SEC Preview: Mississippi State

This could be Rick Stansbury's most talented club in Starkville.

Note: Scout.com went to its experts at each of the 12 SEC schools to put together preseason scouting reports for all the league teams while also polling our writers to determine their picks to win the division and overall league titles.

 

 

By David Murray

Dawgs’ Bite

 

As his 12th season in charge begins, Rick Stansbury is not merely the SEC West’s senior coach. He has as many years on the Mississippi State job as all five current division peers combined, along with more victories and titles. So success is the annual expectation of Bulldog basketball.

 

But even by Stansbury’s standards 2009-10 has the makings of something special. With an intact lineup from the SEC Tournament championship run and proven backups on all areas of the court, these Bulldogs are shooting for bigger and better prizes this winter.

 

The game plan literally centers around Jarvis Varnado, who passed on an iffy NBA draft outlook for some senior seasoning.


SEC Basketball Previews:
  • Vanderbilt Preview
  • South Carolina Preview
  • Florida Preview
  • Tennessee Preview
  • Kentucky Preview
  • There was no question about having NBA skills on defense, since Varnado is the first two-time SEC Defensive Player-of-the-Year and needs only 19 more blocked shots to break Shaquille O’Neal’s SEC career record. Scoring becomes more of a priority for Varnado this time around. He raised his average five points from his sophomore year to 12.9, and any comparable progress will showcase both his pro potential and State’s offensive plans.

     

    There is a backcourt that can get the ball to ‘Swat’ inside, or rack up plenty points of its own.

     

    Point guard Dee Bost burst on the SEC scene with the most assists ever for a Bulldog freshman while scoring 10.9 points per game by hitting treys or driving the lane. Senior off-guard Barry Stewart can handle the ball as well but specializes in perimeter pops and will finish his MSU career with the school record for three-pointers.

     

    That record might last only two more years, though, because 6-7 wing guard Ravern Johnson drilled 83 treys as a sophomore and should get even more open looks this year with improved moves and muscle. The real upgrade to the Bulldog roster is noticeable added weight across the board and particularly in a backcourt that was susceptible to getting shoved around in the past.

     

    Stansbury’s mid-year shift to a four-guard lineup wasn’t planned but proved the right way to go with 6-3, 170-pound Phil Turner becoming the league’s smallest “power” forward. Turner did his part with reckless defense and streaky shooting, and comes back confident in a variety of roles. He also helped the ’09 team set the school three-point record.

     

    Still Stansbury would prefer playing more traditional size to boost rebounding and defense, presuming a pair of bigger bodies prove they can fill these bills. Power forward Kodi Augustus (6-8) lost an early-season starting job for defensive liabilities, but re-emerged in March as a force off the bench both inside and outside. Consistent effort is a key to maximizing both his explosive talents and State’s season. Romero Osby (6-8) should develop into a quality big forward as well to complement Varnado on the defensive end, while getting second-chance points on offense.

     

    Backcourt depth depends on several backups getting healthy, and how fast 6-6 freshman Shaunessy Smith fits in. Stansbury went big in his other signings, really big with 6-8 Wendell Lewis, 6-10 Renardo Sidney, and 7-1 John Riek. But going into preseason practices, Sidney’s eligibility is still in question, while Riek is coming off knee issues.

     

    If Sidney is ultimately cleared to play, this team becomes a serious national contender. Even without him, though, there is more than enough proven personnel at Stansbury’s disposal to make his 12th season at Mississippi State his best. Or his best so far.

     

     

    SEC Predicted Order of Finish

     

    SEC East

    1. Kentucky

    2. Tennessee

    3. Florida

    4. South Carolina

    5. Vanderbilt

    6. Georgia

     

    SEC West

    1. Mississippi State

    2. Ole Miss

    3. LSU

    4. Alabama

    5. Arkansas

    6. Auburn

     

    Overall League Champion: Kentucky


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