By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Go to the SEC’s website, glance at the men’s basketball stats page, and look at who’s leading the league in minutes played.
That would be Dee Bost, Mississippi State’s senior point guard. He’s averaging 35.0 minutes per game.
Look at who’s tied for second: Arnett Moultrie and Rodney Hood. The junior forward and freshman guard are both averaging 34.2 minutes.
This is going to catch up with MSU, if it hasn’t already. It was evident in Saturday’s 69-57 loss at Florida that the Bulldogs weren’t as fresh down the stretch as the Gators, who used an 11-0 run in the second half to pull away.
Florida had an eight-man rotation, MSU a seven-man. And for the time being, the bench won’t go any deeper.
State has only 10 scholarship players. Kristers Ziedaks, the Latvian transfer, has been ruled ineligible this season by the NCAA. Freshman backup point guard DeVille Smith remains hospitalized with dizziness, headaches and memory loss.
And sophomore Shaun Smith continues to battle hip issues, logging a grand total of three minutes in SEC play. So MSU essentially has seven guys.
Coach Rick Stansbury said last week, “We need to buy some minutes from another body over there, because we’re down.”
But where will he find those minutes? Probably not from the Smiths – Stansbury isn’t even sure if DeVille will return this season.
Right now the lone bench players are forward Wendell Lewis and guard Jalen Steele. They’re averaging a combined 39.5 minutes per game in league games, so they don’t have much more to give.
Then there’s Renardo Sidney. He’s a starter, averaging 23.6 minutes in SEC play. His season high in minutes is 29, and he logged 27 versus Florida.
But really, how much more can Stansbury squeeze out of Sidney? He’s clearly still out of shape and overweight, and he seems incapable of handling any bigger of a playing load.
Right now, State is ranked 22nd in the country, but you could make an argument that it’s not even top-25 worthy. ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi has MSU projected as a No. 8 seed for the SEC Tournament, and he gives the Bulldogs a 17.7 percent chance of making the Sweet 16.
Making a deep postseason run is going to require a deeper bench, but State is a badly sprained ankle away from seeing it all unravel.
Bost must stay healthy. Moultrie must stay healthy. Hood must stay healthy. The more minutes they play, the greater the odds that doesn’t happen for at least one of them.
All Stansbury can do is just watch the clock tick and pray it doesn’t run out too soon.
Brad Locke (brad.locke@ journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal and blogs daily at NEMS360.com.