College Basketball Nation: Dee Bost

3-point shot: Draft disappointment

June, 29, 2012
6/29/12
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1. Alabama took a hit with both JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell going undrafted Thursday. So too did Georgetown after Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims went unselected. Add New Mexico's Drew Gordon, Xavier's Tu Holloway, Long Beach State's Casper Ware, Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor, Ohio State's William Buford, Texas' J'Covan Brown, West Virginia's Kevin Jones and Iona's Scott Machado to the list of players who didn't get picked.

2. Mississippi State's Renardo Sidney can't be too disappointed. He was a long shot to be selected. He has had one of the most bizarre and most discussed careers I have seen in covering the sport for 22 years. Hopefully he will find his way. The Bulldogs' Dee Bost, who didn't get picked either, once famously declared for the draft then returned to school in 2011 after claiming he didn't know the rules.

3. The Big East fully expects Boise State to be a football member and is doing all it can to help the Broncos get the rest of their sports into the Big West, even making a financial commitment. San Diego State spent Thursday lobbying other Big West members to help get the Broncos into the league. Boise State has until Saturday to withdraw from the Mountain West for 2013 or face further penalty. The Big West has to simply make a decision. The basketball conference will be much improved by adding Boise State with SDSU and Hawaii -- three programs that care deeply about their sports.
It was a while ago now, so you might have forgotten, but allow me to take you back to May 2011 2010, when the NCAA's new NBA draft decision deadline (which came even earlier on the calendar this spring) forced players to make their life-altering decisions much earlier than ever before. The deadline was a hot topic. At the very least, it was no secret. But Mississippi State guard Dee Bost didn't know the rule, or so he said, causing him to stay in the draft past the May 8 deadline and forcing him to appeal the NCAA to get back on the court for his senior 2011-12 season.

[+] EnlargeBost
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisMississippi State's Dee Bost says he'll have to prove his talent to NBA scouts at pre-draft workouts.
Bost's NBA draft stock hasn't changed much since then. If anything, it's worsened. ESPN Insider Chad Ford currently ranks Bost No. 118 overall in the 2012 draft class, and No. 16 at the point guard position. Chances are, unless something changes in the months to come, Bost will go undrafted. Why? Because, according to Bost, NBA scouts just haven't seen him play. That's what he told Slam's Peter Walsh, anyway:
Bost attributes his team’s lack of national attention to him flying under the radar as the draft approaches: “Playing at Mississippi State, we didn’t play a lot of televised games or in front of a lot of people… I feel like I’m underrated. I just gotta get to workouts and prove that to everybody else.”

First of all, you can't really fault Bost for maintaing this attitude. His draft stock is really discouraging. Athletes are athletes precisely because they operate this way mentally; they have to believe they're the best player on the court at any given time, or the battle is already lost. Of course Bost thinks he's underrated. He has to. And he might even be right.

But the bit about the television exposure? That's just downright silly. As CBS's Gary Parrish humorously notes, NBA scouts aren't exactly limited to national broadcasts when they are hunting for NBA prospects. The top point guard prospect in the draft is Damian Lillard, who played in the Big Sky at Weber State and didn't even make it to the NCAA tournament. Mississippi State forward Arnett Moultrie is a projected lottery pick. The high-upside foreign players drafted every year don't play on CBS on Saturdays, and it doesn't stop NBA scouts from drooling at their potential.

In other words, there are about eight thousand different ways Bost is wrong. Which, you know, oh well. The point is: Even if college basketball itself still exists in a TV-driven hierarchy -- BCS programs versus mid-majors, etc. -- NBA scouts have long since moved beyond it. To them, with some exceptions, college basketball is flat. If you can play, you can play -- no matter where you go to school, how big your home crowds are, or how many times you perform on TV. Exposure never hurts, but a lack of exposure hardly means what it used to.
NEW ORLEANS -- Four weeks ago it was a question of where, not if, Mississippi State would be dancing.

The Bulldogs were 19-5 heading into the final month of the season. They were ranked No. 18 in the country and primed for solid seeding in both the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

Those days seemed like a distant dream Thursday night in the Mississippi State locker room. A month removed from such lofty aspirations, the Bulldogs crashed out of the SEC tournament 71-61 at the hands of lowly Georgia, the No. 11 seed, to complete a 2-6 skid.

"It hurts," said State forward Renardo Sidney. "I know we're one of the better teams down here in the SEC tournament, and we just didn't go out there and play hard. We didn't have no heart."

Huddled around their postgame meals, the Bulldogs looked like they'd just woken up from a bad dream -- a nightmare in which they lost five consecutive games during the month of February.

The only problem is, that's the sobering reality.

Big man Arnett Moultrie couldn't bring himself to even speak about it. Faced with a wall of cameras and recorders, Moultrie steadfastly repeated "no comment" before turning to his dinner.

It's an understandable reaction after the forward, who averaged 16.1 points for the Bulldogs this season, was limited to a mere seven in 39 minutes by a relentless Georgia zone defense.

[+] EnlargeRenardo Sidney
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertMississippi State forward Renardo Sidney found the going tough in the middle of Georgia's zone defense.
"Give Georgia credit. They did a good job of keeping our bigs from scoring inside that zone," said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury.

Sidney, who was limited to four points and managed just 19 minutes because of foul trouble, was willing to talk, but found himself at a loss for words.

"It was hard to get the ball down there," he said. "That zone. I can't even explain it."

The only Mississippi State starter who could find his game was guard Jalen Steele. With State trailing 59-51 and five minutes to play, Steele reeled off the next nine Bulldogs points to pull them within as close as three points, 60-57. The run seemed to inspire the MSU bench, and it brought the State faithful to their feet.

"I thought it was going to be just like Vanderbilt, where we came out and came back," Sidney said. "We just couldn't get it over the line. We tried to fight back, but they kept coming."

Two minutes later, two Mississippi State turnovers had allowed Georgia to extend the lead to seven, and the rally was dead.

"We had the thought that we lost to [Georgia] on our mind, but we knew it was a new game," said guard Dee Bost. "We lost the momentum, and they made plays when they were supposed to."

Steele said the Bulldogs lacked heart, and it showed. Led by guards Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware, Georgia rattled off a 15-2 run starting about five minutes into the second half. Although they only trailed by nine, Steele said it took the Bulldogs too long to respond.

"We came out kind of sluggish. We could have came out with a little more energy, but it didn't fall our way," he said.

It was a similar feeling and a fitting ending. The Bulldogs were within a basket inside the last 10 minutes of five of their six recent losses, but they let them all slip away. Having officially hit rock bottom, all they can do is hope their NCAA hope hasn't slipped away as well.

"We were on the bubble going into this game, and we really needed this game," Sidney said. "Just the thought of your season in somebody else's hands, it's kind of tough. Hopefully we get in."
NEW ORLEANS -- After a nightmare finish to the 2012 regular season, Mississippi State entered the SEC tournament needing some wins to bolster its tournament resume.

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs didn't get the memo, instead dropping a 71-61 upset loss to the tournament's No. 11 seed, Georgia.

The Bulldogs (the ones from Georgia) established early on that they wouldn't be rolling over or playing dead for Mississippi State's bubble prospects. Gerald Robinson set the pace, as usual, putting up 12 points to help Georgia to a 31-29 halftime lead. That scrappiness continued into the second half, where the teams traded the lead in the opening minutes.

