College Basketball Nation: Rick Stansbury

Ranking the coaching jobs: SEC

June, 6, 2012
6/06/12
11:20
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It's Coaches Week on ESPN.com and today we're going conference by conference to rank the best and worst coaching jobs, as voted on by 14 of our writers and television analysts.

A few important notes: This is not an attempt to rank the programs or their histories. A school's tradition was taken into account of course, but more emphasis was given to recent years and how hard or easy it is for a new coach to win there. Current recruits don't remember much beyond, what, 2008?

When voting, our 14 panelists were asked to take into consideration facilities, expectation level, athletic budget, wins and losses, recruiting base, fan support/pressure and all of the other factors that go into determining the "best" jobs in the ever-crazy profession of college basketball coaching.

In short: If you were an agent and every single job was open in a particular conference, where would you direct your client? Where would you tell him to avoid if there are better options?

There's no right or wrong answer of course. These rankings are very much up for debate and we're sure you'll do so in the comments section. But at the very least, this polling of 14 people clued into the inner workings of college basketball offers a glimpse into how the coaching position at your favorite school is perceived on the national scene.

Full breakdowns of the rest of the Big Six conferences can be found here: ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12.

(Editor's Note: Realignment makes the college landscape a confusing one these days, but for the purposes of this poll, panelists were asked to vote based on what each conference would look like for the 2012-13 season.)

1. Kentucky: No school in the country has as loyal and passionate a fan base -- the Big Blue fans will camp out for practice. Kentucky’s job pays as much if not more than any other job in the country. Local talent in the state isn’t an issue since UK recruits nationally. There have been blips in recruiting, but that was on the coach, not on the school. If the right coach is in place, Kentucky can and should be in contention for any player it wants, regardless of locale. Rupp Arena could use some more frills (and will get plenty in the near future), but it has history and is as loud as any arena. The Joe Craft Center is a top-notch practice facility. And the Wildcats are coveted by tournaments and television executives looking for a ratings winner.

2. Florida: Billy Donovan has made UF the second-best job in the SEC. Florida has always been a solid destination for recruits. There is talent in the region, but the Gators can and do recruit nationally. The school is a big-time draw with its football program a national name. The fan base gets up for big games and the O-Dome can get rocking for special opponents. Athletic director Jeremy Foley is easily one of the most respected administrators in the country. He takes care of his own and rewarded Donovan with one of the richest contracts in the country after his two national titles. The Gators have their own practice facility that is more than enough for their needs. Expect Florida, coming off back-to-back Elite Eight appearances, to remain a national program.

3. Missouri: The Tigers immediately leap into the top three in the SEC. The fan base is passionate and Mizzou Arena will be one of the toughest places to play in the SEC. The salary structure at Missouri can be an issue due to the budget constraints at the school. You’re not going to see Mizzou outbid other schools for a coach. The Tigers will never be able to compete with Kentucky and Florida in salaries, but the facilities can match the two schools. Mizzou is also in a hot recruiting territory with the ability to draw from St. Louis to Chicago to the Southeast, as well as Texas.

4. Tennessee: The Vols have traditionally been able to recruit, but talent-rich Memphis is six hours away from Knoxville and the Tigers are an institution there, so that can be a tough nut to crack. Thompson-Boling Arena was remodeled a few years ago and has the look of an NBA facility -- and the surge in fan interest that began under Bruce Pearl has continued as the Vols were again among the nation's leaders in attendance during Cuonzo Martin's first season. The athletic programs at Tennessee are usually high end, but it's been a rough go lately. Still, the commitment to winning in men’s basketball is much more apparent at UT than it was before this past decade. This has become a solid job.

5. Arkansas: The Razorbacks have a rich talent area that it can draw from in the region. Arkansas also has as rich a basketball tradition of any program in the SEC outside of Kentucky. The fan base, when there is a worthy product on the floor, can be as passionate as any in the country -- their traveling party in the 90s was truly a sight to see. Bud Walton Arena gives Arkansas one of the toughest homecourts in the country, let alone in the SEC. Arkansas has also been willing to pay its coaches well. This should always be a top-five job in this conference.

