From The Dawghouse

As we track the Great Blizzard of 2011, and observe the panicked populace sight of a single snowflake inspires in these parts—everyone stocked up on milk and bread yet?—it is impossible to forget how a weekend ago many of us were just departing Florida's warm climes bearing the warmer afterglow of Gator Bowl success and a breakout Bulldog season. My, how quickly some can cool down.

In fact, judging by message boards mutinies, the real panic of this weekend-later isn't the frigid forecast but changing conditions to both the Mississippi State staff and recruiting commitments. Add yesterday's disturbing display in Humphrey Coliseum and oh, woe is we, Bulldog sports are headed for a deep freeze.


To risk accusations of spreading artificial sunshine: get a grip on yourselves, people. The noble folk of our power companies always get the juice back on in time and streets clear themselves of slush. Confident head coaches refill staff openings and adapt signing strategies to the ebb-and-flow of teen-aged whims. And this basketball team…OK, we'll get back to that particular crisis in a moment.

It seems rather obvious Dan Mullen was prepared for the staff changes after year-two, yet another indication that this isn't your average first-time head college coach. I'll certainly miss Manny Diaz, as much for his media accessibility as his gameplan acumen. Doubt he'll be insulted though by admitting I'll miss Chris White and K.J. Wright more, but we knew they too were leaving after 2010. Chris Wilson is good interview in his own right and will make a fine coordinator in his turn. And while it might raise a few SEC eyebrows that a G.A. was so quickly promoted to receivers coach, remember, Angelo Mirando isn't just some student suddenly bumped up to an office of his own and pretty nice pay hike.

He's been with Mullen for three years already and worked with Les Koenning for two, giving a better grasp of State's offensive attitudes than most anyone who could have been hired from outside. And hey, ain't it great to be able to legitimately promote from within for a change? As for recruiting comings and goings, or committings and decommittings, of the week that's best left for our own Steve R to handle. If he's physically capable, that is; going directly from Jacksonville to San Antonio for a week right on the site (where most of his peers handle such things by telephone at safe distances) meant Steve was the busiest man in the business.

He'll be offering some overviews in the days to come…and reminding that Signing Day itself is still weeks away. Weeks where minds may yet change again. Me, I say keep the big bodies coming and Dan'll book enough skill folk over time. And, of course, I'll do my own reminding that the 2011 season will feature personnel already in place. Related to that, a few weeks of bowl watching—anyone who says a playoff system would be better just doesn't get it—gives me this long-range forecast for the SEC West, if everyone supposed to return does (and is eligible). LSU and Arkansas to battle for the title, with Alabama's defense sufficient for dark horse status; the Bulldogs pushing them all from behind in fourth; and a depleted Auburn offense squabbling with a gutted, albeit still Nutted Ole Miss defense to avoid the cellar. Call yer bookie now…

…while I call the clowns at the local CBS affiliate who just switched away from a NFL game to cover the weather ‘crisis' up here. I'd like to pour a gallon of milk and shove a full loaf of bread down their Sunday-suited throats. Good gawsh, talk about needing to get a grip.

Which offers a timely segue into another stormy situation of the hour. After months, or in the case of a certain prep superstar a year-plus, of waiting and anticipating, the debut of what we justifiably believed to be the Real Bulldog Basketball team was just a little, umm, lacking? So much so that if that was indeed the Real Bulldog Basketball team, then we're in Real Trouble.

OK. To be as fair as possible after that Dog debacle, Alabama may have been the least-promising West matchup available. Not to say the Tide is a top team by any stretch; a sound squad by our dubious Division's sad standards, with probably the West's best single player working both inside and outside. (By the way, watch JaMychal Green and think ‘Arnett Moultrie' for next State season.) But they have just one real shooter, aren't special at the point, and are far from physically intimidating. Yet, they waltzed out of the Hump with a lopsided win nobody saw coming. A road win at that, which is worth its weight in Divisional platinum this winter.

Meanwhile State suffered what this squad simply can't allow, a homecourt loss. With the real starting lineup finally in place. In place, note, which is not the same as in synch or for that matter in shape. That actually brings up a problem I have with the notion of ‘game shape'. Why do we never hear that with football? I mean, whether on opening weekend or after mid-season return from injury, players are demanded to (literally) hit it full-speed automatically. Yet basketball boys get ‘game shape' graces. Go figure. And as far as ‘game sharp' it's evident after their discombobulated December road, air, and overseas expedition some guys rested legs by avoiding over-exertion with free throw practice.

