Stansbury Seeks Better Defense, Toughness; Johnson Injured

Mississippi State’s men open the 2010-11 basketball season on Friday against Tennessee State (7 p.m., Humphrey Coliseum), and coach Rick Stansbury would like to see a better defensive effort than what he got in last week’s 75-66 win over NAIA school Lindsey Wilson.

“When you remove our best three defenders from last year – when you take Barry Stewart, Dee (Bost) and Jarvis (Varnado) out of that mix, and you insert all new guys – we’ve got to have some guys step up and be able to guard that basketball much better,” Stansbury said at an afternoon press conference today. “In no way was that very good out there last week. We’ve got to get better than that.”

Much of the concern is with the guard play, and for plenty of reasons. Bost, who’s out the first 14 games because of academic ineligibility and the nine-game NCAA suspension, leaves a big hole there, as does Stewart, the Bulldogs’ best perimeter defender last year. Not having the safety net of Varnado in the paint requires changing one’s mindset.

And there’s just a lot of youth.

“But some of it is understanding the urgency of it now, all those new guys, understanding the urgency of it now,” Stansbury said. “The speed of the game, and the speed of the game is a different speed for these all new guys. 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.”

• Stansbury said senior guard Ravern Johnson, the team’s best shooter and top returning scorer (13.2 ppg), hasn’t been practicing since injuring his knee at practice Monday. So Stansbury’s not sure if he’ll be available for Friday’s game.

“He hasn’t practiced and won’t practice. At this point right now he’s questionable, whatever questionable means. That means he could or he couldn’t.”

He said redshirt freshman Shaun Smith will take Johnson’s place in the lineup if that’s necessary.

Stansbury also said that Renardo Sidney is doing “OK” with his leg injury but that he’s not full speed right now.

• It’s no secret that outside of Elgin Bailey, these Bulldogs aren’t the grittiest bunch of guys, but Stansbury was pretty blunt about the need to address that issue.

“I don’t know if all those guys have a real tough demeanor about them. There’s some passive personalities. We have to get better through that. Elgin’s the one guy that I know brings that mental grit and toughness that you have to have out there, and emotion.”

He was encouraged by the play of forward Kodi Augustus in the exhibition, when he had 19 points and 11 rebounds. Augustus will need to continue playing aggressively, especially with Sidney benched and Bailey still not at 100 percent health.