Where Georgia got production from Robinson, as well as freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and senior Dustin Ware, Mississippi State couldn't find consistency from anyone. It took the Bulldogs (the ones from Starkville) until the 7:59 mark of the second half to have a scorer reach double digits. Mississippi State's bedrock trio of Dee Bost, Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney accounted for just 21 total points.

Turning point: With 16:25 to play, Brian Bryant tied the game at 34. Georgia then ripped off a 9-0 run highlighted by two consecutive jumpers from Ware, who finished with 13 points. Robinson and Donte Williams each tacked on a basket to make it 43-34. Jalen Steele's 19 points helped Mississippi State get it as close as three, but the Bulldogs couldn't bring it all the way back.

Key player: Robinson led the Bulldogs as he always does, notching 23 points. But Ware was the key to the second half surge that pushed Georgia in front. Ware finished with 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting, but he had no points at halftime. He accounted for 11 points of Georgia's 15-2 run that seemed to kill Mississippi State's morale.

Key stat: Sidney contributed as many fouls as he did points (4). The Bulldogs' big guy only managed 19 minutes, and didn't come close to his season scoring average. Moultrie got into foul trouble as well and finished with four of his own. He managed to play 39 minutes, but only scored 7 points after averaging 16 this season.

Miscellaneous: It's fitting that State's final setback happened at the hands of Georgia. The Bulldogs have had a rough month, going 2-6 since a Feb. 11 overtime loss to? Who else but Georgia.

What's next: Georgia moves on to face No. 3 seed Vanderbilt, who beat the Bulldogs by 11 and nine in two meetings this year. Mississippi State, which spent a good chunk of the season in the top 25 and at one point seemed to be playing for tournament seeding, will now go home and hope for an NCAA bid.

Isaiah Canaan and Murray State dream big

February, 19, 2012
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MURRAY, Ky. -- Sweat beads still dotted Isaiah Canaan’s forehead Saturday when someone asked the nation’s best point guard a simple question: What message did Murray State send to the rest of the country by whipping 16th-ranked Saint Mary’s on national television?

Canaan smirked.

Message? To him, the Racers’ 65-51 victory was more like a warning.

“Watch out,” Canaan said. “Whether it’s Duke or North Carolina or whoever, we’re going to compete.”

Not far away, in the CFSB Center stands, a gaggle of fans shouted for Canaan and began a “Final Four!” chant. No one rolled their eyes. Just three weeks before Selection Sunday, maybe it’s time to begin thinking of the No. 14 Racers in that vein.

Murray State in New Orleans sounds cuckoo, right? Well, so did the thought of Butler and VCU in last year’s Final Four, but both of those squads made it -- and neither had a player as good as Canaan, a first-team All-America candidate who entered Saturday’s game averaging 19.2 points.

At 26-1, the Racers have the best record in the country. Everyone knows who to thank.

“Isaiah is a game-changer,” Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy said. “All of their players are good, but he’s different. He gives them the chance to do something special.”

Kennedy would know. Prior to taking over in College Station in May, Kennedy spent five seasons at Murray State and helped convince Canaan to become a Racer. Not that he had much competition.

A native of Biloxi, Miss., Canaan wasn’t heavily recruited by the big programs in his home state. Ole Miss had Chris Warren, Dee Bost was beginning to blossom at Mississippi State and Angelo Johnson had just transferred from USC to Southern Miss.

“A lot of people slept on me,” Canaan said. “That fueled my fire.”

Of course, most schools might not have known about Canaan anyway, considering he played off the ball for his AAU team, which featured future Arkansas point guard Julysses Nobles. His chances to shine as a 17- and 18-year-old were few.

Still, when Kennedy saw Canaan play in a high school all-star game, he was sold.

“That’s the guy we want,” he said to assistant Steve Prohm, who is now Murray State’s head coach. “That’s the guy we need.”

Canaan chose the Racers over Arkansas State and Tulane, but his rise to stardom didn’t exactly occur at warp speed. He spent his first two seasons coming off the bench in place of starters B.J. Jenkins and Isaac Miles. Kennedy said it was clear that Canaan was the Racers’ most talented player, but he wanted him to become their hardest worker, too.

[+] EnlargeJewuan Long
AP Photo/The Paducah Sun, John WrightMatthew Dellavedova's 17 points weren't enough against Jewuan Long and Murray State.
“A lot of guys at that level want [success] to happen right away,” Kennedy said during a phone interview after Saturday’s game. “People were in his ear saying, ‘Why aren’t you starting?’ or ‘Why don’t you transfer?’ But he chose to stick it out. He paid his dues.

“Everything that’s happening for him now, he’s earned it.”

Most teams that catch fire in March do so because of a star, a player who can take over and win a game by himself when others begin to flounder. Connecticut rode Kemba Walker to 11 consecutive victories and an NCAA title last season. Butler’s unlikely run to the 2010 national championship game happened largely because of eventual first-round draft pick Gordon Hayward.

Canaan has the potential to do the same kind of thing for Murray State. Saint Mary’s learned that firsthand on Saturday, when Canaan blew open a semi-close game by scoring 17 of his 23 points in the second half. One minute he was swishing 3-pointers from 4 feet beyond the arc, the next he was throwing half-court alley-oop passes to a teammate for a dunk.

In a relatively weak year for point guards, Canaan has arguably been the nation’s best at his position. The only question about his future as a pro is his height. Canaan is listed at 6-foot but is probably an inch or two shorter.

Not that it’s mattered this season.

“He wanted to give me the ball one time,” forward Ed Daniel said, “but I told him, ‘No, you go ahead. You’ve been doing your thing. Keep going.’”

Indeed, the more confidence the Racers develop in Canaan, the more dangerous they become.

“They’re a special team,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said.

Murray State fans have known that all season. After Saturday’s national broadcast -- Dick Vitale was on hand to call the game for ESPN -- the rest of the country does, too.

“We’ve got a lot of basketball still to play,” said Prohm, clutching the microphone as he stood at midcourt and addressed the sellout crowd. “But I think we showed the national audience today how good we can be.”

Moments later, to commemorate the Ohio Valley Conference title they won earlier in the week, each Racer climbed atop a ladder and took a celebratory snip of the CFSB net. No player received a louder ovation than Canaan.

“All the teams that slept on me, I’m sure they’re regretting it,” Canaan said. “But I’ve never regretted for a day coming here. They’ve accepted me like this was my home away from home. I’m trying to give back the best way I can.”

Canaan approached a group of young kids who had been waiting patiently for his autograph. Before he began to sign, Canaan draped the net around his neck, clearly proud of his first championship of the season.

And maybe, just maybe, not his last.

Isaiah CanaanBrian Spurlock/US PresswireIsaiah Canaan gets some love from ESPN's Dick Vitale following Murray State's BracketBusters romp.

Behind the box scores: Thursday's games

February, 10, 2012
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A scan of the college basketball box scores each night guarantees all kinds of statistical oddities and standout performances. Here are some we found from Thursday:

Montana 75, Northern Colorado 68
Montana’s Will Cherry scored 30 points and recorded eight steals in the win. He’s the first player to reach both levels in a game since Niagara’s Anthony Nelson on Jan. 9, 2011.