6. Vanderbilt: Vandy is one of the few schools in the conference where basketball is a high priority. The high academic standards does mean recruiting is a little trickier, but it also ensures the Commodores remains unique. Getting talent to Vanderbilt, which recruits nationally, hasn’t ever really been an issue. Memorial Gym may be quirky, but it also can be a nuisance to opposing teams. The fan base has been superb in creating a chaotic atmosphere. Salaries are competitive, but never going to be elite in the SEC.

7. Georgia: The talent in the region has been there for years, but the competition for it has always been intense. Getting players to stay in Georgia is a tough sell with so many options. Basketball has had its moments in Athens, but it’s never going to be No. 1. The facilities aren’t top-notch in comparison to the rest of the league, either. Salaries are competitive, but never going to be in the upper echelon. UGA will have its moments of success, but expecting the Bulldogs to be an NCAA tournament team on a regular basis is unrealistic.

8. LSU: Getting players in the area to come to Baton Rouge hasn’t been much of a problem. Louisiana has plenty of players for LSU and others (see: the 2006 Final Four team). But basketball is always going to be playing a deep second in the athletic department. LSU had its run under Dale Brown and had a few runs of success since. Alum Johnny Jones will attempt to rekindle that era, but he’s going to be at a program where modest success should be celebrated not scorned.

9. Texas A&M: The Aggies were brutal as a basketball destination until Billy Gillispie helped revitalize the program with Mark Turgeon continuing to make the Aggies relevant as an NCAA team. Now Billy Kennedy has to do the same in the SEC. The arena upgrade was a must and if the fans continue to support this program at a high level then this job has a chance to climb a lot higher than No. 9 in this league. The fan base is more committed to the program than some of the others mentioned above. Texas is a feeder ground for plenty of programs and the Aggies should be able to get their share. If you’re looking for a program and job that could become more coveted in the future in the SEC, this could be this one.

10. Alabama: The Crimson Tide have the program of record in the SEC -- in football. The basketball program has been dwarfed for years by its big brother in pads, and rightfully so. Alabama fans tend to pay attention to the sport in the time wedge between the last bowl game and spring football. That puts even more pressure on Alabama to be relevant during those months. Getting talent to Tuscaloosa hasn’t been an issue. Salaries have improved, but aren’t going to be at the top in the SEC. The facility has never been a home run, but it has improved over the years.

11. Mississippi State: MSU is one of the few schools in the bottom part of this list where basketball is very much relevant. Football has had its time in the spotlight but the basketball program has been successful enough, and certainly newsworthy, to generate interest. The Bulldogs haven’t had any problems securing NBA-level talent. And the Hump can be one of the loudest arenas in the league. The problem is the salaries are never going to be too high in Starkville and the perception of one of the smallest and more remote college towns can push this job down a few notches. Mississippi State had trouble replacing Rick Stansbury with a comparable head coach. The Bulldogs went for an assistant in Rick Ray. He may turn out to be a huge hit, but he was an obscure choice for what had become a consistent winner in the SEC.

12. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have gone through a revolving door of sorts, trying to settle on a longtime head coach to ensure the program matters nationally, let alone in the SEC. South Carolina is football-first. The facilities are improving and so are the salaries. There is a renewed commitment. Frank Martin wouldn’t have left Kansas State if he couldn’t make more money the way he did this spring. But luring talent to Columbia has never been an easy chore. The Gamecocks, who haven't won an NCAA tournament game since 1973 (how crazy is that?), have a way to go to become one of the best jobs in the league.

13. Auburn: The Tigers have had a few moments of relevance since their run of success in the mid-80s -- with an emphasis on the word few. Building a new arena was a major commitment upgrade and likely prevented Auburn from finishing last in voting. But the fans haven’t been flocking so far. They need a winner. Tony Barbee is recruiting well, but he has his work cut out for him to pack the arena and ensure that Auburn becomes one of the better jobs in the SEC.

