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Bigger lineup gives Bulldogs another option


David Miller



STARKVILLE -- Apparently everyone in the Mississippi State University men''s basketball camp is fine with the lineup the Bulldogs use and when they use it. 


So long as the team is winning.  


In the past two games, the Bulldogs (19-8, 7-5 Southeastern Conference) have started a "big" lineup with Jarvis Varnado, Kodi Augustus and Romero Osby across the front line. 


Ravern Johnson, the team''s leading scorer and normal starting swing man, didn''t play against the University of Kentucky game and didn''t start against LSU for what coach Rick Stansbury called "attitude detrimental to the team." 


Augustus (17 points) and Osby combined for 68 minutes in an 81-75 overtime loss to Kentucky. 


Johnson''s response to his benching was a team-high 16 points Saturday in a 60-59 win in Baton Rouge, La. 


Stansbury wasn''t sure which lineup he would start at 8 tonight (CSS) against the University of Alabama, while Johnson declined Monday to campaign for his starting job. 


"It felt pretty good coming back," Johnson said of the LSU game. "I was a little nervous and didn''t know how I was going to play off the bench. (I) felt like had to get used to the team. 


"(Stansbury) hadn''t said anything (about starting), but I''m fine with it. Any way I can help the team is the way I feel." 


There are benefits to playing a bigger lineup. With Augustus, Osby, and Varnado, the SEC''s leading rebounder at 10.9 per game, up front, the Bulldogs can quell the rebounding disadvantage they face with a smaller lineup. Stansbury has conceded the team''s rebounding has suffered some in the past two seasons to accommodate its strengths on the wing. 


The biggest disadvantage the Bulldogs face when starting three "bigs" is cover for Varnado when he''s in foul trouble or he needs a rest. Keeping Varnado fresh has been an issue with a smaller lineup, and after playing the season without forwards Elgin Bailey (injured) and Renardo Sidney (yet to be cleared by the NCAA), the Bulldogs have another lineup option as they make their push for a bid to the NCAA tournament bid. 


When asked if he had hoped to see greater production from the three-forward lineup at LSU, Stansbury pointed to the win column. 


"I was wanting to go down there and win by one point if we had to. Who did it wasn''t a concern," Stansbury said. "Whether Dee (Bost) scored 25 or Jarvis scored 25. That''s one of those survival games." 


Survival is the top priority. writer Joe Lunardi''s latest "Bracketology" has MSU as the third team out when it comes to picking at-large teams for the NCAA tournament. 


Adding another lineup or incorporating a different style of play would help shake the predictability MSU falls into when it goes with a smaller lineup and tends to settle for deep jump shots. However, Stansbury said he doesn''t consider the lineup that came out of necessity to be the team''s salvation.  


"They zoned us for probably 39 minutes, so it''s not as easy when you see zone for that amount of minutes to get that ball in around that hole as much," Stansbury said of Osby and Augustus'' eight combined points at LSU. "(Jarvis) was able to be efficient offensively and defensively. That was key" 


Osby said he doesn''t mind coming off the bench or starting, but he can see the benefits of playing extended minutes with three posts on the court. 


"That lineup was just kind of spur of the moment," Osby said. "I think it can be beneficial to our rebounding, but I''m really not sure if we''ll use it more. We just have to continue to rebound." 


Alabama coach Anthony Grant is wary of the Bulldogs'' presence from deep, even though MSU''s shooting has cooled off since the Crimson Tide (14-12, 4-8) notched a 62-57 win in the team''s first meeting last month in Tuscaloosa, Ala. 


"It makes it difficult, but what we tried to do last game and what we''ll have to do this game is try to really limit (Varnado''s) opportunities on the interior, try to provide as much help as we can for our front court and, at the same time, be able to extend our defense and defend the 3-point line," Grant said.



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