STARKVILLE — Just one day before opening the National Invitational Tournament against Jackson State, Rick Stansbury was still feeling the effects from his Mississippi State men”s basketball team”s overtime loss to the University of Kentucky.
The MSU coach mixed apathy and protest Monday, knowing his team has to prepare for its game at 9:05 tonight (ESPNU) while trying to overcome the dejection of losing to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference title game and being left out of the NCAA tournament.
Stansbury admitted any point or argument for his team”s case to get into the NCAA tournament is moot after the fact, but a day after the rest of the NCAA bubble teams” coaches had their time to vent, Stansbury had his first go at the topic after not speaking to the media Sunday.
The biggest challenge, Stansbury said, is the team getting over the mental and physical wear from its three-game run in the SEC Tournament.
The team feels it should have gotten in, but the NCAA tournament selection committee knocked the Bulldogs” non-conference strength of schedule and its win-loss record against those teams.
Stansbury said the dual disappointment of losing like the Bulldogs did to the Wildcats and watching the NCAA tournament selection show only to find themselves left out was like someone “just finished gutting you.”
Stansbury disagreed with NCAA tournament selection committee chairman Dan Guerrero”s assessment that MSU”s “body of work” didn”t measure up to bubble teams like Utah State, Georgia Tech, and Florida that were selected ahead of them.
“When we schedule our games, is UCLA not a good schedule?” Stansbury said. “DePaul, that”s a Big East team, supposed to be pretty good. Houston won that (Conference USA) tournament. San Diego we schedule, they come off a Sweet 16 year beating Connecticut (in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2007-08). You tell me when Western Kentucky at Western Kentucky is ever a bad loss. We get beat on a last-second shot by Richmond, who won their league.
“You talk about scheduling? Here”s the problem: Too many people hide behind numbers.”
The numbers Stansbury championed were the Bulldogs” eight non-conference road games, and he deemed it “a challenge” to find any other team that could say the same this season.
But then, just as fluidly as he delivered his rebuttal to the selection committee”s decisions, Stansbury tried to close the book on Sunday”s events.
“But again, I never plead our case. It don”t matter,” he said. “Only thing solves anything is just win. We had our opportunities. If you leave it in somebody else”s hands, anything else can happen.”
Losing to No. 2 Kentucky in overtime for the second time this season stings because at least one win against the Wildcats, especially in the SEC Tournament final, would have put MSU in the NCAA tournament field. However, how Kentucky pulled off the 4.9 second miracle hits deep because of the enormity of a call that wasn”t made.
Stansbury didn”t realize it at the time, but Kentucky guard John Wall”s rebound of Eric Bledsoe”s intentionally missed free throw with MSU up by two was a result of a lane violation.
Soon after MSU”s loss, the no-call of Wall being in the lane before the ball hit the rim dominated fan chatter before still shots and video hit the Web.
“Both guys in that lane line up outside that 3-point line,” Stansbury said. “Well, the ball”s six, eight feet from the rim and you got two guys in the top of the paint, Wall and (Darius) Miller. It”s a very obvious lane violation. Obvious. It was not called.
“If it”s the right call, you make the call. It”s a game-changing call. It wasn”t something that”s even close. I”m not talking about officiating, I”m talking about the play. It”s a very obvious lane violation.”
With all that to digest and discard, it”s no wonder Stansbury gave his players the day off. He said the team would go through the scouting report for Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season champion Jackson State (19-12) today before tipping off at 9:05 p.m. at Humphrey Coliseum.
If there”s a bright side in dealing with the conundrum of settling for the NIT vs. being excited for postseason play, the Bulldogs will have a chance to play three more games at Humphrey Coliseum if they win.
“Anytime this time of the year where you”re having a chance to play for a championship, it”s very special,” Stansbury said.
As the No. 1 seed in the NIT field, the Bulldogs will be a favorite to make it to Madison Square Garden in New York for the semifinals and final. With a big letdown and a quick return to the court, Stansbury is concerned that his team forgets and moves forward.
“It”s a big turnaround for us,” he said. “It”s a challenge, not just the mental part of it, but we just came out of three games in a row where our kids left every ounce they had on that floor. That”s a huge challenge for them.”
NOTES: Stansbury apologized for his postgame comments following the team”s loss regular-season Tennessee when he said the Volunteers weren”t “the school of the deaf and blind.” Stansbury said: “I”m very sensitive to that. I apologize to both schools. After the season”s over, I”m going to go down and visit both of them. I”m very blessed to have healthy children. Again, I”m very sensitive to anything like that. I apologize if I offended anybody.”