What If?

Malik Newman (foreground) won four straight state championships at Callaway High School.


Malik Newman (foreground) won four straight state championships at Callaway High School.
Malik Newman (foreground) won four straight state championships at Callaway High School.

Last week, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament had upset upon upset upon upset. After 136 games in tournament history, a 16th seeded team finally defeated a number 1 seeded team. Never in history had this happened.

Nick and Quinndary Weatherspoon in 2015 capturing a state championship together.
Nick and Quinndary Weatherspoon in 2015 capturing a state championship together.

The record going into last week was #1 seed (135-0) against #16 seed teams. University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) embarrassed the Virginia defeating them 74 to 54. A 20 point beatdown. No last second three pointer at the buzzer. No last second free throws granted by a bad referee call. No star player from Virginia getting injured during the game.

None of that. Good old fashioned woodshed whupping, in front of the world. Cemented in history forever is UMBC.

UMBC’s victory was the biggest upset of the tournament, but far from being the only upset thisseason. 16 teams remain from the field of 68. Those teams are #11 Loyola-Chicago, #11 Syracuse, #9 Florida State, #9 Kansas State, #7 Texas A&M, #7 Nevada, #5 West Virginia, #5 Clemson, #5 Kentucky, #4 Gonzaga, #3 Michigan, #3 Texas Tech, #2 Purdue, #2 Duke, #1 Villanova, #1 Kansas.

If the tournament played out according to plan, 9 of the 16 remaining teams would not be playing in the Sweet 16. Historically dominant schools are having to work harder than ever to bring in top level guys. Over the years, assistant coaches from powerhouse schools have become head coaches at traditionally lower level schools. These coaches are recruiting top level players using their knowledge of bigger schools against them. No longer must you go to Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, etc to be seen by NBA scouts. Winning makes everyone take notice. UMBC’s twitter followers went from 5,000 to 40,000 following the historic win. Social media connects people
in many ways now.

After the recent upsets in the NCAA men’s tournament, I took the time to ponder something. What if top level Mississippi men’s basketball players went to a school like Jackson State University instead of Mississippi State, Kansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, or Duke? Arguments can be made that players going to Mississippi State, have fared just as well as other Mississippi schools. 2009 was the last season that Mississippi
State’s men made it into the NCAA tournament. Mississippi Valley State University, in 2012, was the last time a men’s team from Mississippi made it into the NCAA tournament.

Top high school boys basketball players continuing their career in Mississippi tend to gravitate towards Mississippi State. However, two players have transferred out of MSU, sat an entire season, and had impactful junior seasons at their new schools.

Rodney Hood transferred to Duke in 2012, sat out 2013, had a breakout 2014 junior season with Duke, prompting him to enter the NBA draft. Hood was selected in the first round by the Utah Jazz. Hood was traded last month to Cleveland.

Malik Newman transferred to Kansas in 2016. He sat out the 2017 season and is having a good junior season. Kansas is a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament with Newman being one of their main players capturing MVP of the Big 12 tourament a couple of weeks ago.

Players transferring in and out of schools is no shock and mentioning the Hood and Newman transfer is no knock on Mississippi State basketball. They played for two different coaches; the “fit” just wasn’t right.

My point is this, what if, Newman, Quinndary Weatherspoon, Devin Booker, Nick Weatherspoon, Wesley Harris, Maurice Dunlap, and other dandy dozen players from the past four years met up at a school like Jackson State? And this team, which would be a #16 seed because of the way the SWAC is viewed, knocked off a #1 seed, how would that help them all? How would it help the school? That makes it easy for the next wave of top players to choose the same school.

UMBC received Steph Curry’s newly released shoe, have been doing countless interviews, and enjoying national spotlight. The spotlight is one of the main recruitment tools of big programs.

This tournament has shown winning makes things happen no matter what seed you’ve been given. Players make the best choices based on facts and feelings at that time. Nothing is wrong with that. Sometimes it’s just cool to ponder things.

Given the changing culture of college basketball, do not be surprised if you see guys “team up” and sign together at a “small” school and make some noise. Texas Southern, coached by Mike Davis, former head coach of Indiana University, has made the tournament four of the past five seasons.

Davis has gotten quality players to either transfer to or sign with Texas Southern. Recently, they won their play in game in the NCAA tournament. They lost their next game to Xavier, a #1 seed but have earned some respect winning the game before and staying relatively close to Xavier until they pulled away to win by 19.

Mississippi State men’s team under head coach Ben Howlin, won over 20 games this season with “Que” Weatherspoon, his brother Nick Weatherspoon, Xavien Stapelton, just to name a few Bulldog players. After beating Louisville 79 to 56, the Bulldogs have advance to the Final Four of the NIT Tournament in New York City.

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