October 27, 2016

STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Mississippi State's overhauled roster is young, versatile and filled with highly rated recruits.

It remains to be seen if that will translate into a long-awaited return to the postseason.

The Bulldogs will have an almost totally new look in the second year of coach Ben Howland, though holdovers like sophomore Quinndary Weatherspoon and senior I.J. Ready should provide some continuity. Still, there's no doubt that several of the abundant freshmen on the roster - including Tyson Carter, Eli Wright, Lamar Peters, Schnider Herard and Mario Kegler - will be asked to contribute immediately.

''We're obviously very young,'' Howland said. ''It's probably the youngest team I've ever had in 21 years as a head coach, but there are some talented kids who we're excited about and we're excited about their futures.''

The 6-foot-4 Weatherspoon turned into the Bulldogs' best all-around player by the end of last season, averaging nearly 15 points per game in Southeastern Conference play. The 5-foot-11 Ready led Mississippi State with 134 assists and also scored 9.2 points per game.

''This is a special group,'' Ready said. ''They've got so much talent that I want to be able to not only give them knowledge, but actually help lead the path for them so they don't hit the bump that most freshmen do.''

Mississippi State is going to need its freshman class to make a quick impact. The 6-10 Herard gives the Bulldogs a big body in the paint after the departure of veteran post scorer Gavin Ware while Wright, Carter and Peters should provide support on the perimeter for Weatherspoon. The 6-foot-7 Kegler could be a threat on the perimeter or in the post.

The hope is it'll be the nucleus that eventually helps lead Mississippi State back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009.

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Some other things to know about Mississippi State this season:

ITALY HELPS: Mississippi State had a 4-0 record during its summer team trip to Italy, but more importantly, the Bulldogs were able to use valuable extra practice time to build chemistry coming into the season. Several of the freshmen were big contributors. Said Howland: ''Our trip to Italy helped us so much with team unity. That is so exciting because we are going to be in a foxhole together. We will face a lot of adversity and how you deal with adversity as a team and as an individual is the key to success.''

YEAR 2 OF QUINNDARY: Weatherspoon was one of the biggest surprises in the SEC last season, emerging to become one of the best freshmen in the SEC by the end of the season. He said he's working hard to avoid a sophomore slump: ''I'll just keep working and playing as hard as I can. Even if I'm not playing good on offense that night, I'll play defense as hard as I can.''

A NEW ERA: Mississippi State will be replacing a huge chunk of its scoring from a year ago after the departures of Craig Sword, Fred Thomas and Gavin Ware, who all scored more than 1,000 career points. The Bulldogs also lost former five-star guard Malik Newman, who had an underwhelming freshman season before deciding to transfer to Kansas over the summer.

HOWLAND BRINGS HOPE: Mississippi State was a fairly constant presence in the college basketball postseason during the 2000s, but recent years have brought hard times. The Bulldogs haven't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2009 and haven't been to the postseason at all since an NIT trip in 2012. Howland's impressive recruiting have the Bulldogs hoping for a trip back to the postseason sooner rather than later.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP .

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