We don’t know exactly when senior guard Ravern Johnson will return from his suspension – that’s why they call it indefinite – so Mississippi State has no choice but to move ahead as if he won’t be back. Considering this team’s wealth of experience in dealing with such matters, that shouldn’t be too hard, right?
The Bulldogs have had to adjust the lineup and rotations on several occasions this season – when Renardo Sidney was suspended a game; then when he was suspended two games; when Elgin Bailey and Twany Beckham transferred out in early January; and when Dee Bost returned to the lineup.
MSU used its seventh different starting lineup of the season on Saturday, when it beat LSU, 58-57. That will be the same lineup used Wednesday when Arkansas (14-8, 4-5 SEC) visits Starkville for a 7 p.m. showdown. It’s Bost at point guard, Jalen Steele at shooting guard, Riley Benock at the three, Kodi Augustus at the four and Sidney in the middle.
“You can’t really worry about who’s going to be there,” Benock said Monday. “You’ve just got to concentrate on the pieces you have. That’s kind of what we did Saturday, we kind of put pieces together here and there, went in and competed with our effort and stuff and were able to come out with a win.”
Johnson’s loss has made for some interesting rotations with the four subs: Brian Bryant, Wendell Lewis, John Riek and Shaun Smith. I keep track of substitutions during games, but I can tell you without having to look back at other games that Bost and Bryant were on the floor together more than they had been all year – about 15 minutes, according to my calculations. That allows Bost to play some at the two, which is what Rick Stansbury was hoping to do a good bit of before Beckham left, but it doesn’t work too well because Bost does better with the ball in his hands.
And it’s notable that Bryant went out at the 9:37 mark of the second half and didn’t return until there were 7 seconds left and LSU was trying to set up a game-winning shot. He subbed for Sidney, obviously to help with backcourt defense.
At one point in the first half at LSU, the five on the floor were Bost, Bryant, Benock, Smith and Sidney. That’s a pretty small lineup, but State has experience with that.
It’s really an eight-man rotation for MSU, because the trend has been for Riek to only come in for a short while in the first half and then stay on the bench in the second half. That puts a lot of pressure on Augustus, Lewis and Sidney to stay out of foul trouble, which they did Saturday.
So what does MSU lose with Johnson out? We know he can shoot the 3-pointer, but he hasn’t done it very well lately. In SEC games, Johnson has made a paltry 26.1 percent from there. Benock’s been much more accurate, at 43.8 percent on the season (42.4 percent in SEC play). Steele, the freshman, brings something to the table Johnson doesn’t: defense.
In fact, you could almost argue that MSU is better off without Johnson. He’s a poor ball-handler, doesn’t play great defense, and can’t create his own shot. He’s pretty much a catch-and-shoot guy, and while he’s always had a drop-off in production once SEC play starts, this year it’s been much more noticeable.
I’m sure the Bulldogs would rather he be out there. But he’s not, so they must soldier on.