Quick turnaround challenges MSU

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – There is no rest for the weary, or for teams whose conference has a fat TV deal with ESPN.
Two days after fending off Arkansas, 82-80, Mississippi State is back on the Humphrey Coliseum court today to battle an improved Georgia squad. Tipoff is at 2 p.m., and the game will be aired by ESPN2.
It’s thanks to the SEC’s mega-deal with ESPN that the Bulldogs have such a quick turnaround. The Wednesday-Saturday routine is no longer the norm, as TV executives are more concerned with favorable time slots than jelly-legged players.
So MSU (14-3, 2-0 SEC) and its league counterparts are at the mercy of the suits writing the big checks.
“As a coach would you rather to have more time to prepare? You would, but it’s kind of what it is,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “As long as it’s fair to everybody, you go with it.”
Well, the Thursday-Saturday turnaround is actually not evenly distributed. MSU, Arkansas, Auburn and Florida have three such weekends apiece; LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt have two; Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina have one.
Craig Pinkerton, the SEC’s director of men’s basketball, admitted the scheduling isn’t an exact science. He said ESPN and the league worked together to hammer it out.
“You try and balance everything out as much as you can and make it as equal, as fair as possible,” Pinkerton said.
There are certain parameters for these Thursday-Saturday turnarounds, the main one being that at least one of the games must be at home. Pinkerton said the league’s coaches agreed to the parameters.
“It’s not ideal, but I think as other coaches have already said, it’s a sacrifice you have to make,” first-year Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We would all be complaining if we didn’t have the TV deals – it’s a great advantage for our league.”
The biggest challenge for the players and coaches is preparation. MSU, for instance, had five days between its game against Ole Miss and Thursday’s against Arkansas. Stansbury said all the focus this past week was on the Razorbacks.
On Friday, all the Bulldogs could do was cram on some film and hold a walk-through practice.
“We’ve been through it before, so it’s not going to be that too big of a deal,” MSU guard Phil Turner said. “We just (have to) make sure we get our rest like we’ve been doing and just keep playing, man.”
To put a positive spin on it, it’s no different than an NCAA tournament weekend, when the schedule calls for two games in three days. In last season’s SEC Tournament, MSU had to play four consecutive days, and won every game en route to the title.
Three times this season State has played two games in three days or less, and every time it’s won. Most impressive was beating DePaul in Tampa, Fla., then flying to Los Angeles to beat UCLA two days later.
Auburn coach Jeff Lebo thinks the quick turnaround might not be such a bad thing.
“Sometimes I think as coaches sometimes we give our kids way too much, and how much they retain there is a question a lot of us as coaches battle with and how much to give them,” Lebo said. “Sometimes maybe your kids play better with the least amount of prep time.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com.