been less successful. Mississippi State last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2019 where they were put out in the first round. The Bulldogs have failed to recreate the magic that sent them to the Final Four in 1996 and has had underwhelming support from fans in recent years. However, that could all change this season.
Mississippi State has a real shot to make their twelfth NCAA tournament appearance this season, but they will be cutting it very close. With an overall record of 18-10, 6-9 in the SEC, the Bulldogs have been on the list of the last four in for what feels like all season. Through tough defense and some key wins, the Bulldogs have proven they can hang with the best.
Mississippi State started the season with eleven straight wins, something the Bulldogs haven’t done in over a decade. Though they have struggled in SEC play, Mississippi State played second-ranked Alabama to the final buzzer, losing by just three points. In the following game, The Bulldogs took eleventh-ranked TCU to overtime, where they caught fire and won 81-74. Mississippi State also swept their in-state rivals Ole Miss, winning both games they played against the Rebels.
Now it all comes down to the last three games of the season. Many experts have said that the Bulldogs’ post-season hopes rest on Saturday’s game against twenty-fifth-ranked Texas A&M. Coming off of two overtime games against Ole Miss and Missouri, this Bulldog team has proven they can win out and stake their claim on a spot in March Madness. Mississippi State will have to be at its best to make it and it all starts at 2:30 on Saturday in Starkville, Mississippi.