After the selection committee’s results were announced, newly minted fifth-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs head coach Ben Howland hopped on the phone to speak with CBS Sports Network. Facing a dangerous Liberty team that came out of the Atlantic Sun conference drawing the notorious 12th seed, Howland’s Bulldogs are in for a tough matchup in their first March Madness game.
Ben Howland March Madness Quote on Mississippi State vs Liberty
When asked what he thought of his matchup and draw in the East Region, Howland didn’t pull any punches.
“Well, I’ll tell you, Liberty is very good. I’ve known Ritchie McKay forever. We coached against each other back when we were head coaches in the Big Sky together, me at Northern Arizona and him at Portland State. He really does a heck of a job and they’re a very very good team. Going to Lipscomb to win on the road in their conference tournament is a heck of a win, they beat them twice so they’re a handful. That’s, you know, this time of year, anybody can beat anybody and we’re going to have to play very well to be successful against Liberty.”
Howland isn’t just saying that to gas up an opponent, Liberty is, in fact, very, very good. At 28-6 and with multiple wins over Lipscomb (as Howland noted) and an Atlantic Sun conference championship under their belt, Liberty is one of the premier mid-majors in the nation heading into the tournament.
Able to score at multiple levels effectively and not overly reliant on any singular player, Liberty boasts a very well-rounded game that is well suited for tournament play. They play strong defense and run their offense at an annoyingly slow pace. This combination makes them well-suited to take teams out of their element and disrupt the flow of the game.
How Mississippi State and Liberty Match Up
When asked about how Mississippi State could potentially prepare for a team with the play style of Liberty, Howland mentioned that they have in fact seen quite a few teams with that style of play.
“We played a lot of teams this year in non-conference, in particular, that really use the shot clock and obviously, Richie having worked with Tony Bennett at Virginia understands time and possession and being very patient. They averaged 53 shots per game in conference games so they are very patient. They shoot 44% of their attempts from the three-point line so very much a team that spaces you out and takes a lot of threes, like Auburn from our league.”
Despite saying he feels they have faced familiar opponents, Howland heaps high praise on Liberty comparing their style of play to that of top-seeded Virginia. While Mississippi State has certainly seen teams that play similarly to Liberty on the year, Howland respects the fact that Liberty is a slightly different beast altogether.