February 9, 2010 9:39:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Another Rick Stansbury media gathering went by Monday with the Mississippi State University men''s basketball coach feeling pretty much the same about his team''s progression and the tools he has to work with.
It''s crunch time around the country, as teams strengthen their postseason credentials by winning games or find themselves moving backward because of current run of form.
Mired in a frustrating losing streak that has seen them lose four of their last five games, the Bulldogs (16-7, 4-4 Southeastern Conference) can''t afford to lose any more games if they want to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament instead of a spot in the NIT.
MSU''s lack of help at what Stansbury calls "key positions" has stripped the Bulldogs of experience and options on the block and in the backcourt. Not having backup center Elgin Bailey and backup point guard Twany Beckham has meant extra minutes for Dee Bost and Jarvis Varnado this season.
But it''s not going to change.
"Last year, we had some games where we weren''t playing our best, but how many times last year did we get some momentum, energy or emotion from that bench?" Stansbury said Monday. "That''s probably the thing I can''t do as well (this year)."
Stansbury made it clear there aren''t any excuses for the team''s current run, which has seen it lose four games by 17 points. At an average overall margin of defeat of 5.42 points per game, it''s easy to see how tough it is to lose hold of the top spot in the SEC West.
"It''s frustrating, especially losing close ones. I''d rather lose by 20 than one, two, or three so it''s real tough," Bost said.
The only thing left is finding the solution, which points to the team''s porous percentage from 3-point range (29 of 112 in past five games).
The pursuit of steady offense, coupled with being on the verge of flipping recent results is enough to test the mettle of a team aiming for the Big Dance, but don''t expect Stansbury to deviate from what has worked for most of the season.
"My job is to get them better at what they''re doing," Stansbury said. "It''s hard to change some things."
The Bulldogs will play host to the University of Mississippi (17-6, 5-4), who is a half game ahead of them in the West, at 8 p.m. Thursday to Humphrey Coliseum.
Buckner''s status unknown for Rebs'' trek to Starkville
Things just haven''t been the same since Jan. 28, when Ole Miss freshman forward Reginald Buckner sprained an ankle in a victory against Auburn.
The Rebels have lost two of their last three games and needed a double-digit rally to beat Alabama on Saturday, which has dropped them to second in the SEC West behind Arkansas (5-3) entering Thursday''s game at Mississippi State.
Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy admitted Monday on the SEC coaches'' teleconference that the game against MSU will be pivotal and that he didn''t know if Buckner would be available to battle center Jarvis Varnado.
The freshman, who has averaged five points, five rebounds, and 2.2 blocked shots per game, has been the Rebels'' go-to post player off the bench.
"I really don''t have a measure of comparison," Kennedy said. "I don''t know if he''ll go out and be 100 percent, if he''ll be tentative about it, if he''ll worry about it. I don''t know what his pain tolerance is. We''ll have to see how it plays out."
A lot at stake for Commodores
If not for Kentucky''s assault on the SEC, Vanderbilt just might be the talk of the league.
At 17-5 and 6-2 in the SEC, the Commodores are set to take on Tennessee at 6 tonight at Memorial Gymnasium with second place in the East up for grabs. Vanderbilt hasn''t lost at home this season.
Coach Kevin Stallings put an extra emphasis on keeping that streak alive this week.
"We all know as the season goes along that''s important," Stallings said. "If you''re going to be a factor in the race for a championship, taking care of whatever happens on your home court is extremely important. We want to do that."
The Commodores enter the game following a rugged spell on the road that saw them play five of their last eight away from Nashville, Tenn.
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