The Dagger: College Basketball Blog

Mississippi State headlines this year’s list of worst major-conference teams

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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Third-year Wake Forest coach Jeff Bzdelik is under pressure to show progress (AP)

In a year in which the bottom of the SEC has suffered losses to everyone from Marist to Rhode Island to Youngstown State, there's no question which team has been the worst of the lot thus far.

That's rebuilding Mississippi State, which is off to a 3-6 start after losing its coach and every member of its rotation from last year's up-and-down 21-win season.

Already expected to struggle with stars Arnett Moultrie, Dee Bost and Rodney Hood no longer part of the program, the Bulldogs also lost Jalen Steele to a fractured wrist and forward Wendell Lewis and point guard Jacoby Davis to knee injuries. As a result, the shorthanded Bulldogs headline my list of this season's worst major-conference teams, which also includes struggling Wake Forest, Georgia and Texas Tech.

1. Mississippi State (3-6)
RPI/KenPom: 253/224
Most credible win: vs. Texas San Antonio 53-42
Most embarrassing loss: at Troy 56-53
What has gone wrong so far: Between injuries, transfers and dismissals, Mississippi State simply doesn't have much talent or depth on its threadbare roster. The Bulldogs are shooting below 40 percent from the field and below 25 percent from behind the arc, which explains why they've exceeded 60 points only three times this season.
Why there's a glimmer of hope: Whatever hope there is rests in the development of sophomore Roquez Johnson and freshman Fred Thomas, who are averaging a combined 25 points per game. Give the new coaching staff a year or two to get its injured players healthy and recruit some talent to complement that duo, and Mississippi State could have the foundation of a competitive team in the SEC.
By the numbers: 23.7, the percent of 3-pointers Mississippi State has sunk this season, which ranks third-to-last out of 347 Division I teams.

2. Wake Forest (5-5)
RPI/KenPom: 194/201
Most credible win: vs. Mercer 74-71
Most embarrassing loss: vs. Iona 94-68
What has gone wrong so far: Too many turnovers, too few defensive stops and a lack of a third scorer behind C.J. Harris and Travis McKie have led to a flurry of humbling early losses. As a result, a fan base that questioned the hire of Jeff Bzelik in the first place has soured further on the third-year coach, which has meant sparse crowds for home games.
Why there's a glimmer of hope: Granted it was hapless Furman, but Wake Forest delivered one of its better performances of the season on Tuesday night. They defended well in the second half, got a combined 36 points from McKie and Harris and blew away an inferior opponent at home for really the first time all season. Freshman Tyler Cavanaugh also showed promise with 12 points in 14 minutes.
By the numbers: 224, the RPI of the highest-rated team Wake Forest has beaten so far this season (Mercer).

3. Georgia (3-7)
RPI/KenPom: 259/119
Most credible win: vs. Mercer 58-49
Most embarrassing loss: vs. Youngstown State 68-56
What has gone wrong so far: Although Kentavius Caldwell-Pope has blossomed into one of the SEC's best players, the former elite recruit has been asked to do too much because nobody else has stepped up around him. Particularly disappointing have been top newcomers Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, neither of whom have been able to produce consistently enough to carve out more than sporadic playing time in the backcourt.
Why there's a glimmer of hope: This is a young team with only one senior, guard Vincent Williams, in its rotation. If Mann and Gaines develop by the second half of the season, perhaps Georgia can be competitive in the bottom half of a mediocre SEC. And if Caldwell-Pope remains in Athens one more season and Mark Fox can find some scorers to relieve the pressure on him, the Bulldogs can make some strides next season.
By the numbers: 7.2, points per game produced by Georgia's second leading scorer, forward Nemanja Djurisic. Caldwell-Pope leads the team at 17.4 points per game.

4. Texas Tech (5-2)
RPI/KenPom: 282/226
Most credible win: vs. Prairie View A&M 89-79
Most embarrassing loss: vs. McNeese State 80-75
What has gone wrong so far: With this summer's Billy Gillispie fiasco behind them, the Red Raiders bolted to a 4-0 start against a tissue-soft schedule. They've since plummeted to earth with home losses to Arizona and McNeese State that exposed Texas Tech's defensive issues and inability to knock down free throws or jump shots. Now the schedule stiffens a bit with Alabama and Arizona State preceding the start of Big 12 play.
Why there's a glimmer of hope: Dejan Kravic and Jaye Crockett give Texas Tech a quality one-two punch in the paint, albeit one that may not be able to shoot as high a percentage once the Red Raiders start facing stronger opponents. If the guards can start knocking down even a few jump shots, perhaps Texas Tech can escape the cellar in a weaker-than-usual Big 12.
By the numbers: 343, the ranking of Texas Tech's schedule thus far, fourth-to-last in Division I.

Others worthy of consideration:

Auburn (5-5): Dropped five of seven to begin the season, but the return of guard Chris Denson from an academics-related suspension has sparked a three-game win streak.

Boston College (5-5): The underclassmen-heavy Eagles are fortunate not to be in the bottom four after a brutal loss to Bryant University.

TCU (7-4): Losses to Tulsa and SMU suggest it will take Trent Johnson a few years to get the Horned Frogs competitive in the Big 12

Vanderbilt (5-4): A 50-33 loss to Marist showed how far the Commodores have fallen after losing all five starters from last year's SEC tournament champs.

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