January 27, 2010 11:11:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Rick Stansbury knew depth was going to be an issue this season.
The Mississippi State men''s basketball coach entered the season without backup point guard Twany Beckham and with the status of prized freshman Shaun Smith uncertain due to injury.
On top of that, the Bulldogs have had to deal with a nine-game suspension to center John Riek, who was recovering from knee surgery in 2008, an NCAA investigation into freshman forward Renardo Sidney that has kept him out of uniform, and nagging injuries to Elgin Bailey that have prevented him from being a contributor.
Still, MSU has managed a 15-4 start (3-1 in the Southeastern Conference) and has moved in and out of the Associated Press Top 25 rankings.
A 62-57 loss Saturday at Alabama dropped then-No. 23 MSU out of the rankings. MSU will try to bounce back from that loss at 8 p.m. Thursday (ESPN2) when it plays at Arkansas (8-11, 1-3).
"(Fatigue) is our issue that we have to find ways to overcoming somehow," Stansbury said.
The Bulldogs beat the Razorbacks 82-80 on Jan. 14 in Starkville. They led comfortably in the second half before the Razorbacks rallied to make it more than respectable.
Part of Arkansas'' comeback can be tied to MSU''s depth. Stansbury has talked often this season about not having enough players off the bench who can come in and effect the course of a game.
Aside from guard Phil Turner, the Bulldogs lack an energy player like Bailey, who also provides a proven post presence. Instead, Stansbury is having to mix and match lineups with freshman Wendell Lewis and Riek, who is playing limited minutes.
At guard, Stansbury is having to rotate sophomore Dee Bost and senior Barry Stewart at the point. The problem is both guards are averaging 36.5 and 36.2 minutes per game in league ply, which is tied for third and fifth, respectively.
Senior center Jarvis Varnado is tied with Bost at third.
MSU is the only team in the league that has three players averaging that many minutes.
"The biggest thing with Jarvis is we don''t have the depth for him like we did last year," Stansbury said. "I am probably wearing him out a little bit."
Stansbury admitted he is more comfortable having a "tired" Varnado on the court as opposed to another player who might be fresher. The downside to that is Varnado''s fatigue affects how the Bulldogs attack defenses and it limits the shot blocker''s effectiveness on the defensive end.
"It is tough to (find a way to rest Varnado) when you''re in tough, tight games fighting for your life, to sit back and play two young guys who are just learning," Stansbury said. "I have to find a way to do it because it affects the other minutes Jarvis plays and it affects
MSU has been outrebounded 96-78 in its last two games. Thirty-eight of the 96 rebounds have come on the offensive end and have resulted in 29 second-chance points.
Stansbury isn''t sure if there are any possible solutions to his team''s depth questions. He said one solution could be using forward Kodi Augustus more at the five, or center, position to rest Varnado.
"I would like Kodi to do more for us," Stansbury said.
Stansbury also would like to get more production out of junior Riley Benock, who can spell Bost and Stewart. He hesitated when asked if Benock is struggling with his confidence shooting the basketball, and said Benock is capable of contributing more. Benock has attempted just three shots in his last 69 minutes, dating back to a 73-45 victory against Mississippi Valley State on Dec. 28, 2009.
"All I know is we tell him every day shoot, shoot, shoot," Stansbury said. "We need Riley to give us more minutes so we can rest Dee more and rest Barry more."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.