"Got To Find A Way To Win" Says Stansbury

Mississippi State prepares for its crucial closing week of the 2012 schedule without all Bulldogs available. Coach Rick Stansbury said Monday morning forward Rodney Hood remains "very doubtful" for the remaining regular season games with a knee injury.

"I think he's very doubtful Wednesday night," Stansbury said Monday morning. "That's kind of all I know, only time will tell."

Hood suffered a deep bone-bruise to the left knee twelve minutes into Tuesday's home loss to Kentucky. Up to that point freshman Hood was averaging almost 35 minutes per SEC game, second-most of any league player behind only teammate Dee Bost. His 11.0 points were third-most on State's offense, as were his 4.9 rebounds and 43 made treys.

Now Hood isn't merely tired, but hurting. He received treatment Sunday afternoon at Humphrey Coliseum as usual, Stansbury said, but was not part of any team work. "He's just now being able to walk without a limp, no on court stuff at all." Fan attending the women's game saw Hood indeed making his way around with no noticeable hitch in the stride, a welcome improvement over how he left the court Tuesday on crutches.

Beyond that, "When we get him back I'm not sure. It's totally up in the air," Stansbury said. The coach obviously hopes Hood can return as early as Saturday's home game, and is more optimistic about next week's SEC Tournament in New Orleans. "I would hope so, but you're down to a few games and it's getting close. When do you get him back, and when is he able to go full-speed, we don't know that."

The Bulldogs (19-10, 6-8 SEC) are at South Carolina on Wednesday evening (7:00, SECN) before a home-court finale with Arkansas (4:00, FSN). It will be a busy Saturday on that corner of campus as the Diamond Dogs have a pair of games next-door, hosting Lipscomb at 11:00 am and Connecticut at 2:30. Fans are reminded that basketball parking plans take precedence Saturday.

State starts the week in a three-way tie for seventh place, even with Arkansas and Ole Miss. With the Razorbacks coming to town for Saturday's schedule-ender the Bulldogs have a chance to square that series, and at the very least maintain the three-way deadlock having split with the Rebels already. But, there are many more ‘moving parts' this week involving 7-7 LSU who hosts 8-6 Tennessee Wednesday and is at Auburn Saturday. An 8-6 Alabama has remaining games with Auburn and at Ole Miss.

The upshot is with two wins of their own and plenty of outside help, the Bulldogs still could conceivably slip into fourth place and secure the all-important bye at the SEC Tournament. Or, should they continue this stunning late-season side and other games fall in odd ways, State could end up as low as 11th.

"Naturally we're not entering the way you want, coming off a loss," Stansubury said of State's 67-50 humbling at Alabama to extend the skid. Three of those four setbacks have come away from home, and here the Dogs are taking to the road one more time. South Carolina may well be the league's cellar dweller but the MSU coach takes nothing for granted at this point. Or with this team.

"Any time you go on the road it's never easy. I know their record doesn't show it, but South Carolina has competed against some people. They just haven't closed out some games." Which is something Stansbury is pretty painfully familiar with himself. In all five losses State had leads, usually double-digit leads, and even were dominating first halves. Then something would happen in the locker room to turn the Dogs in a downhill direction.

Beyond having a short roster in these games—something most of his SEC peers are also dealing with down the season stretch admittedly—Stansbury can't find a common thread, other than his club couldn't seal those deals. "I think we've had one bad loss that really haunts you, Georgia. Two were in overtime, then we lose Rodney. It's not that we haven't played good, we just haven't played well enough to get those wins."

The five-loss streak is State's longest since the 2006 SEC season, and has not just cost a top-twenty ranking. The Bulldogs are now uncomfortably close to that proverbial ‘bubble' in NCAA Tournament terms. Most observers still believe an at-larger berth would be forthcoming with any sort of success either this week or at the conference tournament. Not because the SEC is all that respected, it needs noting, but as this 2012 season there don't appear to be nearly so many small-conference teams meeting selection standard. For that matter some traditional big basketball conferences look likely to miss out on their own historical quota of clubs picked for dancing.

So Stansbury's squad may have a little bit of wiggle room left to work with, especially should pre-SEC victim Arizona keep winning and West Virginia snap out of their own slump. Those wins, along with Vanderbilt, are why the Bulldogs can still anticipated a bid…assuming they get back to beating lesser SEC opposition this week.

"I've always been one to say you win enough games, you'll get in. If you don't, you don't. I've been all over that bubble at different times, the way not to have this conversation is to win games."

The bubble hasn't been kind to State most years with just two NCAA Tournament appearances in the last six seasons and one of those (2009) earned by a remarkable SEC Tournament title run. This has not been easy for Bulldogs to accept considering the successes of 2002-05 when the post-season was taken for granted, or for that matter given the lackluster state of SEC basketball in general. This was to be a turnaround season and as late as two weeks ago these Bulldogs seemed sure shots for not merely a bid but a strong seeding and fan-friendly siteing.

Now projections, the meaningless but entertaining ‘if played today' type, still show Mississippi State in the field, but with the lowest seeding normally allotted to a major conference club. Meaning that the situation is increasingly fragile with each fresh setback. Or, "You can get there in a hurry," said Stansbury today of going from sure thing to bubble status, based again on his own recent experiences.

So at this point Stansbury couldn't be less concerned with seeding. Locking up a bid is the priority and the bracket can take care of itself. "I think it's obvious we've had a tough stretch here, and we've got to find a way to get a win. That's just where it is. You can sugar-coat it any way you want, but we've got to go to South Carolina and find a way to get back on a winning track."

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