14. Ole Miss: The Rebels play in what has never been a beloved arena. The Tad Pad is basically a dump. The state of Mississippi produces plenty of talent, but keeping and luring elite, NBA-level talent has always been an issue. Salaries for the coaches aren’t close to the top of this league. And as a result winning has been extremely difficult on a consistent basis. Ole Miss hasn't been dancing since 2002, the longest drought in the conference.

-- Team blurbs written by Andy Katz

So, about Mississippi State

April, 9, 2012
4/09/12
10:30
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There are rebuilding programs, and then there's this.

That's the immediate and obvious reaction I had when reading the latest out of Starkville, Miss. Sunday night, just after whatever it was that happened on "Mad Men." (To be honest, I'm not really sure. I'm a couple of episodes behind, and I spent most of the night ducking Twitter's all-hours spoiler routine.) Indeed, it went from bad to worse at Mississippi State: Freshman guard Rodney Hood is transferring out of the program, newly appointed head coach Rick Ray announced in a statement:
"Obviously, we are disappointed in Rodney's decision," Ray said. "I was looking forward to getting a chance to develop and coach him. This decision, unfortunately, was made before my hire. The Hoods were forthright and honest about where they were when I met with them, and I appreciate their honesty.

"I look forward to putting together a team with the current members, rolling up our sleeves and recruiting new Bulldogs."
At least Ray isn't sugar-coating it. Because right now, there aren't many Bulldogs to speak of.

That's meant as no offense to Jalen Steele and Wendell Lewis -- who immediately become the Bulldogs' leading returners in points (12.5, combined) and minutes (44.8, again combined) per game. Both Steele and Lewis proved themselves in 2012 as completely competent Division-I men's basketball players. And there are a couple of freshman, most notably DeVille Smith, in the program right now. So, you know, there's that. (Update: DeVille Smith left the program in late March, so nevermind that part.)

But the exodus of talent has been breathtaking to behold. Arnett Moultrie, gone. Dee Bost, gone. Renardo Sidney, gone in a blaze of glory:
"So, I was thinking, he’s going to sit me out until about four or five minutes left in the second half. I still didn’t get in the game. There were two overtimes. He turned his back on me, so after the game I just left. I said I was out, meaning I was not going back to the school or playing for Mississippi State."

Anyway, now Hood, a 6-foot-8 SEC all-freshman team member and a top-40 player in his ESPNU recruiting class, who managed to average 10.3 points and 4.8 rebounds despite playing in the vortex of bad vibes that was Starkville last season, has wisely seen that the program is in a relative shambles and has decided to ply his trade somewhere less bombed out and depleted. And can you blame him? Of course not. This is, unfortunately, where Mississippi State is. Rick Stansbury is gone, the players who formed the backbone (ahem) of what could have been an excellent team in 2011-12 have fallen away, and what is left is Rick Ray's elbow grease and pluck.

Really, let's wish him the best of luck. It's going to be a long offseason -- and, barring a relative miracle, an even longer 2012-13.

(Oh, and hi there. My mini post-Final Four blog siesta is over. Welcome to the offseason, everyone. Let's see if we can't keep ourselves entertained over the next few months, huh?)
1. The Ivy League is once again discussing whether it is prudent to have a conference tournament. What may be more pressing is to have a set plan for a playoff. Ivy commissioner Robin Harris said she can see the push for a possible playoff as the league continues to get better. I don’t think the Ivy should have a playoff. The Ivy needs to have its best teams represented. Check the Sun Belt where Middle Tennessee State would have given a better effort than Western Kentucky. The Ivy coaches want a tournament, the ADs are mixed. But it’s the presidents' call.

2. Rick Stansbury’s “retirement" shouldn’t come as a shock as a change was likely to happen at Mississippi State. Stansbury could have been out last year after that train wreck (handling of Renardo Sidney, schedule) of a season. The Bulldogs seemed to have righted themselves this season with the early play of UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie. But from afar it appeared Stansbury had lost this group. A new voice was probably needed in Starkville. But this job will get increasingly difficult with the additions of Missouri and Texas A&M in the SEC, two schools that can affect recruiting adversely for Mississippi State.