South Dakota 72, South Dakota State 68
South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters attempted 27 shots and handed out six assists in the Jackrabbits’ loss. It’s the third time this season Wolters has taken at least 25 shots and handed out five assists in the same game; all other players in the country have combined to do it the same number of times.

Southern Utah 60, Western Illinois 44
Southern Utah shot 1-for-5 from 3-point range in the win. It’s the 18th time this season a team has won while taking five or fewer 3-pointers, and Southern Utah is the only team to do it more than once; they’ve now done it eight times.

San Francisco 85, Santa Clara 69
Santa Clara lost despite shooting 14-for-23 (60.9 pct) from 3-point range, tied for the second-most made 3s this season for a team in a loss.

Mississippi State 70, Ole Miss 60
Mississippi State’s Dee Bost dished out a career-high 13 assists in the win, the most by any SEC player since Kentucky’s John Wall handed out 16 on Dec. 29, 2009 against Hartford.

Portland State 67, Idaho State 54
Portland State won despite recording only five assists. Twenty-nine teams this season have won a game with five or fewer assists, and the Vikings are the only team to do it three times.

North Carolina State 61, Georgia Tech 52
Georgia Tech shot 1-for-17 from 3-point range in the loss. That’s the second-worst 3-point field goal percentage by a Big Six team this season (min. 17 attempts). Texas A&M missed all 17 of its 3s in a Nov. 30 win against Alcorn State.

Charleston 62, Western Carolina 58
The Cougars won despite shooting 27.1 percent from the floor (16-for-59). Only five teams this season have won a game with a worse field goal percentage. The two teams in this game combined for 47 offensive rebounds, third-highest total in a game this season.
As good as the afternoon was, with exciting upsets and huge road wins over top-five teams, the evening may have matched it in the vital FOPM statistical category. (FOPM stands for freak outs per minute. It's a tempo-adjusted metric, naturally.) Let's lead with what may be the result of the day -- Syracuse's very first loss of the season, at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame 67, No. 1 Syracuse 58

What we learned: Nobody's perfect. OK, yeah, Murray State is still perfect, but you get the drift: Everyone loses eventually. Sooner or later, the Orange were going to have a particularly bad shooting night. Sooner or later, they were going to struggle on the road. Sooner or later, they were going to do these things against a coach and a team that had designed the perfect gameplan to take advantage of this opportunity. As it happens, that coach was Mike Brey. That team was Notre Dame.

Of course, the Fighting Irish don't have a tenth of the talent available to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. What do the Irish have? The Burn. That's what Brey calls his team's intentionally slow, clock-killing offense, and while it isn't always the preferred strategy in South Bend, it is something the Irish keep in their back pocket when they find themselves facing a bigger, stronger, faster, more skilled, pretty-much-all-around-better opponent.

Indeed, as ESPN's Doris Burke noted late in the game, the Irish played a sort of semi-burn Saturday night. They lulled the Cuse into seven fewer possessions (61) than its average adjusted tempo (68) on the season (including a handful of late heaves when the game was out of reach), but ND was also opportunistic: When it broke SU's press, it didn't always pull out and set up the halfcourt offense. It was a clinic in opportunistic decision-making. (At one point, it ended in a contested fast-break dunk by Jack Cooley. Jack Cooley? Jack Cooley!)

Syracuse, being Syracuse, still managed to force a mess of turnovers. At several points in the second half, as Notre Dame forward Scott Martin struggled time after time to inbound the ball on his own baseline, it appeared the Irish were just a few possessions away from a late collapse. But the Orange's poor shooting (they posted a 40.0 effective field goal percentage) and ND's solid free throw shooting sealed this game in the closing moments.

Burke called it a "masterful" gameplan from Brey and, as usual, she was dead on: Notre Dame knew exactly what it needed to do to take a walk through any door Syracuse left ajar. When the time came, it executed.

Going forward, this loss may knock Syracuse out of the top spot in the rankings, but it shouldn't change the perception of this team much. First of all, the absence of leading rebounder and shot-blocker Fab Melo (due to an unresolved academic issue from the fall semester) was a blow to this team's inherent interior advantage. Second, Syracuse didn't shoot the ball well. Frankly, it didn't play well. Overreact if you like, but it's the opinion of this writer that, well, hey, these games happen.

For Syracuse, it was bound to go this way eventually. When it did, the Irish were ready.

No. 15 Mississippi State 78, Vanderbilt 77 (OT)

What we learned: The Commodores will struggle with capable frontcourts. They struggle late in close games. They struggle on the defensive end. They are, in other words, the same Vanderbilt Commodores we've come to know and love in each of the past three seasons. Their recent improvements created the notion that this team had turned some vague corner, that it was finally ready to assume the top-10, Final Four-worthy preseason expectations foisted upon them.

Instead, on Saturday, we saw the team that led us to doubt that status in the first place. Vandy yielded a 12-point second-half lead, allowed Mississippi State to score 1.14 points per possession and got vastly outrebounded on both ends of the floor. In the end, even with very good chances to win the game -- particularly the final shot in regulation, which ended up being an uncontested four-foot shot for Festus Ezeli (which he missed) -- Vanderbilt just couldn't make the key defensive plays.

In the meantime, Mississippi State deserves credit for a major road win. Forward Arnett Moultrie was brilliant (21 points, 14 rebounds, three steals, one block) and guard Dee Bost was just as good (24 points, five rebounds, four assists and a handful of key second-half shots). Even Renardo Sidney, who struggled for much of the game and suffered an injury in overtime, got in on the act, hitting a monster 3 with 1:22 remaining in the second half.

Three days ago, the Bulldogs went to rival Ole Miss and lost and looked vulnerable -- even downright overrated -- throughout. Their ability to rebound from that loss with a win on the road against a streaking Vanderbilt team, one that had won its past eight games -- including on the road at Alabama -- is to be commended. Surprising stuff, to say the least.

No. 12 UNLV 80, New Mexico 63

What we learned: UNLV is still the Mountain West favorite. Yes, yes, San Diego State certainly has a claim to that distinction, too, especially since its first two conference results -- a two-point home win over the Rebels and an incredibly impressive road win at New Mexico -- were among the most impressive back-to-back performances we've seen from any team in any league this season. New Mexico is no slouch, either. Before Wednesday's loss to SDSU, the Lobos had won 13 in a row. There are three very good teams in the MWC, folks. That much we know.

Then again, I'd say we knew that already. The main takeaway from Saturday night's best late-night matchup -- and this is a good old-fashioned eye-test thing to say, but I'm doing it anyway -- is that UNLV just looks like the best team in this league. The Rebels have few, if any, holes in their attack. They have talented players at every position. Their guards push the pace; their forwards run to the rim; their wings hit 3s with ease. Anthony Marshall, Chace Stanback, Mike Moser, Oscar Bellfield and even reserves like Carlos Lopez and Justin Hawkins -- these players are perfectly suited to Dave Rice's new emphasis on uptempo basketball, and when you watch them play, it shows.

The Mountain West race is going to be fascinating, and we'll hear more from the Lobos -- and, of course, the league-leading Aztecs -- before the season is out. Sure, I'd take UNLV as the favorite. But whatever happens, if two of these three teams are playing, it promises to be very entertaining.

