Rick Stansbury is trying very hard to stay positive. However, the Mississippi State coach won't hide from the fact that it's been an extremely disappointing season for the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State takes an 8-7 overall and 0-1 mark in the SEC West into its visit to archrival Mississippi (12-4, 0-1) on Thursday night. The Bulldogs dropped their conference opener last Saturday, getting thumped 75-57 at home by Alabama.
This was supposed to be a season of hope. Sophomore forward Renardo Sidney finally became eligible to play after sitting out all last season and the first nine games of this season as part of an NCAA suspension caused by him taking $11,800 in improper benefits while in high school. Junior point guard Dee Bost decided to return to school after flirting with the idea of turning pro, though he did receive a nine-game suspension from the NCAA for failing to remove his name from the list of eligible players for the NBA Draft before the deadline.
While Sidney and Bost are arguably Mississippi State's two best players, their returns have been shrouded in controversy. After playing two games, Sidney got involved in the infamous fight with teammate Elgin Bailey in the stands in Honolulu during the Diamond Head Classic two days before Christmas. Sidney was suspended for two games while Bailey left school.
In addition to his suspension from the NCAA, Bost also received a five-game suspension from the school for failing to meet academic requirements. Thus, his return was pushed back nearly a month.
"Our season is what it is to this point," Stansbury said. "All we can really do now is look forward and I still think we have a chance to wind up being a pretty good basketball team by the time the season is over."
Mississippi State wasn't very impressive in its first game with Sidney and Bost together last Saturday as Alabama dominated. Sidney had just two points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes, making only 1 of 8 shots from the field and getting schooled by Alabama junior forward JaMychal Green in the low post. Bost had 14 points and five assists in 33 minutes but was just 5 of 14 from the field, 1 of 6 from three-point range and 3 of 9 from the free throw line.
Sidney is averaging 11.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 23.7 minutes in his three collegiate games. Listed at 6'10" and 270 pounds, Sidney appears to be heavier and out of shape. Stansbury admitted that Sidney wore down in the second half.
"I thought he played well in the first half and did a really good job on the boards," Stansbury said. "In the second half, though, he quit working and he couldn't stop Green on the blocks. Renardo has to learn that you've got to keep playing hard, keeping finishing plays and working through ball screens."
Stansbury said Bost was "rusty."
"He missed his first five shot from the free-throw line and you know that's not Dee," Stansbury said. "I don't care how hard you work out, how hard you go at it in practice, it's tough to be in game shape when you've missed as many games as Dee had. When he'd come off the court, I'd see him rubbing his legs. It just going to take time for him and Renardo both to get into a rhythm, both both physically and mentally, and it's going to take our team some time to find our rhythm. I wish I had a timetable for when it'll happen but you hope it happens as quickly as possible."
Top Board Cleaners Square Off
When Drexel (10-4, 2-2) hosts Old Dominion (12-3, 3-1) on Thursday night in the Colonial Athletic Association, it will be a matchup of two of the top rebounding teams in the nation. The Dragons rank eighth with a 41.2 offensive rebounding percentage and fourth with a 75.8 defensive rebounding percentage while the Monarchs are second with a 45.3 offensive rebounding percentage and 23rd with a 72.2 defensive rebounding percentage.
"We do it in different ways," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "What makes Old Dominion so strong on the boards are that their two wings, (Kent) Bazemore and (Ben) Finney, not only rebound but they keep balls alive. For us, it's the big guys who do the rebounding. Our guards are going to have to a good job on defense of keeping their wings away from the boards."
Senior forward Frank Hassell is Old Dominion's top rebounder with an average of 9.3 a game. He is 29th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (15.5) and 41st in defensive rebounding percentage (24.9).
Drexel sophomore forward Darryl McCoy is 16th in offensive rebounding percentage (16.6) and 19th in defensive rebounding percentage (26.2) while pulling down 8.4 boards a game and junior forward Samme Givens has a 10.9 average while ranking 18th in defensive rebounding percentage (26.3) and 58th in offensive percentage (14.3).
Speaking of rebounds, Drexel is looking to continue to bounce back in CAA play after beating Delaware 68-55 last Saturday. Following a non-conference schedule that included an upset at Louisville and losses to just Rhode Island and Syracuse, Drexel routed Niagara 84-39 in its conference opener, then lost back-to-back games to Hofstra 75-69 and Virginia Commonwealth 52-48.
Drexel could use a win over Old Dominion to stay within sight of first place. The Dragons are in eight place, 2.5 games behind surprising Hofstra (11-5, 5-0).
Spartans Get Needed Victory
While it seems too early in the season to call any game a must-win affair, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was talking that way before his team rallied to beat visiting Wisconsin 64-61 in overtime on Tuesday night. Three days earlier, after a 66-62 loss at Penn State, Izzo wondered aloud if his team would even make the NCAA Tournament this season despite coming off back-to-back Final Four appearances and three straight Big Ten titles.
Izzo credited a more focused Draymond Green for getting Michigan State (11-5, 3-1) on track. The junior forwardhad 26 points and nine rebounds in 38 minutes against Wisconsin after scoring just five points on 2-of-10 shooting against Penn State. Green's 106.0 offensive rating is the best among Spartans who have been part of at least 20 possessions used and Izzo often refers to him as "our glue guy."
"You've got to not forget where you came from," Izzo said. "We have done that a little bit. Maybe that's normal. I hate to say that. So it was a slap in our face, and we spent a lot of time talking about it, a lot of time watching film, a lot of time dissecting it. To (Green's) credit, he bounced back and did a better job."
Green felt he needed to take it upon himself to play better after hearing plenty of criticism after his performance against Penn State.
"I took it very personally," Green said. "You know, people were saying things about us, but you know, we don't pay attention to those things, we really focus on us. But I took it very personal, saying about myself: 'You're not playing good. You're not bringing the energy that you need to bring to this team.' I took it personal to come out and have a good game."
The Spartans host Northwestern (10-4, 1-3) on Saturday.
Scheduling Could Change in Pac-12
The Pac-10 will become the Pac-12 next season with the additions of Colorado and Utah. UCLA coach Ben Howland hopes conference expansion will coincide with expansion in the number of days off between Pac-10 games.
The Pac-10 has long had a history of playing its games on Thursdays and Saturdays, though it has strayed from that in recent years with the addition of a Sunday night game of the week on Fox Sports Net.
"We're the only (major) conference in the country that has only one day off between games on a consistent basis," Howland said. "I'd rather have more time in between games. I'd rather have Tuesday-Saturday or Wednesday-Saturday. It gives you more time to prepare and give your kids more time to rest and get their legs back that they do with the late game on Thursday."
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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