The Mountaineers of the Southern Conference are 2-0. This is the first-ever meeting of the programs, and well-worth watching based on Stansbury's scouting.
"I don't know if anybody here knows how good Appalachian State is. They have the (SC) Player of the Year back in Donald Sims; and Omar Carter, the transfer from College of Charleston who was player of the year in that league. They've got really, really good guards, their big guys are mobile."
The guards are indeed really good based on the first two games as well as past honors. 6-1 junior Sims is putting up 19.5 points with 5.5 assists, while 6-5 junior Carter is the big gunner at 27.5 points. Those ‘bigs' aren't all that vertical at 6-7 and 6-6, but do bring some bulk to the lane. And as Stansbury said, the whole squad can get down the court in a hurry.
"They're a good team, the score in a lot of different ways. They won at Tulsa, and that tells you how good they are. They didn't just win by three points, it was a 10-12 point game most of the way. And they're averaging 95 points."
Many years a Bulldog team would have opened the non-conference schedule with that sort of output. Not this year or this team, or at least not yet. Last Friday began the first phase of 2010-11 for State, the stretch of November and early December games where neither C/F Renardo Sidney nor G Dee Bost are available due to suspensions. So Stansbury had to use an ‘interim' sort of lineup against TSU…and then spent the whole evening shuttling other Dogs in and out. State did well to get away with a low-key opening win under those circumstances.
This time, though, the coach has some harder choices to make and no margin for lineup error against a much better opponent. Then there are all the technical and tactical issues exposed in game-one to address.
Beginning with the quarterback. "We've got to find some other ways for our point guard to get in that lane and create some easy baskets." Third-year soph G Twany Beckham got the starting call based on experience and is listed to open tomorrow as well. Beckham worked 13 minutes with no points, four misses, and no assists, though he did get to four rebounds. "I think Twany has more ability," Stansbury said. The question is can Beckham show it, as well as force issues on defenses.
Junior transfer Brian Bryant, now, showed no hesitations in his MSU debut and ended up with twice Beckham's minutes along with seven points and six assists off the bench. That raised the obvious question of Bryant possibly being promoted; Stansbury won't commit to that yet.
"I'm good with Brian. It's harder on him because he's out there learning while other people are learning, too. He can do a lot more than he's doing, I think he's played a little up-tight." Such as by missing some of his open shots created by quick attacks of the lane. Stansbury is confident Bryant will convert those attempts as he settles into senior college speed, and the transfer certainly provides something this offense needs.
As for the other end, both point guards have much left to learn. "They have to keep guys out of the lane. We've struggled guarding guards up to this point."
At least out front Stansbury has viable options. It's a tougher call closer to the goal, though if C Elgin Bailey were healthy now he'd have the lane filled. Literally, at 276 pounds. But of course he isn't entirely healthy and might not be until March according to his coach. The result is obvious.
"We struggle to score in that paint. Nothing against Elgin, he just has an unbelievable time moving and exploding and sealing and pinning. It's tough." Bailey does do his best, struggling with a still-healing knee that requires game-bracing and time lost to the March 2009 ankle dislocation. He was never a great leaper but now Bailey's vertical game has just about vanished.
Combined with struggles to make quick lateral moves, it means just doing anything well on the court is a battle. Stansbury is showing Bailey more tricks to keep a body on opposing posts so they can't just jump over him. Offensively?
"I'm glad he can do what he can do. He struggles anytime you have to stop and change direction; unfortunately that's basketball. I've got to keep him from getting frustrated." Such as when, as TSU did, the whole opposing team runs clear-outs on Bailey. State is doing other things to reduce the load on the starter, such as accelerating sophomore Wendell Lewis' responsibility. He had five points and seven boards in 21 minutes.
"Wendell was active for us last game, but the competition is going to keep getting better," Stansbury said. Which means however much the effort, posts Bailey and Lewis as well as the point guards much make more offensive contributions.
"We have to get some easy baskets of penetration, or pitching it ahead. We can't depend on Ravern Johnson and Kodi Augustus every time." That senior pair did their parts in the debut with 32 and 14 points. Johnson was particularly sharp in his upperclassman opener, getting exactly the points he needed to join the 1,000 Point Club (#32 Bulldog to do so) and hitting five of nine three-point attempts as he pursues the program trey record. Those 32 points by the way were just a bucket short of the MSU opening-night record set in 1975 by all-time great Ray White.
Johnson played the opener on a sore knee but didn't show ill effects. The larger challenge for him this pre-SEC season is being lead Dog, the first focus of defensive attention after two years in supporting role. "That's a credit to him," said Stansbury. "At the same time you have to find ways to score." Such as getting favorable foul calls and taking trips to the line, which Johnson did 14 times with 13 makes last Friday.
"I'm sure first his two years didn't shoot 14 all year!" Stansbury said.
For has part Augustus got the year off to a good start, too, posting a double-double with 14 rebounds. And boardwork is very much a MSU concern this season regardless of opponent size, which is why Augustus is yet again being pulled from the perimeter he prefers to play in the paint most of the time. Even when Sidney is activated mid-December, and as Lewis develops, its likely Augustus sticks to the power-position role.
"What we have is what we have, there's not a whole lot more I can get involved," Stansbury said. In the post, at least, with soph John Riek still far from being a regular contributor. There are a few more backcourt options though, and Stansbury liked how rookie Jalen Steele came through in the second half against TSU. Senior Riley Benock started at off-guard and as a veteran can swing to other slots as needed here in the early going, something Stansbury hesitates right now to ask of Steele or Shaun Smith. In time, yes, but for now older hands have the heavier duties.
For that matter the coach is having to dial back on offensive pace at the moment since "We don't get up and down as well, and it's hard for Elgin to keep up anyway. And we're not that kind of team that we've been." But Appalachian State is that kind of team, and there is the obvious temptation for the Bulldogs to try to match stride for stride with a not-so-suited squad and shorter bench to boot. It's a tricky coaching call for sure.
"We like to score early, I want to score early. We need to get some transition baskets," said Stansbury. "Now, we don't need to come down and consistently have the wrong people taking wrong shots."