3. UAB coach Mike Davis won’t know his fate until next week when he meets with the athletic director. But there are ominous signs. Why? He did make the NCAA tournament last season, didn’t he? These jobs in leagues like the hybrid MWC-CUSA aren’t easy and changing coaches too often isn’t a recipe for success.
Say this for the NCAA: When it expanded the tournament to 68 teams, it accomplished at least one thing.

It made your argument invalid.

Once the province of outrage and disgust, the post-tournament bracket digestion process has become downright serene. It was difficult to gin up much outrage over 2011's tournament "snubs," and you'll have to stretch even harder to get there in 2012. This bubble was soft. It was really, really soft.

The opportunities were there. If your favorite high-major team didn't make the tournament, it's probably because it missed numerous chances for big wins. If your mid-major squad didn't get in, it's probably because its league was bad and it didn't prove anything outside conference play. If you're from the Pac-12 ... well, again: Nicolas Cage's hair is a bird, and your argument is invalid.

It's hard to feel much sympathy for any of these teams. If your team was good, it would have gotten in the field. If it didn't, it wasn't. Simple enough.

That said, the bubble is always a matter of relativity. And relatively speaking, a handful of teams will be able to lodge legitimate complaints against the 2012 NCAA tournament selection committee. These are their stories:

Drexel Dragons (27-6, 16-2 CAA; RPI: 64; SOS: 248)

What the committee would say: We liked Drexel's dominance in the Colonial -- we couldn't easily discount a team that won 25 of its final 27 games -- but whom did Drexel beat, exactly? The Colonial was down this season. No one in the league got a good nonconference win. Drexel got both VCU and George Mason at home (and didn't have to go on the road), and its atrocious scheduling numbers put a major dent in all those wins. Drexel was good in the CAA tournament final, but so were a lot of teams, and we don't look at margin of victory. We wish we could put them in, but we just can't do it.

What fans would say: Dudes. Dudes! Put down the nitty-gritty sheets, toss aside your dumb schedule-strength metrics and RPI nonsense, briefly come up for air, and then ask yourself: What bubble team played better basketball in the final two months of the season than Drexel? Just because the Dragons can't get the same number of games against top-50 teams doesn't mean you shouldn't reward them for beating the teams on their schedule. Sure, the entire body of work matters, but what about the win at Cleveland State? What about that 25-2 record since early December? (25-2!) Plus, the only bad losses this team took all happened four months ago. Strength of schedule is a joke, and so are you.

Also ... you put in Iona and not Drexel? What? How does that make any sense? Explain yourselves! (You can't. Ugh.)

Mississippi State Bulldogs (21-11, 8-8 SEC; RPI: 73; SOS: 87)

What the committee would say: We care about the entire body of work. We really do. But we also reserve the right to evaluate a team as it currently is, not as it was earlier in the season, and the bottom line is this: The Bulldogs collapsed down the stretch. MSU lost six of its final eight games, including two games to Georgia, one to LSU and one to Auburn. We watch teams play, and when we watched Rick Stansbury's, we saw a disjointed, disinterested bunch who looked ripe for early upset. Besides, it's not like the body of work is overwhelming. MSU has two good wins -- over Alabama and at Vanderbilt -- and really not much else. And that 73 RPI? Yeah, that's not good.

What the fans would say: Oh ... it ... we ... we have no response. That was perfect.

Washington Huskies (21-10, 14-4 Pac-12; RPI: 70; SOS: 94)

What the committee would say: This team went 7-6 in the nonconference, and its best win came at home against UC-Santa Barbara. Its best overall win came against either Oregon or Arizona. It lost by 19 at home to South Dakota State. Sure, it won its league, but so what? The Pac-12 went 1-29 in nonconference play against the RPI top 50 this season, and if Washington was so good -- or at least as good as its obvious talent -- it would have dominated that league and made an emphatic statement in the Pac-12 tourney. Instead, it lost to Oregon State. No sympathy here.

