It's NIT or bust for the Bulldogs

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

ATLANTA – There will be no lobbying from Rick Stansbury this year. Well, not much.
Last season, after his Mississippi State team lost in the SEC Tournament final, the coach stated his team’s case for a berth in the NCAA tournament, to no avail.
There will be no Big Dance this season for the Bulldogs, who are 17-14 after Friday’s 87-81 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC quarterfinals. It’s NIT or bust.
“I’ve never had to campaign for the NIT, so I’m not going to campaign for it,” Stansbury said after the loss.
But he did campaign a little bit.
“I’ll say this: Don’t matter if we make it or not, we will be as good as a lot of those 32 teams in it. I don’t think anybody would disagree with that.”
The NIT field will be announced at 8 tonight on ESPNU.
MSU has a good case, considering the way it finished up the season. It won its final three regular-season games and hung with Vanderbilt, which expects to receive an NCAA berth, until the end.
While this season didn’t pan out as hoped, State isn’t ready to quit playing.
“You never want the season to be over with, especially with as much as we’ve been through,” junior point guard Dee Bost said. “I hope the NCAAs, but hopefully some type of postseason.”
Athletics director Scott Stricklin said that if the NIT doesn’t come calling, MSU will not accept an invitation from either of the two lower-tier tournaments, the College Basketball Invitational and the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
If this season is indeed over, well, it’s been an interesting one: From Bost’s 14-game suspension to start the season to Sidney’s return and subsequent off-court troubles, to Ravern Johnson’s ill-advised Twitter messages, to some surprising wins and surprising losses.
This is the first year that MSU’s current senior class didn’t win either a Western Division or SEC Tournament title.
“I know we’ve been through a lot this year,” senior Riley Benock said, “but we just pushed past all that, came together as a team and was hoping we were going to make this run.”
Who’s back?
As Benock, Johnson and forward Kodi Augustus head off into the sunset, MSU is left pondering next season. A strong signing class is coming in, and transfer Arnett Moultrie will be eligible.
Bost, whose suspension stemmed from his failure to withdraw from the 2010 NBA Draft pool in time, was clear about his intentions for 2011-12: “I’ll be back.”
Sidney, a sophomore, said Friday he is “undecided” on returning. If he doesn’t come back, he might have to go to Europe or the NBA Development League, because it’s unlikely he’d be taken in the two-round, 60-player NBA Draft.
Sidney said he’ll wait until the season is for sure over before making a decision, but he talked like a player who’s leaning toward returning.
“Hopefully, next year I’ll come back, and we’ll get the SEC (title) next year,” he said.
Do that, and Stansbury won’t need to lobby for anything.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@journalinc.com.