Stanbury Pushing Dogs For Season Opener

"We open up…" began Rick Stansbury before pausing. "8:00? 7:00?" he asked. Having confirmed Friday's tip-off time, the coach got to what he knew as definitive fact. "We have our first real game, and first opportunity to gauge exactly where we're at."

Mississippi State does indeed have a real game, and at 7:00 for the record, as the Bulldogs host Tennessee State in their 2010-11 lidlifter. And they do so, as Stansbury implies, ready or not…

"Obviously we're nowhere near where we need to be defensively, and there's some holes that need plugging. But Friday night it starts counting."

Stansbury is glad his team's first, and only preseason, exhibition game didn't count for much more than a scrimmage. The Bulldogs needed some down the stretch exertions to put away Lindsey Wilson 75-66 in a contest slightly to contested for comfort. Though, as Stansbury said today, "A lot of these teams it's the super bowl for them, and they have good players." Plus State was shuttling available players in and out constantly, assembling various lineups for a few series before changing everything around again so the staff could get a preseason read on combinations.

Still, "I wasn't pleased with anything," said Stansbury. "We have to be better than that." Because, as the coach said, from now on it counts; save only for the December 15 in-season exhibition.

What frustrated the coach most was lack of defense. That initially seems curious as LWC managed just 36% shooting and had eight shots blocked. No Bulldog attempts were rejected by comparison. Yet Stansbury wasn't worried about the stats as much as the style. The exhibition foes got too many open looks and good shots that a Division I opponent would have converted into points.

It began with poor perimeter guarding. While Stansbury was not happy about the guard's guarding efforts, it was the unspoken mindset he saw at work that must be fixed more immediately. Put another way, he was Dogs playing as if a Jarvis Varnado were backing them up in the paint to swat away mistakes. That last-line is no longer present of course, and while Stansbury does want good frontcourt coverage those perimeter people have to upgrade their defense.

"I know there are some holes defensively. And I understand, Twany Beckham is new, Riley Benock is playing an entirely different role. Brian Bryant, Jalen Steele, Shaun Smith, it's new for them all." By the same token those pups have to understand that no on-court slack is being cut from now on. "We have to get better at guarding that basketball," Stansbury said.

"And there are some things we're going to miss as far as personality-wise. I don't know out of all those guys who has a tough demeanor. Elgin Bailey is one guy I know brings that, and he's just struggling with what he physically is unable to do." The senior center played 20 exhibition minutes as he still returns from a March 2009 ankle injury and summer knee problem that forces him to wear a brace in games.

"He's not where he was by no means, he has a hard time moving laterally and springing up. But he brings toughness." Sophs Wendell Lewis and John Riek will get their rotation turns in the post; the former had some good offensive minutes last week and hit the glass well for seven boards showing how much progress has been made at each end.

The board boss in the exhibition though was senior forward Kodi Augustus, who once again is being asked to spend more time around the goal than roaming the perimeter looking for the three-points shots he can take and make. Augustus had 10 rebounds last week, and 19 points with 13 on either short shots or free throws. Stansbury doesn't want to take the senior's outside shooting away entirely; but for now with the limited offensive frontcourt Augustus can help most inside.

Stansbury had planned, more or less, to go with the same starting five as last Saturday. That might not be possible though because senior guard Ravern Johnson hurt a knee during Monday's practice.

"Is he probable, or questionable," Stansbury said. "Questionable-probable? He hasn't practiced all week and he won't practice. Right now he's questionable, whatever that means." The coach figures to put redshirt freshman guard Shaun Smith in that wing-spot if Johnson isn't able to play.

State is already operating short-handed for the fall anyway, with point guard Dee Bost out on both school and NCAA suspensions until SEC season; and center Renardo Sidney out until mid-December as the last part of his year-and-a-half NCAA penalty. Neither participated in the exhibition. Sidney could have but a sore leg kept him on the bench.

"He's OK," Stansbury said. "OK. Is he well, able to go full-speed consistently, no. Is he able to do some things, yes." Meanwhile Bost can do everything except play in a real game until January 8, and that certainly is a pre-SEC loss in gameplans. Game prep, though, is another matter, as Stansbury is making the most of the situation.

"He gets reps on the Gold Team (so named for their practice shirts) because I want them to guard him. And we don't do a very good job of that!" Which is why Bost is an All-SEC guard and the other backcourt Dogs are trying to fill the void. "We're having a hard time guarding that one, so I hope we don't go against too many better than him!" Stansbury said.

Sidney does practice in various combinations as well, since he will be playing sooner. "But we've got to get guys ready to play that we depend on right now." And, get the veteran Dogs to set a tone proportional to their place on this roster.

"It's obvious Kodi and Ray both have to be bigger factors. I keep saying this because it's going to be 14 games, but there is a big piece (Bost) who is not going to be there. And it's not just what Dee does for himself, but creating for other people. So Kodi and Ray have to assume bigger roles."

While getting the available roster ready for Friday, the Bulldog staff was also attending to future State squads Wednesday with the opening of fall's early signing week. Stansbury said he expected to sign three prospects but would not announce them piecemeal.

"I'm going to do it all at once. Hopefully tomorrow I'll have something."

And hopefully by Friday, he'll have a team ready to defend and rebound and play like a SEC home host against the visitors from Nashville and the Ohio Valley Conference. "We haven't done a lot of scouting," Stansbury admitted today. Because, most of his staff work has been ‘scouting' out the team he will be putting on the court.

Or as the coach put it, "Throw it up, and see what happens."

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