STARKVILLE – Mississippi State isn’t tough enough defensively for Rick Stansbury’s liking.
The 13th-year coach hopes to see that change, and soon, because his Bulldogs open the 2010-11 season at 7 tonight against Tennessee State at Humphrey Coliseum.
The Lady Bulldogs also tip off today, at 4 p.m. against South Carolina Upstate.
“I don’t know if all those guys have a real tough demeanor about them,” Stansbury said earlier this week. “There’s some passive personalities.”
He was disappointed in the defensive effort on Saturday, when MSU had to fight back to beat NAIA school Lindsey Wilson in an exhibition game. Point guard Twany Beckham admitted he had some improvements to make on that end of the floor.
“I kind of was relaxing on and off the ball,” Beckham said. “This weekend, just going and know when I’m off the ball, just be aware of everything going on around me, and just keeping my man in front of me and not letting my man get into the paint.”
It doesn’t help that MSU is without its best two defenders from last season, Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado, who are now playing professional ball overseas. Varnado is the NCAA’s all-time leading shot blocker, which meant he did a lot of clean-up when MSU’s guards let people through.
Also absent is Dee Bost, the two-year starter at point guard who’s out the first 14 games because of academic issues and a nine-game NCAA suspension. So there’s a lot of youth on the court.
“The speed of the game, and the speed of the game is a different speed for these new guys,” Stansbury said. “Most problems young guys have, when the guy doesn’t have the ball, they want to stand up and watch. And that’s a hard habit to break.”
MSU, which went 24-12 and won the SEC Western Division last year, could be without senior guard Ravern Johnson, the top returning scorer. He’s been battling a knee injury suffered during practice Monday.
Tennessee State, of the Ohio Valley Conference, went 9-23 last season.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal