Mississippi State’s coach Ben Howland joined the rest of the league’s head coaches on the SEC Teleconference on Monday to discuss the upcoming SEC Tournament
Here is a transcript of Howland’s time on the call:
Howland: “We played our best game of the year on Saturday against Ole Miss. That’s the best we’ve played this season. I thought our defense was fantastic. We really did a good job sharing the basketball. Reggie Perry was fantastic for us. I thought Nick Weatherspoon played his best game of the year both defensively and offensively.
“Our team is really excited and hopefully we can carry over some momentum as to how we played into the (SEC) Tournament from that game. We were very happy that we ended up as the team that got the double-bye as the four-seed and not have to play until Friday. If the chalk holds true, it looks like we’ll end up playing Florida – who is really, really a good team. That will be a great challenge for us.
“Obviously we need to win to keep our hopes alive of getting in the NCAA Tournament.”
There’s been an eye-catching number of games in the SEC this year where one team would be way down and came back and won. What should we make of that?
Howland: “I just think that there’s a lot of parity in college basketball. I don’t think you see it just in our league, it’s throughout the country. It all speaks to the 3-point shot and how much more that’s been utilized as the years have gone by with the influence of the NBA and analytics now.
“It’s astounding. A 15-point lead used to be a big deal. It’s not more of a big deal or insurmountable in any way. There’s so many good-shooting teams and too many good 3-point shooters out there. But it does make for an exciting game for the fans and for television.”
Is there any concerns about the coronavirus and fans coming to games or not coming to games moving forward?
Howland: “I think the coronavirus is a big concern for all of us in this country. Over a month ago, I elected to cancel our foreign tour over the summer. We were supposed to go to Spain. We’re not going to do that obviously, but I decided that over a month ago.
“I’m just sure hopeful that things get under control with the testing procedures. How can South Korea be giving 15,000 tests a day and the United States of America is only giving 1,500 thus far period. It’s ridiculous for the richest country in the world to not be better prepared to test people.
“That’s not a lot to do with the tournament but it’s a valid concern for all of us.”
You have a worthy SEC Player of the Year in Reggie Perry but you’ve spoken highly of Arkansas’ Mason Jones. What do you think about the season he’s put together?
Howland: “I think that Reggie Perry is very deserving of the player of the year, no question, if you look at what he’s done for our team. He has 17 double-doubles this year, far more than anybody else in our league. But typically that goes to the team that wins the conference championship so I guess there would be a good chance it goes to (Nick) Richards or (Immanuel) Quickley.
“I love Mason Jones. Mason Jones is an absolute star, an incredible player. His skill package and ability to not only shoot 3s but pick up the dribble and get to the line. He gets fouled and gets to the line better than anybody in the SEC, maybe better than anybody in the country.
“The thing that I love most about Mason Jones is that he’s come from out of nowhere. He’s a guy that was overweight and worked his tail off to get his body right. He has a great feel and skill package. He’s really, really special to where he’s going to end up being an NBA player. He’s really, really a special talent.”
What do you think about Jones’ versatility?
Howland: “He does everything well. He’s just a complete player. Sidney Moncrief is the best guard to ever come out of the University of Arkansas and it’s hard to compare anybody to him. That guy was an incredible pro and an unbelievable player.
“But I think this kid Jones is not the freak, explosive athlete that Sidney Moncrief was or the defender that Sidney was, but he’s probably a better shooter. He’s certainly at the same stage. He’ll have a long career and play a lot of basketball in the years ahead.”
How unique is Buzz Williams’ defense at Texas A&M?
Howland: “I think he’s just a phenomenal coach. What he accomplished here in Year 1 going 10-8 in this conference, which is so difficult and so hard to win each and every game, was tremendous. Especially his road victories, that just shows you how defense travels. They are a very difficult team to play.
“I think they’re a real problem coming up in the SEC Tournament. You don’t want to see them. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them advance real far in this tournament coming up this week.
“They’re just really well-coached and they play at a pace offensively that feeds their defense. They don’t play incredibly fast on offense once they have an advantage. Their defense is so help-conscious – a swarming, team defense – that it’s very, very difficult.
“The team that attacked them best was Florida. Basically, they were skip-passing the ball against what looked like a zone at times because it’s so conscious. All five guys will be on the side that the ball is one. But they’re really athletic and take great shots. They do fairly well on the offensive end as well.”