December 1, 2011 4:35:00 PM
STARKVILLE - After 14 seasons of roaming the sidelines as the Mississippi State headcoach, Rick Stansbury knows Saturday night's contest against West Virginia (8 p.m., ESPNU) is the most impressive nonconference opponent to ever enter Humphrey Coliseum.
"I see them being right up there in the top of the Big East before it's over," Stansbury said. "I think they can be that good. The biggest thing (WVU head coach Bob Huggins) had to get figured out was his point guard play and he's done that. He didn't have that figured out against Kent State. Now, he's gotten steady point guard play. He's got a couple of things on the inside that is as good as anybody in that league."
Since the 70-60 home loss to Kent State, West Virginia (4-1) has rolled through three straight wins and have figured out how to cut down their turnovers being getting more consistent performances out of freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds.
The 5-foot-11 point guard from New York had four assists and five steals with no turnovers in 30 minutes during a 77-56 win over Akron on Wednesday.
"The first thing you need to know about them is the team that beat us (Akron), they had them down 23 at halftime and beat them by 21 for the game," Stansbury said. "Akron was playing without its starting point guard but, still, again, you get that team down 23 points at halftime, you're pretty good."
The last time Mississippi State (7-1) hosted a school in a Bowl Championship Series conference was a 84-82 loss to Clemson on Nov. 15, 2007. Through the first month of the season, WVU is in the Top 50 in the nation in the following statistical categories.
- points per game (43rd, 79 ppg)
- rebounds per game (22nd, 44.6 rpg)
- assists per game (20th, 17.0 apg)
- field goal percentage (32nd, 46.8 FG%)
"Like a lot of West Virginia teams, they're going to guard you," Stansbury said. "Defensively, they're really really good and they've got the leading scorer and rebounder in Jones, their (power forward)."
Senior forward Kevin Jones leads the Mountaineers in scoring with a 21.1 points per game as the 6-foot-9, 260-pound frontcourt player is shooting nearly 60 percent from the field and averaging 12.2 rebounds per contest.
"He was preseason first team All-Big East," Stansbury said. "A big ol' body. He sat out 23 games last year and then got eligible. He's a load in there."
During ESPN's 24-hour marathon of college basketball, Kent State new head coach Rob Senderoff told his team during halftime at West Virginia is the young Mountaineers (with six freshmen being asked to contribute significantly) would falter late in the game. A 15-3 run over 4 minutes, 4 seconds and a 36-game home winning streak in Morgantown was over.
"It just so happened it happened that game," Stansbury said. "I've never known a Bob Huggins team that ever quit. They may get beat but they didn't lose that game because they quit. They lost that game because they turned the ball over and Kent State was just better than they were that day. It's not becuase they quit. Bob Huggins' teams are not going to do that."
Stansbury said Thursday he doesn't think the NCAA Tournament selection puts a lot of credence in which conference wins or dominates these matchups when they sit down in their hotel conference room in Indianapolis, Ind. to pick at-large berths.
"I don't know if everybody gets caught up in this because it's where these games are played at," Stansbury said. "If you go back and break them all down and who wins where, and which teams go where and and when, it has a lot to do with it. They try pair people up with some balance (but) you don't know who's where with it, if that makes any sense. Florida and Syracuse - put them on a neutral court and who wins? I don't know. Vanderbilt has got who? At Louisville? We're all going to come out here and say if Vanderbilt and Florida lose those two games, our top 10 teams isn't as good as theirs, but put them on Florida's home court and put them on Vandy's homecourt. That has a lot to do with it."
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
1. W to host provocative exhibition of contemporary art ENTERTAINMENT
3. MSU to hold Freedom Summer Conference COMMUNITY