By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – The ceiling is as high as it’s been in a while.
Mississippi State is ranked 15th in the country and sports a 13-2 record entering tonight’s SEC opener at Arkansas. Things are going relatively well.
But 14th-year head coach Rick Stansbury sees a large gap between what his Bulldogs are doing now and what they could do in the second half of the season.
“Some other teams I’ve taken into this time of the year, you don’t have that level of improvement left,” Stansbury said. “You have some guys hitting on all cylinders effort-wise and executing, doing those kinds of things.
“The thing that’s different about this team is we have multiple weapons, which keeps you from having to execute quite as well and still allows you to win games. If you get those guys executing and doing those things with multiple weapons, it makes you even better.”
Those weapons include 6-foot-11 UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie, who’s averaging 16.8 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, and senior point guard Dee Bost. There is more depth on this year’s team than last year’s, and it’s shown some versatility playing with different lineups when injuries and suspensions occur.
That’s one reason there is so much room for improvement, is the way the lineup and rotations have been shuffled. MSU’s used five different starting lineups, with the current one having been intact for four consecutive games.
Everyone is healthy right now, and so State has a chance to really take off.
But first, some things need to be fixed, especially on defense. Stansbury and players alike stressed a need to better defend on the ball, and forward Renardo Sidney has been vulnerable to ball screens.
Moultrie said he, Bost and guard Brian Bryant recently sat down with assistant coach Phil Cunningham to watch film of last week’s 66-64 win over Utah State, “and that’s one thing we’re not doing right now – consistently playing hard, aggressive defense.”
Back to the future
MSU faces an Arkansas team that, under first-year coach Mike Anderson, is trying to revive the “40 minutes of hell” made famous by Nolan Richardson. The Razorbacks are third in the SEC in scoring (76.9 points per game) and first in turnover margin (plus-4.3).
The Hogs have been playing without top scoring threat Marshawn Powell, a junior forward who was lost for the season in November to a knee injury, but a guard-heavy lineup has been productive.
MSU feels it’ll be ready for it. The Bulldogs were exhausted after games against Baylor and Utah State last week but have been able to rest up a bit.
“I think we’ve got our focus back,” freshman Rodney Hood said. “We’ve got a new energy right now. It’s a new season, new year and everything.”