A few more observations from the Saturday evening that was:
    [+] EnlargeJamie Dixon
    AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPitt lost its ninth game Saturday, matching the highest season loss total of Jamie Dixon's tenure.

  • Bad times got worse for Pittsburgh on Saturday night, as the Panthers fell to No. 21 Louisville at home, 73-62. In case you're counting, that's Pitt's eighth straight loss and seventh in a row in Big East play ... for the first time in Pitt hoops history. Ouch. Even worse? According to ESPN Stats and Information, this is the first time Pitt has lost four straight home games since 1999-2000. The loss is also Pitt's ninth this season. Jamie Dixon-coached Pittsburgh teams have never recorded more than nine losses in a regular season. There are myriad issues afflicting the Panthers right now, chief among them defense, but it's hard to see any major improvements coming any time soon. If this wasn't a lost season already, it is now.
  • Neither VCU nor Old Dominion are likely to end up with a chance at an at-large bid come March, but their meeting tonight was still full of implications for the CAA title race. Before Saturday, ODU was 6-1 in conference and VCU 5-2, both right there hanging around with George Mason and Drexel in the Colonial standings. In other words, Virginia Commonwealth got a rather massive 61-48 win, handling the lackluster Monarchs rather easily at home. Shaka Smart's team is still rebuilding after last year's miracle NCAA tournament run, but they're not nearly as far down as most would have expected. Keep your eye on the Rams.
  • The C-USA race is going to be interesting. Marshall appeared to have the best odds to challenge Memphis' purported superiority, with Southern Miss a notch or two below -- a dark horse at best. After Saturday -- when Southern Miss topped Marshall and tied the Thundering Herd at 4-1 in league play -- it seems clear things aren't quite that simple. There are no remaining unbeaten teams in the league, with UCF at 5-1 and Memphis, Marshall and USM all now residing in second place at 4-1.
  • I don't know if we'll call the Pac-12 race "interesting." "Mystifying" feels more appropriate. Either way, consider what went down in the conference Saturday: Cal fell at Washington State (not an unforgiveable loss, given how well Wazzu has played at home, but still) just as the Bears appeared set, thanks to a blowout Stanford loss at Washington, to create some separation between themselves and the rest of the league. Meanwhile UCLA -- which keeps struggling, week after week, to sort things out -- fell on the road at Oregon, which is now 6-2 and tied atop the league standings. Elsewhere, lowly Utah not only didn't lose, but actually blew out Arizona State in Salt Lake City; and Colorado held on for a one-point home win over Arizona. Those Pac-12 power rankings are going to be a bear to write. I can't wait.
  • Two results from the West that shouldn't be dismissed. Long Beach State, a team that played perhaps the most grueling nonconference schedule in the country, continues to see the dividends from that gauntlet. On the road Saturday night, LBSU went into the Thunderdome and absolutely obliterated chief rival UC Santa Barbara, 71-48, the talented squad that's beaten the 49ers in the Big West final in each of the past two seasons. And in Laramie, Wyoming beat rival Colorado State -- which had won eight straight -- 70-51 to improve to 16-3. Yes, 16-3. What a job by first-year coach Larry Shyatt. And what a performance by USC transfer Leonard Washington, who set career highs in points (32) and rebounds (14).
  • As for the momentum Nebraska created with that dramatic victory over Indiana on Wednesday? Ohio State did not seem to care. Buckeyes 79, Huskers 45. So much for that.

What we learned from Saturday's games

January, 14, 2012
1/14/12
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It didn't look like a great slate of games coming in, but Saturday turned out to be full of upsets and last-second thrillers. Here are some things we learned from all the action ...

The Top Three

Florida State 90, No. 3 North Carolina 57
What we learned: Wow. A true beatdown. Perhaps we don’t have an elite team in college basketball this season. North Carolina has as much potential as any team in the country to warrant that title, but Saturday’s meltdown -- the most lopsided of the Roy Williams era -- contradicted much of what we thought we knew about the Tar Heels. The Seminoles are always feisty against Carolina and Duke and tend to be giant-killers, but this was just silly. The Noles were 12-for-27 from the 3-point line in this victory. Deividas Dulkys was 8-for-10 from beyond the arc and scored a career-high 32 points. He had scored a combined 32 points in his previous nine games. The Tar Heels lost their fire once the barrage began. The Seminoles saw a vulnerable team and pounced. For the third time this season, the Heels lost a game outside of Chapel Hill. But in this loss, they were bullied and lethargic. How will UNC recover, and what on earth is the ACC about right now?

No. 2 Kentucky 65, Tennessee 62
What we learned: Cuonzo Martin’s Volunteers haven’t looked like an 8-9 squad over the past week. In their past three games, they’ve defeated Florida, nearly knocked off Mississippi State on the road and battled Kentucky for all 40 minutes. Freshman Jarnell Stokes, the highly touted prep player who joined the team Monday, recorded nine points and grabbed four rebounds in his debut. Once Stokes gets into shape, he’s going to have a major effect on a Tennessee squad that led Kentucky by eight in the second half and stuck with the Wildcats until the end. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Anthony Davis (18 points, 4 blocks) are two of America’s best, but their squad is going to get caught in league play soon if it continues to show up only after halftime.

No. 1 Syracuse 78, Providence 55
What we learned: This game was over when Ed Cooley announced stud point guard Vincent Council would not play. The Friars’ leading scorer might not have affected the final outcome, but he could have helped his squad’s deplorable offense (3-for-14 from beyond the arc, 22 turnovers) against Cuse's press. Council was a beast in PC's 31-point destruction of Louisville earlier this week. But Syracuse proved, again, that it’s the undisputed No. 1 team in the country. SU has separated itself from one of the most competitive leagues in the country. The Orange’s 19-0 start matches the best in school history. With North Carolina losing to Florida State and Kentucky struggling against Tennessee, it’s about time that Syracuse gets more credit for its strong start. Best team. In the country. No debate.

The Midwest Upsets

Northwestern 81, No. 7 Michigan State 74
What we learned: Oh, Big Ten. How you always find a way to amaze us. Within the past week, the league’s top three teams all have fallen in upsets. At home in Evanston, the Wildcats (losers of four of their previous five entering the game) snapped Michigan State’s 15-game winning streak as John Shurna led four double-figure scorers with 22 points. This game meant a few things: (1) There’s far less separation between the top and bottom of the Big Ten than there appeared to be two weeks ago. (2) Much like Michigan and Wisconsin, the Spartans are looking for a consistent No. 3. Draymond Green and Keith Appling were the team’s only two scorers in double figures. (3) Northwestern needs to prove it can put together a string of games that resemble Saturday’s outing. The Wildcats have pieces, but they tend to showcase their potential in spurts. Wonder whether this season will be different.

Iowa 75, No. 13 Michigan 59
What we learned: I can’t figure out Iowa or the Big Ten right now. The Hawkeyes knocked off their second nationally ranked opponent in two weeks. And in a Big Ten that’s as hard to peg as any league in the country right now, the Hawkeyes look like a factor. I didn’t say contender. But the Hawkeyes prove the Big Ten doesn’t offer any easy victories. No pushovers in this conference (see Minnesota-Indiana, Northwestern-Michigan for further proof). For Michigan, this game just confirmed how much the Wolverines rely on Tim Hardaway Jr. He is 17-for-55 in the team’s four losses. The only way the Wolverines -- now 1-3 on the road -- will make a push toward the top of the Big Ten standings is if Hardaway is more consistent.

