Mississippi State will tip-off its 103rd season of men’s basketball today hosting Western Carolina at 5:30 p.m.
Beginning his third season at the helm of the Bulldogs is Rick Ray. Ray has battled a thin roster throughout his time in Starkville but has five starters back and brings in five newcomers to add to the mix.
However, the injury bug has struck once again leaving JUCO transfer Johnny Zuppardo out for the season with a torn ACL and meniscus in his knee. Guards Craig Sword and I.J. Ready will also miss this afternoon’s outing while recovering from back surgery.
Sword will return next week while Ready is expected out until mid-December.
Today will be MSU’s first ever meeting against the Catamounts on the hardwood. The Bulldogs are 41-13 all-time against teams from the Southern Conference while Western Carolina is 2-37 all-time against the Southeastern Conference.
The Catamounts enjoyed wins over Arkansas 62-59 in overtime in 2003 and 78-71 against Tennessee in 1993. Western Carolina is just 1-14 in its last 15 season openers on the road.
State is 79-23 all-time in season-openers including last year’s 71-56 victory over Prairie View A&M.
The Bulldogs claimed an exhibition win against Delta State 72-51 last Thursday led by junior center Gavin Ware’s 19 points.
Mississippi State is coming off a 14-19 season – including a 3-15 mark inside the SEC. The Bulldogs are just one win shy of reaching 400 inside Humphrey Coliseum and went 8-1 at home against non-conference foes last year.
MSU shot 44.2 percent from the field and averaged 67.7 points per game during the 2013-14 campaign. The Bulldogs knocked down 30.7 percent from the outside and 66.3 percent from the charity stripe. Their opponents scored 71.3 points on 45.2 percent shooting.
Sword has led State in scoring the last two seasons putting up 13.7 points last year. Ware was the only other Bulldog scoring in double figures with 10 while adding 7.2 rebounds.
Senior forward Roquez Johnson is expected to join Ware in the low post after putting up 9.7 points and pulling down 4.6 boards last year.
Fred Thomas shuffles to shooting guard for his junior campaign. Thomas scored 9.3 points per game as a wing last year. Senior Trivante Bloodman started 17 games at point guard last season averaging 6.5 points and dishing out 2.5 assists.
Travis Daniels transferred to Mississippi State in January and redshirted the remainder of the season. The 6-foot-8, 219-pound junior is expected to start at small forward and averaged 11.9 points and 7.2 rebounds at Shelton State as a sophomore.
Freshmen Maurice Dunlap, Demetrius Houston, Fallou Ndoye and Oliver Black are also expected to make their MSU debut today.
Western Carolina is coming off a 19-15 season losing 56-53 in the SoCon Tournament finals to Wofford.
Catamounts coach Larry Hunter is one win away from 650 in his career.
Western Carolina shot 42.5 percent from the floor scoring 74.2 points a game. They hit 35.1 percent from 3-point range and 71.6 percent from the free throw line.
The Catamounts’ opposition averaged 72.6 points on 44.9 percent shooting.
Western Carolina is looking to replace five seniors and two starters from last year’s squad.
Senior guard James Sinclair (6-3, 180) returns to lead the backcourt in scoring with 11.8 points a year ago. Sinclair will be joined by juniors Mike Brown (6-3, 175) and Rhett Harrelson (5-10, 170), who averaged 5.1 and 2.7 points per game respectively.
Junior forward Torrion Brummitt (6-7, 240) put up 3.6 points and grabbed 2.7 rebounds last season. Freshman Tucker Thompson (6-10, 240) is expected to draw the other starting spot down low.
The Catamounts’ roster also features twins in freshmen Aaron and Ashley Williams.
Today’s game will be streamed on SEC Network + with Bart Gregory and Derek Cody on the call.