Like Leonard Hamilton, Mississippi State head coach Ben Howland has coached some of the best defenses of his generation. At Pitt, and then at UCLA, he routinely had defenses ranked in the top-5 nationally.
They both teach man-to-man. Howland, bless his coaching soul, stated in his opening presser at MSU that "god forbid we have to play any zone."
In terms of dead front deny man-to-man defensive coaches, Ham and Howland are two of the best.
But that's where the similarities end.
Coach Hamilton is a player's coach. He makes connections with his guys off the court. Many of them remain close for life. He recently told ESPN, "I feel we are not truly evaluated until five years or so after our kids have left us, [when we determine] what type of people they become in society. What type of men they become, what type of citizens, husbands and fathers speaks to the type of coaches we are."
Coach Howland, at least at UCLA, was a CEO. After he was fired by the Bruins, stories rolled out about how the players couldn't stand him. One player, in a comment that could have come from any number of guys, stated that 'If he was taking the elevator, I was taking the stairs.'
Now the two coaches with similar systems but different methods meet for the first time since they both coached in the Big East.
Mississippi State (4-4) is struggling, despite featuring a relatively deep and talented roster. They have 6-3 freshman Malik Newman, the No. 8 recruit in the nation last year. Fellow freshman, 6-4 Quinndary Weatherspoon was a top 100 recruit. And with those two they have a bevy of upperclassmen. Seniors Gavin Ware (19.0 ppg) and Craig Sword (12.4 ppg), and junior IJ Ready (12.4 ppg) can all score. Ware is probably the most dangerous of the three, and has put up three double-doubles already this season.
But the problem - and this is really eye opening considering who their coach is - is that they can't stop anyone. In eight games, seven opponents have scored more than a point per possession. Their defense is ranked 210th nationally.
And that defense will be even more stressed tonight, as senior starter Travis Daniels is out with a concussion. IJ Ready has also missed a couple of practices with turf toe, and will be a game-time decision.
For FSU (6-2) to stretch their winning streak to three, they're going to have to take advantage of these defensive issues.
Florida State's "next man up" mentality showed strong on Sunday when Benji Bell had a career game in replacing Devon Bookert. Bookert is a game-time decision tonight. Coach Hamilton has to tread lightly with the injured players (Bookert and Phil Cofer) as the team plays three games in the next six days.
The Noles will be looking to avenge last year's loss in Starksville, which Xavier Rathan-Mayes called "a devastating loss." A loss this year would be devastating as well, as it would put the talented Seminoles behind pace to get back to the NCAA tournament.
The game tips at 9 PM from the Tuck and will be broadcast on ESPN2. The Noles are 12.5 point favorites in Vegas, and Pomeroy has FSU -12.