Oklahoma 82, No. 18 Kansas State 73
What we learned: Frank Martin was enraged after his team lost to an undefeated Baylor squad Tuesday at home. He preached defense in his postgame interviews. That was a major challenge for the Wildcats on Saturday, too. The Big 12’s eighth-ranked scoring defense allowed a Sooners team that lost its first three Big 12 games to shoot 55 percent from the field. K-State's performances against Mizzou and Baylor suggested the Wildcats deserve a spot among the Big 12’s elite. That’s not necessarily the case anymore, with the Wildcats having dropped three of their past four games. Their conference slate gets easier from here over the next few weeks, but the Cats will find themselves in vulnerable spots, especially on the road, if their defensive woes continue. That's now 3-8 in its past 11 Big 12 road games for KSU. After a strong debut, Lon Kruger’s squad fell hard (the Sooners had lost four of five entering Saturday’s game). But the Kansas State victory should be a major confidence booster for OU. The Sooners snapped a 14-game losing skid against ranked opponents.

The Mountain West Thriller

No. 22 San Diego State 69, No. 12 UNLV 67
What we learned: The Mountain West is going to make noise in March. The league’s top two squads, both nationally ranked, battled for 40 minutes in San Diego. This wasn’t a basketball game. It was a title fight. I wasn’t there, but it felt like a tournament game from my couch. This game had some of the best back-and-forth action I’ve seen all season. Neither team could pull away. Jamaal Franklin (team-high 24 points) tumbled over a photographer in the final seconds and hurt his ankle. But he returned to the floor moments later and scored the game-winning bucket. Steve Fisher continues to exceed expectations after losing Kawhi Leonard to the NBA draft and three other starters. The Rebels won’t beat the top squads in their league or the NCAA tournament if their two leading scorers, Chace Stanback (7 points, 3-of-9 shooting) and Mike Moser (9 points, 3-of-11), struggle in big games. But San Diego State is headed to Las Vegas on Feb. 11 for the rematch. Can’t wait to see that. This matchup wasn’t just a boost for the two teams on floor; it was a boost for the entire league. The Mountain West is tough. And don't forget about New Mexico, which won its 13th straight with a victory at Wyoming. The Aztecs and Lobos go at it Wednesday night.

Taking Care Of Business

No. 9 Missouri 84, Texas 73
What we learned: The Tigers aren’t conventional. They’re undersized in a league with a multitude of skilled bigs and they’re not very deep. But Frank Haith used seven players in his second consecutive victory since last week’s lopsided loss at Kansas State. Ricardo Ratliffe led the Tigers with 21 points (10-of-12). Marcus Denmon, who had six in a win at Iowa State on Wednesday, scored 18 against the Longhorns. Phil Pressey (18 points, 10 assists, 0 turnovers) continued his impressive play. Few teams possess the perimeter depth and skill to challenge Missouri’s talented backcourt for 40 minutes. J’Covan Brown scored 34 points for the Horns, matching the combined scoring tally for the team’s other four starters. But they couldn’t defend a Mizzou team that held a 43-30 edge at halftime and finished with four scorers in double figures. A week ago, folks questioned the Tigers' legitimacy. But they clearly have regained their mojo since the KSU loss and should pose a threat to any top-tier Big 12 team.

No. 20 Mississippi State 56, Alabama 52
What we learned: Alabama entered this game on a five-game winning streak. But Bama won’t beat most teams in the SEC by scoring 52 points. JaMychal Green (14 points) was the Crimson Tide's only double-digit scorer. The Bulldogs weren’t much better. However, Arnett Moultrie’s 25-point, 13-rebound output was the difference. The two teams combined to shoot 4-for-26 from the 3-point line, but Dee Bost was 3-for-3 from long range in the closing minutes and that was that. Man, the SEC is confusing. Kentucky is obviously the league’s best, but who are Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5? This was an opportunity for these squads to make a definitive statement about their places in the league. Didn’t really happen. I expected more from this one, but hey, Mississippi State will take the win.

Some more observations from Saturday

  • Baylor looked like a national champ in its 106-65 victory over Oklahoma State. No, the Cowboys aren’t an elite team. But the Bears shot 52 percent on 3-pointers (15-of-29) and had almost twice as many rebounds as OSU (48-25). Nine players scored for the Bears. Their depth is underrated, and it’s going to be a huge asset in March.
  • [+] EnlargeMaalik Wayns
    AP Photo/Al BehrmanMaalik Wayns, left, dropped 39 for Villanova in a loss at Cincinnati.
  • Iowa State blew a 12-point second-half lead and lost its second consecutive matchup against a ranked opponent in its 82-73 defeat at Kansas. But with Royce White (18 points, 17 rebounds), the Cyclones can win nine or more in the Big 12. By the way, a career-high 28 points out of Tyshawn Taylor should quiet a few of his critics.
  • Connecticut is such a different team when Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond are fully engaged. Drummond (10 points, 13 rebounds) and Oriakhi (12 points, 7 rebounds) were impressive in the Huskies’ 67-53 win at Notre Dame, ending the Irish's 29-game home win streak. The Huskies didn’t have Ryan Boatright, but they played like a complete team with their bigs being so active.
  • Pittsburgh played better Saturday but still lost at Marquette 62-57. The Panthers, the models of consistency over the past decade, have lost six straight and are 0-5 in the Big East. Holy cow. Let that one sink in.
  • His team lost once again in a close game at Cincinnati, but it's worth mentioning the effort by Villanova's Maalik Wayns, who had a line of 39 points (6-of-13 from 3), 13 rebounds and six assists, and put his struggling Wildcats in a position to win on the road.
  • Xavier has won three in a row, after topping St. Bonaventure 77-64. Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway combined to score 33 points in the victory. The Musketeers didn’t secure any signature wins during this mini-revival, but that doesn’t matter. X needed to get back to winning as it prepares for the Atlantic 10's toughest squads. Until someone in the conference knocks off the Musketeers at the Cintas Center (where they've beaten 42 consecutive A-10 opponents), this team is still the league favorite in my opinion.
  • Conference USA should be fun this season. Like Xavier, Memphis -- a decisive winner at Houston on Saturday night -- should still be considered the favorite until someone proves they can beat the Tigers on the road. But Marshall and UCF played a classic in a 65-64 Thundering Herd victory, and both could give Memphis trouble. Southern Miss is right in the mix as well.
  • Meanwhile, in the Mid-American Conference, Akron now has to be considered the favorite after a 68-63 victory over Ohio, which looked so solid in nonconfernece play but has faltered of late. The Zips have wins at Mississippi State and Marshall. If they make the NCAA tournament, look out.
  • Have to be impressed with the way Oregon swept the Arizona schools. Winning in Tempe is nothing to be overjoyed about, but winning in Tucson -- no matter how mediocre the Wildcats have been for most of the season -- is still special for any Pac-12 school. The Ducks are as good a bet as any to win this crazy league.
  • You know who won't win the Pac-12? The Ducks' rival, Oregon State. The Beavers have played great at times this season, but the bottom line is 1-5 in a down conference after a horrendous double-digit loss at Arizona State on Saturday.
  • You know who just might win the Pac-12? Stanford. The Cardinal now are 5-1 in the conference after a 20-point beatdown of Colorado, which began 3-0 (all at home) but got a rude awakening in the Bay Area by Cal and Stanford.
  • Gonzaga was shaky early Saturday night, but the Zags have to be happy with their 62-58 win at Loyola Marymount, a team that has knocked off UCLA and Saint Louis this season. Mark Few's team was absolutely humiliated at Saint Mary's on Thursday. A bounce-back victory was a must, and the Zags got it done.

