August 21, 2017 9:30:53 PM
STARKVILLE -- Jacksonville State stands alone in one category as part of Mississippi State men's basketball's non-conference: reigning conference champion.
The non-conference schedule MSU released in early August features only three NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago and only two that ranked in the top 50 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings, based on advanced metrics. None of that concerns MSU coach Ben Howland. He thinks, much like with his own team, the transition from 2016-17 to 2017-18 will do them good.
"We have an incredibly difficult schedule," Howland said. "Cincinnati, I don't know where they're ranked but they're in the top 20 somewhere, and we're playing them on their home floor. Dayton has been a perennial NCAA team and we have them coming in here. Some of the games you think aren't going to be difficult are going to be difficult for us."
Howland added he expects the perceived strength of schedule to improve when the Southeastern Conference releases its schedule. Howland said he has already seen it and that it is scheduled to released Wednesday.
Howland also revealed his inspiration for the one game against a Division II opponent, North Georgia on Dec. 9. The idea came from conference-mate South Carolina: Howland said the Gamecocks have made a habit of playing a Division II team coming out of final exams to ease the stress on the players. Howland added MSU has struggled in such games the last two seasons, losing to East Tennessee State 67-65 last season and 72-67 to UMKC the season before that.
Feazell's fit into frontcourt
MSU's lone 2017 frontcourt signee, KeyShawn Feazell of Lawrence County, has already proven to Howland where he is going to play this winter. All that's left for Feazell is to develop a skillset that better fits the position.
"Keyshawn's a 4, he's a one position guy," Howland said, identifying Feazell as a power forward. "He's a guy that has struggled at times to guard smaller, quicker players in switching situations, so he's got to get better at that. I think he's going to be a good player, he's just learning the game. He has a nice shooting touch, I think he's going to be a good shooter in time."
Howland added Feazell's defense has to improve to the point where it is, "able to not hurt us, he has to hold his own."
Feazell fits into the power forward position alongside Aric Holman, who played mostly center last season as a sophomore. The move is inspired by the rave reviews for Schnider Herard and Abdul Ado and their preseason performance at center.
Having such depth in the frontcourt is giving Howland some ideas for different lineup configurations.
"I see potential at times where we may go with a double low because Abdul has the ability to defend (power forwards) probably as well as Aric does," Howland said.
Raving about Wright
In the spring, the headline surrounding MSU guard Eli Wright was his reported intent to transfer. Now he's being praised as its most dedicated player.
"If you ask any one of our players, and I encourage you to do that, and ask them who spent the most time in the gym, it's a unanimous, not even close: Eli Wright," Howland said. "He spent more time working on his game -- thousands, tens of thousands of shots. He was there this morning at 7 o'clock, got up hundreds of shots before he lifted (weights) for an hour.
"He did that last year, but the consistency this summer has been incredible. He was coming in at 4:30 in the morning some days. Sometimes you have to back that down, which doesn't happen often."
Wright put up 3.5 points per game as a freshman in 13.1 minutes per game, playing in all but two of MSU's games as a freshman.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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