STARKVILLE — Rick Stansbury likes the 2011-12 Mississippi State men’s basketball team.
Through all of the ins and out and outs and ins the Bulldogs have experienced in nearly one month of basketball, MSU’s 14th-year coach sees a team with depth at key positions, a squad that has plenty of ballhandlers and creators, and a group that can present a host of matchup challenges.
No. 21 MSU will put all of those factors to the test at 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU) when it plays host to West Virginia in the Big East/SEC Challenge at Humphrey Coliseum.
“I think we’re one of those teams where it’s hard to take away one and two options,” Stansbury said. “I think it’s good we don’t have to depend on somebody. Back up to last year, if we couldn’t score … if (Renardo) Sidney went out of the game, we had zero opportunity to score on the block, didn’t we? (We had) Kodi (Augustus) shooting threes and Dee (Bost) driving some. I think we got some versatility now. You take away Sidney or he’s out of the game (and) you still have Arnett (Moultrie). On that perimeter, we may not have somebody to make shots like Ray(vern Johnson). We have multiple guys that can jump up and score like last year, but I don’t know who is leading us in scoring.”
For the record, MSU (7-1) has had Bost, a senior point guard, Moultrie, a junior forward, and freshman swingman Rodney Hood share team scoring honors this season. Bost leads the team in scoring at 17 points per game, while Moultrie (13) and Hood (13) are the only others in double figures. Add in Sidney, who has played in five games, at 8.2 ppg. and senior guard Brian Bryant (8.4 ppg.) and the Bulldogs have different ways of scoring from just about all places on the court.
The mix is even thicker when you factor in the blue-collar play of junior forward Wendell Lewis (5.8 ppg., 5.6 rebounds per game), sophomore guard Jalen Steele (6.3 ppg.), and freshman guard DeVille Smith (6.0 ppg.).
Stansbury said the depth of options means MSU doesn’t have to rely on one player to get 18 or 25 points every night to help the team win. He said a committee approach enables the Bulldogs to have a new hot hand every game, which he hopes makes things tough for opponents.
“I don’t know if we’re an easy team to take things away,” Stansbury said. “We shoot it well enough. We don’t have to depend on the three-point shot, and that’s good.”
MSU is coming off an 82-59 victory against the University of North Texas. Moultrie returned from a two-game absence to score 20 points and grab nine rebounds in the Bulldogs’ sixth win in a row. The Bulldogs showed they could compete without the energetic 6-foot-11 transfer from the University of Texas at El Paso in wins against the University of Louisiana at Monroe and Tennessee-Martin. Stansbury feels those victories will help his team because they gave the team confidence it could alter its lineup (Sidney also didn’t play in those games) and have success. He said the return of Moultrie and Sidney makes the Bulldogs’ perimeter players even more dangerous.
The emergence of Smith, an All-State player from Jackson Callaway, also has made life easier on Bost. A year after being the team’s primary ballhandler, Smith has spelled Bost at the point and allowed him to move to the wing, where he can attack defenses and showcase another dimension of his game.
“Presses won’t be much problems for us. It’s not just in the full-courts, it’s when you get in the half-court. You’ve got multiple guys that can go manufacture baskets,” Stansbury said. “I’m talking about guys who can put it down, get it to the rim, but at the same time they’re putting it down can pass the basketball, create for other people. We have multiple guys in that lineup, four guys that play at different times that can do that.”
Stansbury hopes the return of Moultrie and Sidney will allow the team to keep progressing like he feels it did earlier in the season. He said the confidence and experience multiple players have gained in the first eight games should benefit the team the rest of the season.
“If you’d said going into the season, if you had a choice to lose against Akron and win in New York, what would you have taken? We’d have probably taken that,” Stansbury said. “But again, we’ve got a ways to go yet, there’s no question. We’ve just got to get more consistent in executing, consistent defending. The biggest thing is I’ve been able to give a lot of guys experience different ways.”
NOTE: Stansbury said an MRI that was recently done on sophomore guard Shaun Smith, a former standout at Noxubee County High School, showed an arthritic changes in Smith’s right hip. He said the MRI was referred to Dr. Thomas Byrd in Nashville, Tenn. “He’s done a little bit more this week, but he still has pain with it,” Stansbury said. “We’re just trying to figure it out now, too. I don’t have the answer to that one, either. That’s something maybe you’re going to have to live with the rest of your life. “
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.