Seriously it wasn't supposed to be like this. And it needn't be. Even allowing that Renardo Sidney is still getting his wind—and I hope others noticed he wasn't sweating nearly so much as in his first game so that's progress—and Dee Bost is melding with a new lineup than the March one he last played with, the Bulldogs are still the most talented West lineup man for man. I mean it. Go position by position with everyone else in the Division and the Dogs add up better and bigger.

But even today's dismal edition of the college game is still not entirely a one-on-one contest. No, it remains a team sport, and their SEC opener absolutely affirmed December evidence that State is not anything close to a team today. Repeat, today. There are two entire months of league games and a tourney to follow for them to become one and play to their undeniable abilities. The only squad that stands between State and at the least another West title is, well, State themselves.

Problem is, the question for now isn't so much can they become a club as it is will they. Will they want to, I mean. Back when Bost was given his NCAA mulligan for 2011 return I commented how based on observed attitudes within this roster State's chemistry would either produce a successful blend or would blow the heck up, and spectacularly. Well, we've seen that explosive video from Hawaii. We also almost saw things get ugly yesterday; fortunately Green and Sidney were separated quickly, but if he doesn't get a grip on his temper I fear we'll see why as a prepster Sid the Kid garnered as many technicals on court as awards off it.

And yet… From my baseline seat I had a perfect vantage point of Sidney's first half playing post defense. Gang, that was the very best aspect of an otherwise dismal day, how he absolutely abolished Alabama's interior attack. When in position, I mean; when not the Tide guards got layups. And speaking of which, when Sidney was recuperating on the bench in the second half State had no defensive post presence at all. It was as if every Dog on the court thought Jarvis Varnado was still back there to swat away mistakes.

By the same token for as fine an offensive effort as Wendell Lewis offered in relief, that shoulda been Sidney powering in the paint and dominating the day. As—if?—conditioning develops he really can take over a game there. Oh, and as he listens to Marcus Grant's instruction about going TO the goal after entry passes, not stepping AWAY from isolated defenders. And, as teammates learn to look for those sizzling passes he delivers out of the post. But all this implies Sidney is on the court, not the bench breathing hard or sidelined by fouls. Given how he copes with teammate contact in practices you can count on SEC opponents attempting to punch, literally even, every emotional button during frontcourt fracases of course.

Sidney is only the most obvious example of what this State squad can be, and that's even with Ravern Johnson mired in such an awful shooting slump. There were times yesterday the Dogs looked alllllmost as if they'd regained the old identity of running and gunning and funning; and when Bost and Brian Bryant are on court at the same time you've got one heckuva relay team even if Sidney hangs back at the other end. I don't dismiss Riley Benock a bit, either, as he's the hardest-working defensive guard and made himself a reliable shooter when perimeter defenses focus on Bost & Johnson. Nor need we overlook the labors of Kodi Augustus, who only has made himself a true team player belying all prior indications.

That, actually, is why we can still hold out hopes that this is not a SEC season doomed from debut. But only hopes for the moment, because the first act showed State to be much less than the sum of its talented parts. I'm not convinced there is the potential for genuine ‘chemistry' on this club as we saw in, say, 2002-03-04. Sure, those teams had their own primo personalities and aggressive attitudes but somehow made it work. So far these hounds haven't and honestly one must wonder if they can. No, it can't be taught either. Rick Stansbury has survived so many of these risky chemistry experiments for so long, one figures it finally had to catch up with State. Yet, neither need the outcome be as toxic as we've witnessed in the last three weeks.

Or as unsuccessful on the court. But that, as they say, only time will tell. I intend to be in Oxford this Thursday for the second act, though that might also be the day we finally get interview access to Wilson and Mirando after recruiting trips and prior to the coaches convention. Stay tuned. For now the half-hour of flurries seems finished, the game is back on, and I might even venture over to the Hump for the women's game…if only to hassle Bart Gregory as he's on-air.

Anyway, after the next couple of West Division games we'll all have a better idea of what the Bulldogs can ultimately become…or if all this careless chemistry requires hazmat gear to safely cover the remaining schedule. Might be worth checking if Walmart has any such for sale. Besides, after next Sunday's home game with Auburn we'll probably have run out of milk and bread.

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