What fans would say: East Coast bias! OK, maybe not: We admit the Pac-12 was really bad. But UW did win the league, and no power-conference regular-season champion has ever missed the NCAA tournament. Plus, before you go ripping on UW's nonconference performance, please account for the fact that it narrowly lost to Duke and Marquette in a matter of days on the East Coast in early December. If you've seen this team play, you know it can make a deep tournament run. Isn't that worth something? (Answer: No. But UW fans seem to keep making this argument anyway.)

Seton Hall Pirates (20-12, 8-10 Big East; RPI: 61; SOS: 57)

What the committee would say: Seton Hall had as many chances as any bubble team in the country to get the wins it needed to impress us. With just minimal exception, the Pirates didn't. Sure, they crushed Georgetown on Feb. 21, but that win came in the midst of a 5-10 overall finish and was mixed in with missed opportunities against beatable opportunities like Notre Dame, Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati. Throw that in with a nonconference schedule that included a loss to Northwestern and no good wins, and the impression remains: The Pirates had a decent season, but they just didn't do enough.

What the fans would say: Few bubble teams have even one RPI top-50 win. Seton Hall has four. It also won at Dayton and beat West Virginia, which, OK, that's not crazy impressive, but no one's arguing the Pirates should be a single-digit seed -- just that they're more deserving than most of the bubble for one of those last at-large spots.

Northwestern Wildcats (18-13, 8-10 Big Ten; RPI: 59; SOS: 15)

What the committee would say: How many opportunities do you need? You got 11 cracks at top-50 wins. You won one of them. That's really all you need to know. We respect the strength of schedule, but it had more to do with your conference than your nonconference, and your chief nonconference wins came over Seton Hall and LSU. OK? Bottom line: Northwestern proved it was a very average team that could beat the teams it was supposed to beat but couldn't get over the hump against the kind of teams you need to beat to prove you belong. We feel for you, Northwestern fans, but you really didn't belong.

What the fans would say: [Play Morrissey's "How Soon Is Now?", throw remote control across the wall, decide to stop caring about basketball forever.]
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."

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.

Birthday boy Arnett Moultrie eats up Zona

November, 18, 2011
11/18/11
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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.
NEW YORK -- Mississippi State and "potential" have been synonymous in recent years.

Only problem? The Bulldogs have been unable to live up to expectations.

Then you witness a game like Thursday's 69-60 victory over No. 18 Texas A&M, a co-favorite in the Big 12, and that word starts popping into your head again. Could this be the season the Bulldogs put it all together? Could the potential finally be realized?

Well, it's just one game, but it sure was an impressive one at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.

[+] EnlargeRenardo Sidney
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireJunior Renardo Sidney (1) is a key member of Mississippi State's space-eating frontcourt.
The Aggies didn’t have their best player, Khris Middleton, who is out with a knee injury for a few more weeks. But Mississippi State dominated this game from start to finish. The Bulldogs proved they can get to the basket with a veteran lead guard in Dee Bost (20 points), take up plenty of space inside with the trio of Arnett Moultrie, Renardo Sidney and Wendell Lewis, and get quality play from role players like Rodney Hood (a pair of 3s) and Deville Smith (8 points).

Dare we say that this MSU team has loads of potential that could be met?

Sure, the Bulldogs lost at home to Akron, a legitimate contender in the MAC. But the difference is that a year ago that loss would have been compounded by poor play instead of a improved performance.

“The one thing that we’ve had all summer and all fall is that this team plays hard,’’ Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “We weren’t going to make excuses [with the Akron loss]. But that wasn’t us.’’

Sidney, who missed State's previous game against South Alabama due to a groin injury, was 0-for-8 against the Ags, but did convert three free throws. He also had two steals and a block. He was active throughout his 22 minutes, even if he wasn’t productive offensively.

“Sidney isn’t close to his ceiling,’’ Stansbury said. “He’ll finish six of those eight [in the future].’’

Smith had been out earlier in the season with headaches. He has steadily been worked back into the lineup and has been a game-changer for the Bulldogs. His arrival means Bost can play more off the ball and become even more effective.

Look, Kentucky is an overwhelming SEC favorite. Florida should be next. Vanderbilt, once Festus Ezeli returns, must be in the mix as well. Alabama has a veteran squad and is a legit top-20 team. Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said he has his best frontline since he’s been in Oxford.

But the Bulldogs have to be in the discussion.

“We’re versatile enough,’’ Stansbury said. “What I like is that we were 19-of-31 at the free-throw line. It’s a good stat on the road to make more free throws than the other team attempts (14). We did that against a good, physical A&M team.’’

The Bulldogs have been an enigmatic bunch. They tend to be all over the place in the nonconference and then rally in the SEC to be a thorn in everyone's side. But there is hope that if Sidney and Moultrie can play together and produce in the low post, if Smith continues to get quality minutes and Bost continues to get his buckets, then the Bulldogs will be a tough out for anyone on the schedule.

That includes 16th-ranked Arizona on Friday night.

MSU has good news about Renardo Sidney

October, 13, 2011
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Mississippi State's Renardo Sidney hasn't had the easiest college career thus far. There's been an NCAA suspension, a suspension for sparring with a teammate, and an overseas preseason tour he wasn't allowed to make this summer. Those have all been warning signs for a 6-foot-10, 280-pound forward who still has hopes of living up to his hype coming out of high school.

But the Bulldogs do have positive reports from this offseason as well, as coach Rick Stansbury is making it known that Sidney has for the first time managed to finish conditioning drills despite his weight issues, according to The Clarion-Ledger.
"That doesn't mean he was winning every race," said Stansbury, "but he made it through it. For him, that’s a step in the right direction. We've just got to keep stepping the right way and not step back."
More importantly, "he’s been a good teammate," Stansbury said.
"The team has handled him very well," said Stansbury, who added that the attitude of his core group of players is much better than last season’s group.

We'll have to see how this translates on the court once the games get going, but the comments from Stansbury have to be a welcome respite from the torrent of negativity that has defined Sidney's stay in Starksville thus far. Stansbury also spoke to Sidney's maturity level, according to the paper.
"We haven’t had any blow ups," Stansbury said. "Call it maturity, call it whatever you want to call it; that's what we want. I don't care what you call it. That's what we expect and need from him."

So far, so good from Sidney. The program can only hope it stays that way for the long haul.

Dee Bost tweets up a Midnight Madness

September, 29, 2011
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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.

Twitter strikes again at Mississippi State

August, 26, 2011
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Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury banned the team's use of Twitter last season after Ravern Johnson complained about his role on the team. That earned the Bulldogs' leading scorer a two-game suspension. In a statement, Stansbury explained that "some young men just don’t understand once they put something out there for everyone to see, there is no taking it back."

Now Twitter has cost freshman D.J. Gardner, an ESPNU Top 100 recruit, his Mississippi State career. Stansbury dismissed the 6-foot-7 guard the day after he announced Gardner would be redshirted. Gardner responded by tweeting profanity-laced remarks.

[+] EnlargeRick Stansbury
Kelly Lambert/US PresswireAnother one of Rick Stansbury's players is in trouble after lashing out via Twitter.
But while Gardner's tweets might have crossed the line, they also showed his deep frustrations with the Mississippi State program before he even played a single game.

His mother told The Clarion-Ledger that it was Gardner's idea to redshirt the season, but that he didn't believe it was decided upon until Stansbury announced it to the media Thursday.
"I was told no decision would be made until November about D.J. being redshirted," Angela Gardner told The Clarion-Ledger. "Imagine my surprise when I saw it come across Channel 9 news."

Angela Gardner said her son was lied to during the recruiting process earlier this year, when he was told by coaches he would see significant playing time this season. Upon learning he would be part of a three-man rotation at shooting guard, D.J. Gardner approached the coaching staff and asked for a redshirt year, she said.