Jackson helps keep Baylor undefeated

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
2:10
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DALLAS -- Forget the national-player-of-the-year candidate.

And don’t be overly concerned with the freshman who’s projected as an NBA lottery pick, or the veteran senior who scores half of his baskets on dunks.

Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy might form one of the most imposing frontcourts in the nation. But all week long, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury told his squad that stopping the trio wasn’t the key to beating the Baylor Bears.

Pierre Jackson is the key to their team,” Stansbury said. “He’s the guy that makes them go.”

It was certainly hard to argue that point Wednesday, when Jackson -- the Bears’ diminutive 5-foot-10 point guard -- came through for Baylor yet again.

With 22 seconds remaining, Jackson beat Bulldogs guard Dee Bost off the dribble and streaked through the lane for an uncontested layup that propelled the No. 7 Bears to a 54-52 victory over 14th-ranked Mississippi State at American Airlines Center.

At 13-0, Baylor is off to its best start in school history. The Bears are one of just four remaining undefeated teams in the country. Mississippi State fell to 12-2 after losing for the first time since Nov. 9.

“That was probably one of the toughest teams we’ll play all year,” said Jackson, who scored a game-high 14 points. “Our chemistry is really good right now. We’ve got to keep getting better.”

Wednesday wasn’t the first time that Jackson -- who earned national junior college player-of-the-year honors at the College of Southern Idaho last season -- has come through for Baylor in the clutch.

[+] EnlargePierre Jackson
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesPierre Jackson swoops in for Baylor's winning layup against Mississippi State.
He scored 23 points and hit a 3-pointer that forced overtime in last week’s victory over West Virginia, when he reeled off eight consecutive points during a stretch from late in the second half through the first 70 seconds of the extra period. And he blocked a game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer in Baylor’s 86-83 win at BYU on Dec. 17.

In short, Jackson and Boston College transfer Brady Heslip have completely reshaped a Baylor squad that missed the NCAA tournament last season because of a porous backcourt that, at times, could barely get the ball up the court. The twosome combined for 21 of the Bears’ 34 first-half points against MSU.

“Those two killed us,” Stansbury said. “Like I said, people can talk about Jones and those other guys all they want. But Jackson is the reason Baylor is so good.”

That’s not to say Jackson and the Bears are without flaws. Baylor found a way to win Wednesday despite turning in one of its sloppiest performances of the season.

The Bears shot just 21 percent after intermission and missed all eight of their 3-point attempts. Baylor also clanked three of its five foul shots in the final 3 minutes -- yet it managed to emerge victorious.

“When you can shoot 21 percent in the second half and still beat a top-15 team, it shows that you really defended and rebounded well,” BU coach Scott Drew said. “We weren’t very good rebounding early in the year. We made it a focus after the BYU game and we’ve improved.”

Indeed, Baylor outrebounded Mississippi State 40-32 and came up with some huge stops down the stretch. Moments before Jackson’s winning basket, the Bears forced Bost into a terrible shot against his momentum on the other end. The Bulldogs had a chance to tie or win after Jackson’s layup, but they couldn’t get a good look before Rodney Hood went up for a guarded jumper with 6 seconds left. Hood’s shot was blocked, and Jackson made a heady play by batting the ball toward the other end of the court as time expired.

“The toughest thing for young players is ... when you’re not scoring, you don’t want to play defense,” Drew said. “For us, to shoot 21 percent and still play defense shows a lot of [character]. I’m proud of our guys.”

The victory in Dallas -- Baylor’s first this season against a top-25 opponent -- could have long-reaching effects. Drew touted after the game that his team is the only one in the country with wins against six top-50 opponents, according to the Sagarin ratings.

“It’s a win that resonates on your resume throughout the rest of the season,” Drew said.

It should also do wonders for Baylor’s confidence, as the Bears likely won’t face many teams in the Big 12 as tough as the Bulldogs. No team in the league has as good of a frontcourt as Mississippi State’s tandem of Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie. Bost is regarded as one of the nation’s top point guards and Hood probably won’t be in school longer than two years before jumping to the NBA.

Baylor has plenty of future pros on its roster, too, but its biggest strength continues to be its depth. Jones and Acy combined for just 15 points on 6-of-20 shooting. But it didn’t matter thanks to players such as Jackson, Heslip and Miller, who had 12 points and 6 boards. Nine Baylor players saw at least seven minutes of action Wednesday, and seven of them played 19 minutes or more.

“We came down here and went nose-to-nose-to-nose with them,” Stansbury said. “We took a team averaging 80 points and held it to 54. It was a hell of a game. These were two pretty good teams. We’ll take a lot of positives from this and get better from it, and I’m sure Baylor will, too.”

Rapid Reaction: Baylor 54, Miss. State 52

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
11:25
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DALLAS -- Here are a few quick observations from Baylor's 54-52 victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday at American Airlines Arena in Dallas.

Overview: Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson scored a team-high 14 points -- including the game-winning layup with 22 seconds remaining. Quincy Miller added 12 points for the Bears, who are off to their best start ever at 13-0. Baylor trailed for nearly all of the second half -- but never by more than four points. The Bears outrebounded Mississippi State (38-31), an area that Scott Drew's team struggled in recent weeks. Renardo Sidney and Jalen Steele had 10 points each for Mississippi State, which lost for the first time since Nov. 9

Turning point: Baylor trailed for almost the entire second half before Jackson beat Dee Bost off the dribble for what proved to be the game-winning layup with 22 seconds remaining. The Bears also caught a huge break at the 1:35 mark, when Mississippi State's Sidney was whistled for a technical while arguing with an official who had just whistled him for his fifth personal foul. The Bears shot four free throws -- two for the fifth foul, two for the technical -- and made two of them to force a 52-52 tie. Bost missed a runner on the other end. Baylor rebounded and then Jackson made his heroic shot.

Star of the game: Jackson may have hit the winning shot, but Miller may have been the Bears' top all-around performer in a sloppy game. The freshman forward scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds in 25 minutes, an encouraging sign considering his recent struggles.

What the win means for Baylor: The Bears should be ecstatic about being one of four undefeated teams in the country. They've defeated some good teams and have earned the accolades that will come their way. Still, all teams strive to improve, so head coach Scott Drew should use Wednesday's game to address a handful of flaws that may have been masked by Baylor's successful start. Much like they did last season, the Bears play out of control at times. Jackson, in particular, took a ton of terrible shots in traffic against Mississippi State. Instead of trying to take the game over by himself, he needs to get better at sharing the ball and dishing off when he draws help defense. He's an incredible talent who has a knack for hitting huge shots, but he needs to develop some discipline. Drew also needs to let Miller play through his mistakes. He sat out way too long in the second half. He's simply too talented to keep on the bench. Drew also may want to consider tightening his rotation. Playing 10 to 12 guys early in the season is fine when you're trying to figure things out, but by now it may be better to go with a rotation of seven to eight guys. Brady Heslip sat way too many minutes in the second half. Still, none of that should diminish the magnitude of Wednesday's victory. No one can question the Bears' legitimacy now.

