Mississippi State’s Ben Howland joined the rest of the league’s coaches on the SEC men’s basketball teleconference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs recent performances and preview its match-ups this week.
Here is a transcript of Howland’s time on the call…
“We’re coming off a tough loss. Again, I thought we were in a close game and had our opportunities late. We were down one, 60-59, against Tennessee and couldn’t get a stop or fouled. Give Tennessee credit because I thought they played good and (Kevin) Punter is a special point guard, one of the best players in our league. I was really, really impressed with him in particular. He’s a special player and a difference maker.
“Now we’re on the road again. Florida’s coming off a great win. They played exceptional, probably their best game of the year. They’re playing with a lot of confidence. They have some really good, young players. (KeVaughn) Allen is a heck of a player.
“We’ve got to really focus on taking away transition which is where I think they’re really good. They really do a great job of running their offense and creating havoc with their press.”
What went into your decision to move from zone to man-to-man defense?
Howland: “We’re giving up too many 3s. I looked at our team and we’re small. We don’t have a lot of size. The three or four players that are going to be back, I want them to have gained a better understanding for man for next year. I think our guys that are returning this year are used to playing it. They did a pretty good job in it a year ago.
“We got hurt on it early on which is why I went away from it. I thought it was hurting us from a standpoint of ball screen defense in particular. Oddly enough, that’s something we’re going to see a huge amount of tomorrow against Florida.
“But I thought (zone) slowed the game down for us and gave us a chance. Obviously against Texas A&M, it gave us a great chance. They struggled against it. But I just felt moving forward to build here, we’ve got to get back to (man).
“I told our players to keep their heads up because I want to take some of the pressure off them and point the finger at me at why we played zone. It’s not what I ultimately think is best long term so we’re going to play man.”
Have the refs backed off on some of the new foul rules?
Howland: “I think the game’s being called pretty good right now. You see more hands on fouls than you would’ve in the past. I don’t think it’s quite as physical as it was in the past but I think there’s been a happy medium reached again allowing the kids to play hard.”
What did you take away from moving Quinndary Weatherspoon to the four?
Howland: “We’re just trying to get our best defensive rebounders out there. There will be some games where we’ll probably have to start big because there’s a big size discrepancy.
But I think he gives us so much in so many ways. Arguably five of our top six players are our guys right there that are starting.”
How was Weatherspoon able to pick up the new position so quickly?
Howland: “He’s a bright kid, smart. He loves to play the game and is getting better and better. He’s really worked hard. He’s still obviously not perfect but he also played a number of minutes at the small forward, which he will continue to do. That’s where he’s been most of the season.”
How do you adjust starting four guards moving forward?
Howland: “It’s hard. I think there will be some games where from a size standpoint it’ll be a tough thing to deal with. It worked good for Tennnessee.
“But regardless of whether (Weatherspoon) is starting or not starting there, he’ll play a major role because he’s producing. He has good stats night in and night out for the most part when you consider he’s just a freshman.
“But it becomes hard when people play big, especially when they play the traditional four/ power forward on the low block that is posting a lot. That makes it much more difficult for (Weatherspoon) to stay out of foul trouble. We’ll see but he’s still play some minutes there.”
What went into Elijah Staley’s decision to return to football and what did he bring to your team?
Howland: “I was really appreciative of his efforts and what he did to come out and help us in practice. In talking with his dad, his main focus is football. Now they’re going to be getting back to their conditioning program and he really wants to battle for the starting position. He wasn’t getting really any meaningful minutes in the games and I couldn’t honestly promise him I was going to play him more minutes. That’s all based on need and his ability to earn those. He’s still not truly in up and down basketball shape.
“We wish him well and appreciate his contributions while he was part of the team.”