December 10, 2010 10:38:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- When Mississippi State''s men''s basketball schedule was finalized, the end-of-semester logjam immediately stood out.
MSU''s efforts to schedule around the suspension of sophomore forward Renardo Sidney was aimed at having him on the floor for treks to the Bahamas, Hawaii and Las Vegas. That stretch will include six games in 12 days, and send the team across six time zones.
MSU also would face a boost in competition against the likes of Virginia Tech in the Bahamas, and Washington State and either Baylor or San Diego during the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii.
Before the Bulldogs (4-1) hop their first flight with Sidney eligible, they will have played four games in four days, and another in succession when Sidney is slated to debut in an exhibition game in Jackson.
"Back when we made this schedule, it looked a lot more appealing than it does now trust me," Stansbury said. "I still wouldn''t change anything that we did with it. What it is, is what it is. For us to try to make some things work and get where we wanted to on that schedule it just fell this way."
MSU begins the four-game home-stand at 7 p.m. Saturday against East Tennessee State (3-4), followed by North Carolina A&T on Sunday and Nicholls State and Alabama State on Monday and Tuesday, respectively. The Bulldogs are coming off a shocking 61-59 home loss to Florida Atlantic on Nov. 30 and have had nine days to prepare for the tournament-style stretch. The time away from game-action was certainly used to address the trends of MSU''s first five games, especially the team''s struggles to close games efficiently.
The Bulldogs have trailed heading into the final two minutes of the game twice this season and have had leads of three points or less within the final minute of two other games.
Against a string of teams with a combined record of 13-15, Stansbury says the players would rather work out their deficiencies against opponents.
"Here''s the truth, players would rather play games than they would practice," Stansbury said. "And I can promise you that games are easier than practice."
The Bulldogs enter Saturday looking to find balance across its lineup after relying heavily upon Ravern Johnson''s blazing start to the season. Johnson ranks fifth in the nation with 25.4 points per game and first in the country with 4.2 3-pointers made per game.
Stansbury''s game-to-game must-have of 45 combined points from Johnson and Kodi Augustus isn''t a blueprint he''d like to follow much longer. Johnson averages 37.2 minutes per game, while Augustus plays 33.4, putting pressure on a the developing group of first-year Bulldogs.
Based on position, Stansbury is keen to see freshman swing-man Shaun Smith play a bigger role. Smith currently is Johnson''s backup at small forward but has played just 24 minutes and attempted four shots thus far.
"He''s the one guy that''s been hurt," Stansbury said of Smith''s surgically-repaired hip. "He wasn''t able to do anything (Monday) and then yesterday he had finals during practice. He''s a guy I''d like to find ways to get more time along the way."
Starting center Elgin Bailey set a career-high for points in game with 11 and played a season-high 25 minutes against FAU, though he is still ailing from ACL surgery done in the spring. It may be too early to expect 25-minute nights from Bailey, especially during the upcoming stretch of games.
"He''s got me alternating in practice so I won''t be hurting, but it''s like everyday in practice and everyday in the game I''m hurting," Bailey said. "Coach sees the frustration in my face. It''s something I have to deal with."
Still, despite Wendell Lewis being the only option behind Bailey, Stansbury isn''t going to adjust his lineup or minutes to preserve legs for future games.
"I''m not going to be spreading minutes around at the sake of resting people that could cost us from winning games," Stansbury said. "We are going to do whatever we can every night to try to win a game."
Clock ticking down for Sidney
Renardo Sidney''s time at MSU has been full of NCAA dealings, weight issues and plenty of uncertainty.
He''ll have his chance to make his much anticipated debut on Dec. 15 when the Bulldogs face Belhaven in Jackson, his hometown.
Sidney didn''t play in MSU''s exhibition win over Lindsey Wilson College and hasn''t played a competitive game since the California state playoffs in spring 2009.
Expectations, however, are just as high as they were when the McDonald''s All-American signed with the Bulldogs.
Stansbury looked to lessen the weight of those expectations Wednesday.
"I don''t care how good you are supposed to be, there''s that learning curve," Stansbury said. "It''s a huge learning curve for somebody stepping in."
Stansbury said Sidney will play "every minute he can physically" against Belhaven, while currently academically ineligible point guard Dee Bost could see the floor. Bost, whom Stansbury is expecting to regain eligibility by today, won''t return to the floor until Jan. 8 because of his open NCAA-mandated suspension.
"I don''t want to have any fool''s gold there with Dee because we''ve got to keep playing without him," Stansbury said. "We''ve got to keep playing as we are but no question coming out of a four-game stretch there are going to be ample minutes out there for Dee to play too for sure."