Stansbury has Finally Found the Right Mix

November 24, 2011

News, Sports

Mississippi State Bulldogs, 2011 2K Sports Classic Champions

Mississippi State Bulldogs, 2011 2K Sports Classic Champions

Mississippi State Men’s Basketball Head Coach Rick Stansbury has taken a slew of criticism the past few years from many, including myself, as his teams over that time period have been plagued by poor team chemistry, a myriad of transfers, and numerous teams that had failed to live up to expectations. The 2011-2012 Mississippi State squad seemed to be heading down the same path, after Renardo Sidney did not participate in the team’s European exhibition games and the whole D.J. Gardner Twitter fiasco before the season started. The team was also slow out of the gate, losing to an underrated Akron team (who made the NCAA Tourney last year) in a game that was an expected win. Many in the Bulldog fan base found themselves asking, “Will this be another underachieving year from the MSU basketball team?”

The fan base received their answer very quickly, as the Bulldogs got on an impressive four game win streak, including back-to-back wins against two ranked opponents in Texas A&M and Arizona; with those two wins, the Bulldogs sealed the 2K Sports Classic victory in NYC at Madison Square Garden.  After those impressive wins, I started to believe that there was certainly something different about this team.  I came to the conclusion that Stansbury has finally found the right mix. This team has the perfect off-court and on-court chemistry. They have found a happy medium of these two individual chemistries — something I’m going to illustrate.

I wanted to discuss the Bulldogs off-court chemistry first. The basketball team the past few years has been overrun by several volatile personalities; the worst example was obviously last year’s team.  Stansbury started four players last year:   Renardo Sidney, Kodi Augustus, Ravern Johnson, and Dee Bost, who could all be considered unpredictable and temperamental. They were all involved in some type of divisive action during the season, whether it was the Sidney fight with Elgin Bailey at the Invitational, Johnson and Sidney’s tweets criticizing Dee Bost, or Augustus’ constant complaints. The team was extremely talented, but the combustibility of the team was too much to overcome — even for the greatest of coaches.

The 2011-2012 incarnation is the exact opposite, with Augustus and Johnson leaving and being replaced by the calmer personalities of true freshman Rodney Hood and UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie.  Volatile personalities are now balanced out by these refreshing newcomers. It also helps that the star power of Hood and Moultrie is already comparable to the star power of the two superstars of the team — Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost. The other four Bulldogs that see significant minutes, Brian Bryant, Jalen Steele, Deville Smith, and Wendell Lewis, all have personalities that are ideal for quality role players.

Wendell Lewis is the best example, as his selfless personality coming off the bench to relieve Moultrie and Sidney instills that team-first attitude in the rest of the role players. Two other role players, Brian Bryant and Jalen Steele, stick to their jobs and do not seem to be out there freelancing or trying to improve their pro stock; we have seen Augustus and Johnson doing enough of that in the past. The final player, Deville Smith, is a sharp X factor, bringing an energetic and fiery attitude off the bench. The team from top-to-bottom has a great mix of unpredictability, unselfishness, and composure.

Off-court chemistry is vital for any team, but a team’s on-court chemistry must also be gelling well to be successful. The Bulldogs’ talented roster definitely fits together from a skill set perspective. The two players whose styles fit together the best are Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie. Both of these players bring different individual skill sets to the table. Sidney is a player with a low motor, but has a vast skill set, while Moultrie, in retrospect, has a high motor with an average skill set. Sidney is still getting in shape, but eventually he could be the higher scorer of the two. Moultrie will probably settle in as the garbage points player and defensive big man. Sidney is also a solid passer and has already found an active Moultrie a few times under the bucket. These two provide the Bulldogs with a dynamic duo that can match up with most teams in the nation.  Wendell Lewis, the primary frontcourt backup, fits in well with Sidney and Moultrie. Lewis is a good rebounder and an active player, who enables the Bulldogs to go up-tempo when he and Moultrie are on the court together. He also sufficiently fills Moultrie’s role as the active big man when Sidney is alongside him.

The backcourt fits even better together, with Bost’s ability to penetrate and score, Hood’s shooting ability, and Bryant’s jack-of-all-trades mindset. The backcourt is enhanced when Deville Smith enters the game and slides point guard Bost over to the two guard position. This enables Bost to take advantage of his ability to score from outside and adds even more flow to the lineup. The Bulldogs other backcourt player, Jalen Steele, brings an additional shooter and an aggressive defender that every backcourt needs.

After looking at all the factors above, it’s not hard to believe why the 2011-2012 Mississippi State Bulldog college hoops team is poised to have a strong season; they have the elements of a great team: low post and perimeter scoring, good team defense, and a team-first attitude. The scary part for their opponents is that they will only get better, once Sidney gets in better shape, and especially if shooting guard Shaun Smith ever gets completely healthy. I wasn’t sold on this team when I did my season preview, but I’m willing to say now that this team has the talent to win the SEC and make a long NCAA tournament run.  Stansbury may finally be in position to silence his critics.


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