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MSU will try to pass road test at Vanderbilt

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State men''s basketball team''s win against LSU on Saturday appeared to get the train back on track despite going 40 minutes with some of the same characteristics that saw the team lose consecutive games.  

 

Another shaky game from point guard Dee Bost and the team''s sub-par shooting percentage from 3-point range were sidebars to the 67-51 win against the Southeastern Conference''s last-place team.  

 

Mississippi State (16-5, 4-2 SEC) will attempt to make it two wins in a row when it tips off against Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. today. 

 

Vanderbilt (16-4, 5-1), which opened league play 5-0, is ranked No. 18 in this week''s Associated Press poll. It has wins against Tennessee, Missouri, Florida, and Kentucky-slayer South Carolina this season.  

 

Tonight''s road match in Nashville, Tenn., is the kind of league test that will give MSU coach Rick Stansbury an idea how his team will handle the likes of SEC East team''s Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee. 

 

MSU has played just one game against a team from the SEC East, beating Georgia on Jan. 16 at home.  

 

Road trips can be draining and so can playing in Vanderbilt''s Memorial Coliseum, both of which Stansbury and his players acknowledged this week in preparation for the Commodores.  

 

The bigger issue, tonight and going forward, is the amount of time MSU''s starters are spending on the floor.  

 

The team''s lack of established post depth due to injuries, youth and the not yet cleared Renardo Sidney have made for extra minutes across the board, especially for senior center and Wooden Award candidate Jarvis Varnado. Just 35 blocks shy from reaching the NCAA''s all-time record, Varnado has averaged 35.25 minutes per contest in the past four games.  

 

"Starters have been playing too many minutes, but I mean it would help us out a lot if starters got more rested during the games," Varnado said.  

 

In theory, that sounds like a good idea, and Stansbury''s reaction Saturday to his over-worked five man was switching junior Kodi Augustus to Varnado''s spot when the latter went to the bench for rest. Augustus picked up four fouls and LSU''s struggles from the floor didn''t give a definitive alternative to Varnado getting longer breaks, but Stansbury doesn''t have any other solutions. 

 

"Right now, that seems to be our best option," Stansbury said. "Whether that''s the answer to the problem I don''t know, but it seems to be our best option right now." 

 

Meanwhile, Varnado is keen to keep his fitness high as the likelihood of another reliable center isn''t clear. He said he isn''t feeling the mid-to-late season fatigue. 

 

"It''s just taking care of your body and doing the things you need to do before you play and after," Varnado said. "I realize I''m playing a lot of minutes, so I realize I need rest before and after the games. I try to get a lot of rest so my body won''t break down at the end of the season." 

 

During Monday''s media gathering at Humphrey Coliseum, Stansbury spoke highly of Vanderbilt''s physical forwards A.J. Ogilvy, Andre Walker, and Jeffery Taylor. The Bulldogs aren''t as big in the post, at least not when the starting five is on the floor.  

 

"Those guys can put it on the floor and they''re all big guys that can dribble it and beat you down in that post," Stansbury said. 

 

How the Bulldogs answer Vanderbilt''s post play and Ogilvy''s inside-out threat will be one aspect of tonight''s game, but experience is Vanderbilt''s strength, Stansbury said. He and VU coach Kevin Stallings are at different ends of the thread in regards to bench minutes. 

 

"This is one of the better teams I''ve seen them have in the past," Stansbury said. "They are as complete as any team in this league, from good experience to experienced depth. They go to that bench and don''t lose a whole lot. They''re playing nine guys a bunch of minutes." 

 

For Stallings and the Commodores, tonight''s game is their first since falling to Kentucky on Saturday. Stallings lamented Vanderbilt being overpowered on the boards against the Wildcats (-18), but this week he has keyed in on a potential matchup problem in MSU guard/forward Ravern Johnson. The Bulldogs'' junior is 3-for-24 from 3-point land in the past three games and has started taking the ball to the basket more.  

 

Stallings has noticed. 

 

"It seems like he''s getting to the rim some ... which is smart if your jumper is not falling," Stallings said. "Any player that is multi-faceted in the way he can attack you, if he''s both really good off the dribble and really good from 3, it complicates the defensive equation for sure, especially with a guy that''s athletic as he is." 

 

 

 

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