It will be State's second road trip of the week, as the Dogs are just getting back from a 75-60 Wednesday loss at Gainesville. The journey is far shorter of course, but the way Stansbury talked this morning this will be just as great a challenge. Certainly it isn't an ideal way for a team coming off a defeat to rebound.
"Like always Oxford is a difficult place to play," Stansbury said. "Rod (Barnes) has done a great job, his team is much-improved." As is the record. The Rebels, who went 14-17 last season, already have a dozen wins in the books and are 2-0 in league play after an upset at Alabama and home victory over South Carolina. The State staff is just getting into serious scouting for the next game, but the head coach has a good idea how Ole Miss has taken the early SEC West lead.
"They've got more size inside, they've got more depth," he said, pointing out the development of sophomore Dwayne Curtis. The 6-8 center is averaging 14 points and 7.5 rebounds, and providing a post-presence the UM program needed. "He's a load inside," Stansbury said. "He has a good feel for the rim, he offsets lack of athleticism and uses his body to get to that rim." He also pointed to the adjustments forward/center Jeremy Parnell is forcing defenses to make against this lineup. "He's a different kind of guy.
"And they're more experienced, Curtis is a third-year sophomore and (guards) Todd Abernathy and Bam Doyne are juniors. Those guys have been through the wars and Rod has them playing hard and well. And they got some confidence in that road win at Alabama."
Based on the last several seasons it would seem Mississippi State should have all the confidence. Bulldog teams have won the last eight meetings, going back to February 2002, and have left Oxford victories for three-straight years. One more MSU win would match the longest success-streak ever in the series, the nine-game run by State (or Mississippi A&M) in 1914-17. But while the current coach might enjoy that record, he isn't counting on any sort of streak affecting how this Saturday's contest plays out.
"I understand it's all game to game and year to year and different teams. We're a totally different team. If I had the same team as last year and some experience I'd talk about it more." Instead Stansbury is still having to talk about finding the right mix of lineups and rotations among his available players. Those two facts are related, of course, especially because senior point guard Jamall Edmondson has missed three games and is questionable for the next one.
"It's going to be wait-and-see," Stansbury said of Edmondson's injury status. That is more optimistic than the coach has been for two weeks now, but even if cleared to play Saturday how much help Edmondson could offer becomes the next question. "He hasn't done anything since December 21. Even if he can play what can he do? I'd be surprised if he's effective if he can go at all."
A bruised thigh to freshman point guard Richard Delk meant fellow frosh Jamont Gordon, normally the starting small forward, and junior off-guard Dietric Slater did most of the dribbling at Florida. Delk did play seven minutes and should be stronger by Saturday. It was just the latest health problem to crop up and slow the overall development of this team's game-planning, Stansbury said. "It's obvious it's hurt us immensely and affected us getting any kind of rhythm."
Besides, "We're still playing without our leading scorer, on a team that didn't have any scorers coming back and is trying to find itself." Which probably means that however effective Edmondson might or might not be, if he can play at all this weekend he'll likely see the court.
A 15-point road loss rarely offers much in the way of consolation. Still Stansbury saw some good points at Gainesville, things his team had been doing well in preceding wins over George Mason and Arkansas. The bottom line isn't a 1-1 league record as much as it is how these Bulldogs are playing the game under the circumstances. "We've gotten better at competing, even last night there were some positive things we took from the game.
"We're a team that's totally in transition, trying to find itself. Until we got all our pieces back it's going to be a situation that takes time. But we've gotten better in toughness and ability to defend since Christmas." Now the Bulldogs have to re-affirm that toughness if they want to defend, and extend, their rivalry winning streak.