What the loss means for Mississippi State: There is no reason for the Bulldogs to hang their heads. They went toe-to-toe against a Final Four contender and could've easily won. If anything, Mississippi State should be encouraged. On a night when leading scorer Arnett Moultrie wasn't all that productive (eight points) the Bulldogs got huge contributions from secondary players such as Brian Bryant (eight points) and Steele (10). Aside from a silly technical foul in the waning minutes, Sidney turned in a strong performance, scoring 10 points and blocking two shots in just 19 minutes. His poor conditioning is still an issue, but Mississippi State doesn't lose much when Wendell Lewis subs for him. This is a deep, talented team that should finish no worse than third in the SEC. Rick Stansbury, who was under fire after a disappointing 2011-12 season, is doing a nice job.

Up next: Baylor opens Big 12 play Jan. 2 against Texas A&M in Waco. Mississippi State hosts Utah State on Saturday before opening SEC play Jan. 7 at Arkansas.

Tough Baylor hands BYU rare home loss

December, 17, 2011
12/17/11
6:59
PM ET


For one scary moment, Perry Jones III feared he was done for a long time.

Baylor's big man was writhing on the court in pain and wasn’t sure he could come back into the game, let alone how much of the season might be missed.

Jones had knocked knees with BYU’s Brandon Davies atop the perimeter on a drive with 1:26 left and his seventh-ranked Bears up 84-83. Without its star forward, Baylor looked like it might lose not only the game, but its shot at a glorious season.

“I was scared,’’ Jones told ESPN.com by phone Saturday. “I couldn’t move my leg on my own. I thought I tore something.’’

But Jones quickly made a decision while on the bench.

He wanted back in.

“I didn’t want to let my team down,’’ Jones said. “I just wanted to ignore the pain, get to the weak side and get the rebound. I was there at the right time.’’

Jones’ tip-in follow with 21 seconds left gave Baylor an 86-83 lead.

“That was huge,’’ BU coach Scott Drew said. “What was really special is that normally a player gets injured, limps around and doesn’t make the big play. He got the big play.’’

Brigham Young had one more chance to tie the game when Davies had a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But Pierre Jackson, a 5-foot-10 guard, came from the side and blocked the 6-9 forward’s shot.

“I was closest to him,’’ Jackson said after the Bears' 86-83 victory. “I know I can jump pretty high. I wanted to contest it but I happened to block it. It was a big block, and it saved the game for us.’’

Drew said Jackson is as athletic a player as Baylor has and that he wasn’t surprised Jackson found a way to block Davies’ shot.

Jones, a clear contender for All-America status and Big 12 player of the year, finished with a career-high 28 points and eight rebounds, while Jackson added 13 off the bench. Brady Heslip made six of 10 shots from beyond the arc and finished with 18 for the Bears.

Baylor hadn’t been tested yet this season, blowing out all its competition, even in the one previous road game at Northwestern.

[+] EnlargePerry Jones III
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireBaylor's Perry Jones III led all scorers with 28 points, adding eight rebounds and four assists.
So Drew wasn’t sure how his team would handle going into the Marriott Center, a notorious graveyard for BYU opponents.

“You’re not going to find a tougher atmosphere in college,’’ Drew said. “They were 48-2 in their last 50 games. This definitely gets us ready for Big 12 play and tells us a lot about our team. It showed we know how to execute at the end of games. Toughness is required to win on the road. We weren’t ready early on, and we got dominated on the glass.’’

The Cougars added UCLA transfer Matt Carlino for this game, and he tied Davies for the team lead with 18 points. But Baylor did have length, size and depth advantage in the frontcourt with BYU missing sixth man Stephen Rogers.

However, it was Cal transfer guard Gary Franklin who played a key role Saturday. He made two 3s in 12 minutes, but Drew said Franklin’s defense was just as crucial.

“Normally you like to bring in a player that you add midseason for a home game,’’ Drew said. “But he was tremendous. He guarded very well.’’

It's pretty clear the Bears are more than capable of competing for the Big 12 title and a deep run in March, possibly long enough to get to New Orleans.

But there still are some potholes ahead. Baylor plays Saint Mary’s and West Virginia in Las Vegas next week, and then squares off with Mississippi State on Dec. 28 in Dallas.

The length of Arnett Moultrie and size of Renardo Sidney will certainly test Jones, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy, while Heslip, Franklin, Jackson and A.J. Walton will have their hands full with Dee Bost and Rodney Hood.

So plenty of tests remain for the unbeaten Bears. But one of the biggest of all was passed in Provo.

“We got through the adversity together,’’ Jones said. “We just have to play smarter and play better together.’’

Conference Power Rankings: SEC

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
10:30
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Based on results and not preseason expectations, here's my attempt at ranking the SEC teams one month into the season:

1. Kentucky: The Wildcats played the toughest nonconference game to date and beat North Carolina on a buzzer-beating blocked shot. UK has the most talent in the league and will be the team to chase throughout the season. Nothing will change that going forward.

2. Florida: The Gators lost on the road in two places (Ohio State, Syracuse) where most teams will fall this season. Wednesday's OT victory against Arizona was a must-win for this team. Having Patric Young score 25 points is a good sign the Gators will keep getting better.

3. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have the most intriguing frontline in Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sindey. Dee Bost continues to be a steadying force for MSU, which seems to have righted itself since the home loss to Akron. This has the look of an NCAA team.

4. Vanderbilt: The Commodores have played the toughest schedule of any SEC team so far, but the Dores blew leads against Xavier at home and at Louisville. Getting Festus Ezeli back in a road win at Davidson means Vandy can start its season anew. This is still a team with a chance to go far in March.

5. Alabama: The Crimson Tide lost at home to surging Georgetown and on the road to an erratic Dayton. Bama is still an NCAA-type team, but the Tide need to find some consistency before they hit the SEC season. The ceiling is still high for this crew.

6. Ole Miss: The Rebels squeezed out a win at DePaul when Murphy Holloway came through in the clutch. But that win and the one at Penn State aren't exactly jaw-droppers. The Rebs have a formidable frontcourt, but the guard play has to improve.

7. Arkansas: The Razorbacks lost Marshawn Powell for the season, but still showed they had plenty of fight in a loss at Connecticut. Mike Anderson has this team highly competitive with a chance for postseason play.

8. LSU: The Tigers have climbed up into the top eight after winning two in a row on the road, at Houston and at Rutgers. The rebuilding job by Trent Johnson might be turning a bit of a corner. A game against Marquette is still on the horizon, which could humble the Tigers.

9. Tennessee: The Vols have lost four of their past five, but Tennessee did show it can hang and play with passion and purpose in losing to Duke and Pitt in close ones, and to Memphis in double overtime in Maui. A soft part of the schedule is coming up. UT needs to take advantage.

