Stansbury's squad has been busy since their last action, a 75-62 victory over West Virginia that ran the Bulldog winning streak to seven games going back to November 12. A month of winning, and in most cases by solid margins, has pushed Mississippi State into the top-twenty with a healthy head of steam. Somewhat unfortunately all this momentum had to be put on pause to take care of academic obligations.
"It's always an interesting week," said Stansbury of fall semester exams. "Because we have to make some adjustments for everybody's schedules. Plus there's a different mental strain on guys, trying to catch up and finish up finals." State's staff worked as best they could around test days with Monday and Tuesday practice and a Wednesday-off. Work resumes today with specific Troy preparations.
And never mind the record or lack of ranking. These Trojans must be prepared for.
"They're a dangerous team," Stansbury said. "You saw they beat Miami of Ohio, had them down 25, 26 points and Miami is always a good team. They lead the country in three-pointers made a game, and have over 29 attempts a game."
The Trojans are surely slinging it up, with 84 of their 196 buckets made so far originating beyond the arc. But they have enough quality, 42%, to go with the quantity and average 80 points. Four Trojans have double-digit treys already through seven games, so the shooting is spread around.
"So any time you shoot the ball like that you're a dangerous team," said Stansbury, who has his own first-hand experience with clubs built around perimeter punch. "And shooting has nothing to do with size," he added. Troy will start a 6-9 senior in Tim Owens, one of just two players who has not made a longball this year. For that matter he contributes just 4.9 points and 5.6 rebounds.
But the attack brought by Don Maestri, the former Mississippi State aide of decades ago, doesn't count on size. Instead it is a four-guard set led by triggerman Will Weathers (13.2 points, 6.7 assists) and R.J. Scott (12.7 points). Interestingly, the Trojans are winning more board-battles than their collective size would imply and for the season are plus-three in rebound average.
Stansbury knows why. "A lot of threes mean a lot of long rebounds," he said. "And when it kicks out of that paint smaller and quicker is an advantage."
Troy arrives after their own full week-off, likely sapping some momentum of their from a three-win streak too. State has won all eight meetings with Troy teams, and for that matter is already 3-0 against Sun Belt squads with another such date—Florida Atlantic—due next week. No, Stansbury agrees, these are not matchups on the order of the higher-profile dates with Texas A&M, Arizona, and West Virginia…all of which are now in MSU's win column.
And that too is a practice concern for the coach.
"It's just human nature that there are some games magnified more than others. But we preach they all count as one win and one loss, they're all the same. And the team that can best prepare and stay the most consistent are the teams that are going to be successful. Sometimes the more success you have the bigger that bulls eye gets on your back." Besides, Stansbury warns, the opponent only cares about that one game, and one shot at the big score.
"A TV game, a ranked team, and their level of confidence goes to a new level. You have to be mature," Stansbury said. Not to mention adaptable to the next matchup, which Mississippi State has done very well defensively so far this season.
"We've got different lineups that can do different things. And even one of my bigs is a versatile guy, Arnett can step out and guard a 6-3 and isn't a liability. So we have enough versatility in spots."
Moultrie is more than versatile. The junior power forward is flat-out impressive. After sitting a pair of games he's returned to punch out 20 and 21 points in the last two wins and raise his average to 16.7. Moultrie is averaging a double-double with 11.1 boards and has gotten 10 or more rebounds in five of the seven games played.
But he isn't leading his team in points; that status belongs to guard Dee Bost with his 17.0 average. And the senior has been consistent too, with 21, 17, 18, and 17 markers in the last four contests. The only flaw has been 41% shooting overall, but then Bost balances that with 34% arc-accuracy. Besides, he's handed off for five and seven assists the last two times out, and needs 28 more scoring passes to break the all-time MSU record.
Bost might have to keep up the offense while classmate Brian Bryant serves his suspension, which began with the last game. In the interim soph Jalen Steele has taken the two-guard role, though Bost certainly can both handle and shoot. Steele's stats, 6.7 points and 43% shooting, aren't shabby; but his long-range touch has lacked a few times, and often he just doesn't seem confident on the court.
Not a surprise really, after the summer spent recovering from a knee injury. Stansbury agrees that Steele has struggled at times this past month. "Just not able to do what he's used to doing. He's so anxious to make that shot and he doesn't, you can see that negative body language." Yet down last Saturday's stretch Steele got over in the corner for an open look and nailed the trey that capped State's deciding run against West Virginia.
"The last two games he's got a little more rhythm back. And again, he's probably way ahead of where we thought he would be at this point."
At times freshman guard Deville Smith looks way ahead of the usual rookie-point. Other times, the new guard in this rotation will make a classic kid play that goes awry. A reminder, Stansbury says, that this isn't high school any more where a great athlete like Smith could dominate.
But when he does make a play, such as a spectacular driving dunk last Saturday night, the pure potential is all there to see and savor. "You hope the good outweighs the bad, sometimes you sit back and you never know what's going to happen. He has a lot of ability to make good stuff happen, and a lot of times he'll try too hard. That's part of being a young guy, you have to let him go some."
Back closer to the rim, Stansbury thinks starting center Renardo Sidney might be putting less pressure on himself now that Moultrie has stepped to the frontcourt forefront. Certainly the coaches are under less pressure in making moves as junior center Wendell Lewis performs reliably off the bench. In fact,…
"I still wish Wendell would get a little more gunpowder in his craw, that's what takes him to another level," Stansbury said. "Is there improvement, there is. He's gradually done it in slow steps and no question he's a valuable part in this team, he play backup at four and five."
Pre-season post depth has dropped though with freshman center Shaun Long's status still very much undecided. He hasn't played in a game yet and may not before the new semester, if then. Long is on campus. "He's finishing up finals right now, and we're going to finish that up here soon," Stansbury said. Meanwhile backup guard Shaun Smith continues to have his hurting hip checked. Smith has practiced this week and Stansbury suggested he might be able to play a bit soon.