By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi State is letting something special slip right through its fingers, but it’s not too late to regain a firm grip upon this basketball season.
The Bulldogs are 15-4 overall, 2-2 in SEC play after losing to Ole Miss on Wednesday. Sure, it was a road loss, something that’s become very common in the SEC this season.
Through Wednesday, home teams were 17-5 in league games. State’s 2-0, having defeated Tennessee and Alabama last week. The Bulldogs simply have to win some road games, especially the ones they’re supposed to win.
Ole Miss was a game MSU was supposed to win. Now it must make up for that by winning road games it shouldn’t win, at Vanderbilt on Saturday and Florida the next weekend for example.
Doing that could help this program get over the hump – that metaphorical obstacle that’s confounded MSU basketball throughout the Rick Stansbury era. There have certainly been some very good years, but this could be the most complete roster Stansbury’s ever had, and it’s in danger of falling woefully short of its potential.
I’m not smart enough to break it down and explain just what’s wrong with this team when it goes on the road, but I do have some observations.
The Bulldogs have trouble adjusting on the fly. They had no answer for the Arkansas press. They had no answer for Ole Miss big man Reggie Buckner, or for the various defensive schemes employed by Andy Kennedy.
There are other problems, too, ones that persist but sometimes get looked over when MSU wins. Like Dee Bost’s poor shooting, or Renardo Sidney’s poor help defense, or Arnett Moultrie’s disturbing lack of involvement in the offense.
Since SEC play began, I see less chemistry on both ends, especially on offense. Bost took some bad shots on Wednesday, but that’s something Stansbury said last week that he’s willing to live with.
Perhaps the 14th-year coach is being too patient. Perhaps he should demand that this team stop falling short of its potential, because if it can actually put things together, this can be a scary good MSU squad.
Right now, the Bulldogs are merely respectable. Prior to the Ole Miss loss, bracket expert Jerry Palm has State as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament. While it’s a bit early to start up the bubble talk, MSU could find itself squarely perched atop one in a few weeks.
There is still time, however. Time for all these parts to click into place and for Stansbury to finally reach a Sweet 16.
Frankly, there’s no excuse for anything short of that.
Brad Locke (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at DJournal.com.