March 10, 2010 11:19:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- When options are few, you just have to go with what you''ve got.
The Mississippi State men''s basketball team has played without solid depth in the post and at point guard this season, but has managed a Southeastern Conference Western Division title and a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Luckily, the team has avoided injuries, and hope starting point guard Dee Bost''s hip pointer doesn''t affect his status or play this weekend.
The Bulldogs'' run of form has seen them lose two of four, including a lackluster Senior Night performance in what could have been a NCAA tournament resume boost and possible lock against Tennessee.
Mississippi State''s bench was a prime reason for the now revered SEC tournament run a year ago, accounting for an average of 59.5 minutes each tourney game.
Mississippi State''s bench has averaged 44.1 minutes per game during SEC regular season play this season, but that average has dropped to 28.75 in the the last four games.
The starters were just happy to get two days off before beginning tournament preparations on Tuesday, as they stare down a familiar path to earning an NCAA tournament bid.
Instead of four games in four days, though, the Bulldogs will have to do it in three after earning the luxury of a first-round bye.
The last two seasons have produced a four-game SEC tournament winner, with Georgia taking the crown in 2008.
Whether last year''s title-winning experience gives this year''s MSU squad confidence is debatable, said Stansbury, who noted the biggest positive this season is having a shorter road.
"Knowing we''ve done it, I guess it could help some," Stansbury said. "Different team, different people you play, but it''s very obvious it can be done."
The team''s depth from last year just isn''t the same this season, with decreased minutes and points in the front court and backcourt. The coaches know it, the players know it, and everyone agrees the team can''t win another title with the starters playing nearly 85 percent of the minutes as they''ve done the last four.
"Last year we had a bench doing that in four days and we''ll have to have big minutes from our bench," senior guard Barry Stewart said. "(Guard) Phil (Turner) can bring us big minutes, big energy. We''ve got to find other players to give us more. (Guard) Riley (Benock) is capable. (Forward) Ro (Osby) is too.
Stansbury and his staff has had the tough task of finding a way to get more out of the same personnel that are either injured and not available or inexperienced. As the first three off the bench, Osby, Turner and Benock will be looked to fill the role of last season''s five-deep bench. Exactly how the trio will boost production, give center Jarvis Varnado breathers, and possibly spell Bost, who began the week suffering from a hip pointer, is unknown because nothing will change in style of play, Stansbury said.
"We need our bench and unfortunately it''s limited," Stansbury said. "I wish we could get more out of those guys consistently. But we''re not going to change what our make up is in this last week.
"Going in playing three games, your bench has to be a factor. But hey, we''ve got to get one first. Your bench becomes more of a factor as you keep going."
According to Varnado, the team''s bench wasn''t the only factor in pulling off the exhausting stretch at this time last year. With their backs against the walls for a shot at the "Big Dance," Varnado saidthe team''s perseverance was as instrumental as the team''s bench play. Similarly fatigued after playing high minutes this season, Varnado hopes to see the team overcome the disadvantage heading into the tournament with the same passion.
"We were tired, but we had the will to win," Varnado said. "That''s what we wanted. We wanted to get to the tournament and it was wide open last year. After we beat LSU, who we lost to twice in the sason, I said, ''We might as well get this last one, we made it this far we don''t need to end up short handed.''
"We sucked it up and played hard."
Mississippi State plays Friday against the winner of Auburn and Florida.
2. Ole Miss earns NCAA bid; Southern Mississippi left out COLLEGE SPORTS