By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Mississippi State and Alabama are both lacking manpower, but the Crimson Tide has had time to shore up the shortage.
That could prove the difference both in today’s game and in each team’s bid for an NCAA tournament berth.
MSU and Alabama meet at 5 p.m. today at Coleman Coliseum in a game crucial to the postseason fortunes of each in an ESPN game. State (19-9, 6-7 SEC) is in the midst of a four-game slide and finds itself without starting guard Rodney Hood, who suffered a deep bone bruise in his left knee on Tuesday.
If the Bulldogs lose today and, even worse, if they miss the NCAA tournament, current fan unrest will only increase. Fourteenth-year head coach Rick Stansbury has heard the grumblings.
“No one is more frustrated than we are as players and coaches,” he said. “That’s part of it. We all want to win every game. That’s the thing. Everybody wants to win every game. I wish we could but, unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way.”
Alabama (18-9, 7-6) is without starting forward Tony Mitchell, who’s been suspended since Feb. 7 and will not return to the floor this season. The other starting forward, JaMychal Green, has been suspended for four games but recently returned to practice.
Coach Anthony Grant said Friday that Green will “most likely be dressed and available” to play today.
Guard Trevor Lacey, who sprained his ankle on Thursday, is listed as doubtful for today’s game.
Despite its personnel issues, the Crimson Tide has won five of its last seven games – all of those played without Mitchell – and has worked its way into solid position for NCAA at-large consideration.
It’s tied for fourth in the SEC with LSU and Tennessee, and that’s important, because the top four teams earn a bye in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
That’s something the Bulldogs seemed to have well in hand a couple of weeks ago. But road woes have persisted – MSU is 1-5 in SEC road games.
State won the first meeting, 56-52, on Jan. 12 in Starkville. But it’s lost three in a row in Tuscaloosa.
Despite all the struggles and fan discontent, Stansbury doesn’t expect his team to carry a negative mentality to Tuscaloosa today or beyond. After two more games next week, MSU will get ready for the SEC Tournament.
“There’s one more this week at Alabama and you have to be able to, as a player, put it behind you mentally,” Stansbury said. “Get up for the next one. And that’s a challenge. We all know that but our guys have been pretty resilient. I don’t expect anything but that.”