"It's like they sold him a dream," she said.

So while Gardner might have made a poor decision in using a public forum to air his grievances, it appears Mississippi State might need to improve the way it communicates as well.

Johnson's critical tweet last February appeared to question why his coaches couldn't put him in a better position to show off his talents on offense. Then teammate Renardo Sidney retweeted it, causing many to wonder about the respect level the two players had for Stansbury.

On Thursday, Stansbury's interview featured a couple of cases of miscommunication. The coach insisted to reporters that it was his decision to have Sidney work out in Houston rather than it be the player deciding not to accompany the team to Europe. Sidney had received criticism for what appeared to be his own decision, and that storyline was allowed to go on for weeks before Stansbury corrected reporters and then was vague about why he decided Sidney shouldn't travel with the team.

Now the Gardner issue appears to be getting messy as well because the player didn't think a decision had yet been made on redshirting at the moment Stansbury announced it.

So while Mississippi State players are using Twitter to get their points across harshly, there remains the question as to why they are unhappy in the first place.

An over-the-top tweet, after all, isn't the only questionable mode of communication that has led to problems at Mississippi State.

Renardo Sidney situation remains a mystery

August, 25, 2011
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Why didn't Renardo Sidney accompany Mississippi State on its tour of Europe earlier this month?

The understanding had been that Sidney made the decision himself to go to Houston to train with John Lucas in preparation for the coming season rather than spend the time with his team.

[+] EnlargeRenardo Sidney
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisAccording to Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, Renardo Sidney did not travel with the team to Europe because he needed to "fulfill obligations."
But today, in a series of confusing statements, Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury insisted to reporters that it was his own decision to send the 6-foot-10, 280-pound forward to Houston rather than have him travel to Europe.

From The Clarion-Ledger:
"Let's make sure to get this clear: it was not his decision to go to Houston," Stansbury said. "Everybody understand that. I made that decision, nobody else made that decision. I made the decision, OK? That's where that is and, again, would I have liked for him to have been on the trip? I would have and it would have been good, but there are some things he had to handle that he hadn't handled. Since then, he has."

...

"He fulfilled some obligations he had to have for the team," Stansbury said today. "And he did that. So, we'll see if he keeps progressing. We all want to hope and believe he can."

...

Asked if the trip to Houston was punishment, Stansbury responded hastily. "'Fulfill obligations' is not punishment," he said. "That could be opportunities."

Whatever obligations Sidney had previously failed to fulfill, they were apparently important enough to Stansbury that he now claims them as reasons for preventing the junior from going on the European trip.

While that could be considered to be a suspension, Stansbury won't use that term. The big man has already been suspended twice in his career -- by the NCAA for accepting impermissible benefits in high school and also by the team last season for fighting with a teammate in the stands.

Confusion over who made the decision to have Sidney go to Houston hasn't helped Sidney's image. If it were his own decision, then it might have been short-sighted. If it were Stansbury's, then what did Sidney do or not do to warrant a trip to Texas instead of Europe?

The ongoing drama continues, and it has to be unsettling for MSU fans hoping that riding it out with Sidney will result in an NCAA tournament bid rather than more distractions.

Maybe Sidney did pick up something from Houston, though, that will serve all parties well.

"We're teaching him to be much more professional," Lucas told Andy Katz in July.
Oh, Renardo Sidney. How would we overcome our mid-July offseason blogging doldrums without you?

First things first: It might well be a very positive thing for Sidney and his teammates that he has decided not to accompany Mississippi State on its five-game European exhibition trip in the coming weeks. Instead, Sidney is going back to Houston to do what he's been doing for much of the summer: working out and slimming down with former NBA veteran John Lucas. (And yes, that could be the title of an at-home basketball aerobics video. John, call me! This is gold, baby!)

