December 8, 2011 1:32:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- From Thanksgiving to Christmas, it happens to a lot of college basketball teams - the unexplainable upset.
Nov. 16 - No. 9 Pittsburgh loses at home to Long Beach State 86-76.
Nov. 19 - No. 20 Cincinnati loses at home to Presbyterian 56-54.
And Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury is determined to not allow his team, currently 8-1 and ranked in the Top 20 for the first time since 2009-10, to be added to this list.
"You just hope you're mature enough and understand enough, and you understand every day what's at hand," Stansbury said. "You can't be looking forward and you can't be looking back. Is it always easy to do? No. It's human nature.
That's the 14-year coach's explanation for the 68-58 loss to Akron on Nov. 9 - a lack of focus mixed with a quality opponent with a NBA-caliber center in the middle.
"That's just human nature," Stansbury said Thursday. "There are some games that are magnified more than others in kids' minds. Like I said after the game, they're magnified in everybody's minds differently. It happens in the kids minds, too. They're the ones playing the game. They all count as one win and one loss. There are no two wins and no two losses. They're all the same and that team that can best prepare and stay the most consistent through 30 games, or whatever it is, are the teams that will be the most successful."
One of the key factors to the team's progression has been the play of sophomore backup guard Jalen Steele. The 6-foot-3 guard has had double-figure scoring outputs in each of the last two games and shooting 8-for-13 in wins over North Texas and West Virginia.
The Knoxville, Tenn. native will likely get the start in the next two games (Nov. 10 vs. Troy and Nov. 13 vs. Florida Atlantic) due to the university mandated suspension of senior guard Brian Bryant.
"He's just struggling with his own personal abilities over the last month or so," Stansbury said. "He wasn't able to do what he was used to doing. Thought he struggled with his shot. He was so anxious to score and so anxious to make that shot. When he didn't make it and having that surgery, people don't understand how that affects you mentally and physically."
Troy (4-3) comes to Humphrey Coliseum Saturday afternoon (3 p.m. tipoff) with two of the best guards in the Sun Belt Conference as R.J. Scott and Will Weathers are averaging 25.9 points per game and a major reason the Trojans are the nation's top three-point shooting team (making 12 from beyond the arc per game).
"First off, they're a very dangerous team," Stansbury said. "They lead the country in 3-pointers made per game, over 12 a game. Twenty-nine attempts per game. Well, that's still pretty good shooting, over 40 percent - attempted 29, making 12. Any time you shoot the ball like that, you're a dangerous basketball team. Shooting it has nothing to do with size. The size is their advantage offensively for them. When they make shots, that's what makes them so dangerous."
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.
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