10. Georgia: The Bulldogs have hit a skid in the schedule by losing five of their past six, all against power-six schools (no softies here). Georgia needs a win badly and might get one at USC on Dec. 17.

11. South Carolina: The Gamecocks were looking like one of the worst teams in any major conference early in the season (with losses to Elon and Tennessee State), but the win at rival Clemson keeps them out of the SEC basement. The problem is that Ohio State comes calling on Dec. 17. Uh-oh.

12. Auburn: The Tigers (4-1) have a better overall record than LSU, Tennessee, South Carolina or Georgia, but the four wins were against low-majors. The one time the Tigers played a power-six school they lost badly at Seton Hall. So judging is still incomplete with the Tigers.

Birthday boy Arnett Moultrie eats up Zona

November, 18, 2011
11/18/11
10:26
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NEW YORK -- The night before the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer title game, Meo Stansbury had an important assignment for her husband, Rick.

She needed him to broker a taste test. Friday was Arnett Moultrie's 21st birthday and Mrs. Stansbury wanted to make sure she chose the exact right cookie to celebrate.

“Well I liked all three,’’ Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “But I told him he wasn’t getting any cookies until after the game was over.’’

In the end, Moultrie chose chocolate chip. Nothing fancy, nothing exotic, just good.

Sort of like Moultrie.

The Mississippi State forward will not stun you with his flash. He won’t overpower you with his finesse.

He will just beat you down.

Usually it’s on the boards. But on his birthday, Moultrie offered up a special treat, a double-double beatdown of 19 points and 10 rebounds that lifted Mississippi State to a 67-57 victory over No. 16 Arizona, securing the program's first in-season tourney title in more than decade.

Moultrie, who had eight points and eight boards against 18th-ranked Texas A&M on Thursday, took home a nice little birthday souvenir from New York -- tournament MVP honors.

[+] EnlargeArnett Moultrie
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIOn his 21st birthday, Mississippi State's Arnett Moultrie dropped 19 points and 10 rebounds on Arizona.
“It’s an amazing feeling,’’ Moultrie said. “The Garden is the biggest stage you can play on.’’

The beauty of Moultrie, though, is that he’s more than happy being a supporting cast member. He is Dennis Rodman without the makeup and the look-at-me-me-me, a voracious rebounder who has not just an instinct for the ball but an insatiable desire to go get it.

In five games this season, Moultrie has pulled down double-digit boards all but once and is averaging a ridiculous 11.2 rebounds a game.

And on a team full of stars, some of them star-crossed, that makes him the perfect complement and antidote for the Bulldogs.

A year ago, Mississippi State was known more for its off-court drama than its on-court success. Moultrie presents a steadying influence and the sort of selflessness the Bullies need.

“I don’t know how many nights he’s going to be our leading scorer, but I do know that one thing he’s going to bring every night is an energy to go rebound that basketball,’’ Stansbury said. “Not many guys have that. You tell a guy to go get that ball and he doesn’t want to hear it. Arnett wants to hear it.’’

Moultrie came to Mississippi State from UTEP, transferring out of El Paso after his coach, Tony Barbee, moved on to Auburn. A big pickup, he still existed in the shadow of the enigmatic talent of Renardo Sidney.

Now he and Sidney combine for a formidable pair in the paint. Mississippi State didn’t command the boards entirely -- it outrebounded Arizona by only five -- but it controlled the paint. The Bulldogs outscored the Wildcats 38-24 there.

Moultrie and Sidney (8 points) scored themselves, but their presence also cleared the lane for their guards to drive and score or drive and dish.

“Their two big guys are enormous,’’ Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “But Arnett, in particular, was the difference in this game.’’

The big question, of course, is what does this all mean for Mississippi State? This long has been a team stuffed with talent -- Sidney and Dee Bost, on paper, should be one of the more formidable inside-outside pairs in the country.

Except it’s never quite panned out, as the team has been done in by infighting, suspensions and Sidney’s wishy-washy commitment.

Five games and two strong ones in New York do not a season make, but all signs right now point to an MSU team that needs to be added to the SEC conversation -- provided the Bulldogs can maintain it.

Mississippi State started 7-2 a year ago before skidding through a 1-5 stretch.

“Everyone wants to win,’’ Bost said. “That’s all that’s on anyone’s mind.’’

Well, that and celebratory cookies.

Rapid Reaction: MSU 69, Texas A&M 60

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
9:54
PM ET

NEW YORK -- A quick take on Mississippi State's 69-60 victory over No. 18 Texas A&M at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

What it means: The Bulldogs improve to 3-1 on the season, and earn a spot in Friday night's championship game of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. The Aggies (2-1) suffer their first loss of the season.

The skinny: Mississippi State played a ferocious first 10 minutes, sprinting out to a 31-9 lead midway through the first half. But then the Bulldogs seemed to relax, and the Aggies worked their way back into the game, trailing 41-32 at intermission. Eight players appeared for Mississippi State in the first half, and all eight scored.

The Bulldogs began the second half on a 7-0 run to expand the lead back to 16, and never were in serious danger from there. The Aggies finally cut it to single digits at 58-50 with 4:28 to play -- but they never got closer than that.

Team effort: Mississippi State was led by senior guards Dee Bost (20 points) and Brian Bryant (12). Freshman swingman Rodney Hood added 10, and two other players chipped in 8. Talented 6-foot-10 junior Renardo Sidney was 0-for-9 from the field, finishing with just 3 points and 6 rebounds.

Junior guard Elston Turner had 13 points to lead Texas A&M.

Hard to believe: Mississippi State shot just 10-for-30 (30 percent) in the second half, yet was never really challenged. For the first 10 minutes of the game, the Bulldogs looked like the best team in the country; they were mediocre at best after that.

What's next: Mississippi State will take on No. 16 Arizona, the winner of the second semifinal, in the championship game Friday at 6:30 p.m. Texas A&M will play St. John's in the consolation game at 4:30 p.m. ESPN2 will televise both games.

Dee Bost tweets up a Midnight Madness

September, 29, 2011
9/29/11
3:09
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Mississippi State made the announcement Wednesday that the inaugural Maroon Madness event would take place for the school's men's and women's basketball teams, featuring scrimmages, 3-point contests and a chance to get excited about the Bulldogs.

Fans getting to attend the free showcase have senior guard Dee Bost's Twitter campaign to thank for helping to spur the school to set up the event for the first time.

On Sept. 19, Bost tweeted: "Some of y'all convince COACH STANSBURY to let us have a midnight madness, bc it's gone b live!!!"

Nine days later, athletic director Scott Stricklin announced the Midnight Madness event had become official and gave credit where it was due, tweeting, "@De_Bost3 you make things happen."

Officially, Mississippi State was in the planning stages for a Madness shindig before Bost waged a more public campaign.

But it had to have been a welcome sight for the Bulldogs to see Twitter put to good use after coach Rick Stansbury banned his players from using it last year. Inflammatory tweets led to leading scorer Ravern Johnson being suspended last season and the dismissal last month of top-100 recruit D.J. Gardner, who has since landed at a junior college.

Now, following one tweet controversy after another, at long last, Stansbury himself has joined Twitter after being convinced of its merits (or monitoring capabilities).

Twitter has brought one momentous occasion with the formation of a Midnight Madness, and Stansbury's first tweet will be another.

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