Still, given Sidney's history -- his ineligibility, his inability to get in shape, his propensity for suspensions last season -- it's hard not to raise an eyebrow. Why, exactly, is Sidney not yet ready to play in exhibition games with his teammates? Why are most college basketball players able to get (or stay) in shape during the spring and summer while Sidney is not? And, OK, so maybe he's not in perfect shape, but is that really the rationale for skipping a trip, and all the teamwork and camaraderie it is designed to foster, altogether? Sidney gave his explanation to the Clarion-Ledger:
Sidney said there’s no hidden reason for his departure, and he plans to return to Starkville on Aug. 14. Fall classes begin Aug. 17.

“Everybody has their own opinion but I’m doing what I have to do,” Sidney told The Clarion-Ledger. “There’s nothing else going on. They can say what they want to say but, like I said, I know what I have to do basketball-wise. I wasn’t ready to go and I felt like I really wasn’t in shape. I wanted to come back down here and get some more work.”

The statement released by Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury echoes those return dates, so there doesn't seem to be some nefarious under-the-table reason for his decision not to join his teammates overseas. So, hey, maybe this is a good thing. Maybe Sidney knows he's not in game shape yet, maybe he realizes exhibitions in Europe aren't his highest priority, and maybe he'll return to the Bulldogs in August looking trim, fit and ready to finally play up to his potential in the coming hoops season.

All of that is very much on the table. But Sidney already carries more than his fair share of baggage. Frankly, it's hard not to be a little bit curious. At best, his conditioning -- which, remember, was supposed to have improved by this time last summer -- remains an issue. At worst, there's something deeper going on here.

Renardo Sidney interview sparks media flap

February, 22, 2011
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Mississippi State sophomore Renardo Sidney, who had not been made available to the media since his nationally televised fight in the stands with a teammate in Hawaii, again became the subject of controversy as he broke his media silence in a brief postgame interview with the SEC Network after a big game on Saturday in a win against Ole Miss.

The issue wasn't what was said, but that the team refused to make Sidney available to the rest of the media, because according to a spokesman quoted by the NEMS Daily Journal, "You're all going to try to get it back to Hawaii. We have to protect him."
MSU head coach Rick Stansbury stood firm on the access issue during his time with reporters, and appeared to concede that allowing the interview with Dean was a mistake.

"He doesn't want to talk with you," Stansbury told reporters, but later said "at some point, in this season, we'll let you talk to him."

Stansbury elaborated on the topic, and the perception of Sidney in his news conference with reporters on Monday.

Honestly, we want him to be able to talk. There ain't no problem from that standpoint. It's just, because of his situation, what he's been through and what's happened to him this year, there's so many things that you guys can trip him with and he doesn’t understand how to respond. Most people wouldn't. The more experience he can get doing some things, before putting him in front of you guys. Again, it’s not hiding anything. It's just how to respond.

...

See, he gets a black eye from everybody because he got a year and nine months (NCAA) suspension. Well, he had nothing to do with that. You guys never wrote about that. Not one soul has ever wrote about that. He had zero to do with that -- something over his ninth grade year in high school. But he comes in with a black eye with that year and nine months. Is it right or wrong? I don’t know. It's what it is. Now, basically for me, he got suspended one time before that fight (an outburst at practice on Dec. 21). Did I have to suspend him for that? I didn’t have to but I did. If I hadn't, he would have had but one suspension.
Rick Cleveland of The Clarion-Ledger broke down the SEC Network interview with Sidney and believes that shielding him from reporters is a mistake by a team that has given him preferential treatment.
He mentioned conditioning at least three times in a 30-second interview. He did say that teammate Dee Bost did a good job of getting the ball to him. He handled the interview OK, but there were no really probing questions asked.

The SEC Network wasn't going to ask about the fight with the former team captain in Hawaii or the re-tweeting of teammate Ravern Johnson's critical tweets more recently.

Those are questions Mississippi reporters have wanted to ask for weeks. Obviously, State doesn't trust Sidney to answer in a way that won't embarrass either him or the school. Too bad. The reason Sidney has the problems he has now is because he has always been treated as someone special. He has been coddled and not held accountable.

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