STARKVILLE – Sure, I can say this now, but when the Tennessee Titans started the season 0-6, I did not count them out of the playoff picture. Most everyone else had chalked up the 2009 season as a lost one for a team that went 13-3 last year.
Then, the Titans reeled off five consecutive wins and have won six of their last seven, and at 6-7 they’re in the hunt for the AFC wild card bid.
But this column isn’t about the Tennessee Titans. It’s about a Mississippi State basketball team that, while its start to this season was nowhere near as rough as the Titans’, still gave fans cause for concern with early losses to Rider and Richmond.
The annual bashing of coach Rick Stansbury began after the season-opening setback to a very good Rider team. And not just by fans, but by one of his own players, Kodi Augustus.
Never mind that Stansbury has won more games than any other coach in MSU history, or been to the NCAA tournament six times in 12 seasons, or is a master at finding the hidden gem in the recruiting field.
Now that the Bulldogs have won five in a row, the knee-jerk critics have gone strangely quiet, save for the obsessed few who could find fault even in, say, a 105-53 victory, the score by which State beat St. Bonaventure. But those kind of people would find fault in Jesus’ miracles. (“I can’t believe He didn’t get more out of those five loaves and two fishes.”)
But this column isn’t about Stansbury or his critics or Jesus (Merry Christmas, though). It’s about people making snap judgments about a team based on a very small sample size.
I understand our society demands that, and that myself and others in the media are guilty of it at times, but it’s not what critical thinkers should practice. Especially early in the season.
Sure, there are certain conclusions we can draw from a few games, but we must be willing to admit that things happen for a reason, and that things can change.
MSU’s slow start, for instance, was due mostly to injuries and the resulting lack of team chemistry. That’s not an excuse, that’s a simple truth that should be evident to anyone who possesses a pair of eyeballs.
Now, the Bulldogs are getting healthy, they’ve found a shooting rhythm, big man Jarvis Varnado is on fire – his 67.5 field goal percentage ranks him in the top 10 in the country – and they’re 8-2 heading into Saturday’s game at Houston.
How about that.
But guess what? It’s still too early to know exactly what this team is going to be down the line. SEC play hasn’t even begun – that’ll happen Jan. 9 at Ole Miss.
Surely you remember last season, when MSU appeared to be on a direct path to the NIT. After an 18-point loss to Auburn on Feb. 28 – at home – the Bulldogs were 17-12 overall, 7-7 in SEC play.
Just when we thought we had them pegged, they reversed field.
They beat Florida and Ole Miss to close the regular season, and then they ran through the SEC Tournament, won the title, and wound up in the NCAAs again.
The lesson here: Just sit back, watch, and wait. As the Titans and Bulldogs have both proved, none of us knows as much as we think we do.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.