March 7, 2018 11:08:25 AM
STARKVILLE -- The task at hand is well-defined and daunting, and everyone in the Mississippi State men's basketball program knows it.
MSU (21-10, 9-9 SEC) knows back-to-back losses entering this week's Southeastern Conference tournament puts its hopes of an NCAA tournament bid on life support. It knows it may need to run all the way to the SEC Championship Game to rekindle the hope and winning that game being its only guarantee; such a run would require four games in four days, a toll on the body that MSU has spent a season preparing for.
MSU's first-year strength and conditioning coach, Collin Crane, has spent the season learning his players' recovery habits, all of it leading to what could be the toughest week of its season. For Crane, it starts with sleep.
Crane has cycled through numerous ways of monitoring players' sleep. It started with having players fill out a daily card that was turned in to Crane, telling him how many hours they slept, their perception of quality of sleep on a scale of 1-10 and their general fatigue level. That was the primary measuring stick in the preseason, Crane's first with the players, so he could tailor their most intense period of strength and conditioning work to what their bodies could handle.
"It was something that was really beneficial when we were pushing them in the weight room: we could back off on certain days and push them some days based on how they were feeling," Crane said.
During the season, that transitioned to having players wear WHOOP bracelets, which can measure and provide data on factors such as a player's heart rate and when exactly they fall asleep. MSU ultimately strayed away from them -- players keeping them charged during the grind of the season grew to be too cumbersome, plus players weren't thrilled with the device automatically reporting what time they fell asleep -- but the heart rate data gathered from that period has proved valuable.
More than Crane's usage of the data, the players learning better habits knowing such data was being collected has lasted even after the wristbands left.
"I wouldn't say it got in the way, it was just a little too much having to charge them up and stuff, so we moved away from it but guys still know they need to get their sleep and be hydrated for the games," junior forward Aric Holman said. "It's still one of our top goals and a process."
The heart rate data gathered from the WHOOP bracelets has given MSU a better idea of what its players need to recover from road games, for example. Crane said the data led him to believe MSU actually needed two days off after a road game, compared to the typical one day off. MSU head coach Ben Howland mentioned earlier in the season his belief that he practiced the team too hard in between the road loss at Florida and ensuing home loss to Auburn; Howland gave the team two days off after Saturday's loss at LSU.
"Even though we haven't been wearing them consistently, I was able to see trends from when we were wearing them to build a routine or a weekly schedule," Crane said. "The things we do as a team, they're now doing those things outside of practice.
"It was a great teaching tool for individual conversations with athletes."
Adapting it all to a potential deep run in the SEC tournament, which begins 6 p.m. Thursday (SEC Network) against LSU at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, can be difficult, but Howland isn't looking at it that way.
"It's one day at a time. You just worry about one game at a time," he said.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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