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MSU men will try to zone in on 'D'


David Miller



STARKVILLE -- Talking about the University of Georgia''s lineup, Mississippi State men''s basketball coach Rick Stansbury couldn''t get past UGA''s inside-out offensive threats.  


Georgia has the Southeastern Conference''s premier post player in Preseason Player of the Year Trey Thompkins. The addition of transfer Gerald Robinson has provided a go-to scorer alongside Thompkins and guard Travis Leslie.  


And though UGA averages just a point better per game than MSU, it shoots 46 percent from the floor, good for third-best in the SEC. 


Georgia also leads the league in assists at 15.4 per game. 


"Most efficient offensive team in the SEC," Stansbury said of Georgia. 


It''s no coincidence defense has been at the forefront of MSU''s practices this week as it prepares for its game at 3 p.m. Saturday at Georgia (SEC Network). 


"They play physical," MSU point guard Dee Bost said. "They don''t really look to push in transition. They just play physical and run sets every time they come down the court. We''re just focusing on a lot of help defense, just packing it in." 


Stansbury has reluctantly opted for zone defense since SEC play started, hoping to keep center Renardo Sidney fresher in the middle of defense and to help the entire lineup play longer. MSU''s starters average 31.9 minutes per game, compared to 28.6 for Georgia. Sidney averages 25.8 minutes per game and should see that total increase as his stamina improves. 


Stansbury said playing zone has helped hide deficiencies, too, one of which is running the zone defense. 


MSU''s tenured players haven''t run much of it, and neither have freshmen like Jalen Steele, who came from a man-to-man system in high school. 


"I don''t think were very good at it consistently," Stansbury said. "I think we have room for improvement in our zone, a bunch of improvement." 


Because of the lack of depth behind Sidney, the sophomore''s defensive performance Saturday must be sharp and he must stay out of foul trouble.  


In Sidney''s five games this season, he has finished with four fouls twice and fouled out once. 


Stansbury has been impressed with Sidney''s post defense, but has seen him struggle when pulled away from the basket.  


The University of Alabama''s JaMychal Green scored just two points in the first half of their game at Humphrey Coliseum but had 14 in the second once he started taking jump shots. 


Stansbury is more concerned with his big man guarding pick-and-rolls. 


"I think that''s probably his biggest challenge," Stansbury said. "To not just see that ball screen being set and anticipating it happen, but being able to get up there on it, get your body in the right position where you can help your teammate on that screen. But you got to be able to guard that quicker guard coming off that screen without fouling." 


Wendell Lewis'' defensive play has been an encouraging sign as MSU looks to solidify its frontcourt. The sophomore has 10 blocked shots in the past four games, including a career-high of five against St. Mary''s.  


Junior Kodi Augustus is playing closer to the basket and is averaging a career-best 8.6 rebounds per game. He has reached double figures in two of the past three games.  


"Your sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth guys are the difference in winning and losing, and you never know when those guys are going to have to play starter''s minutes," Stansbury said. "You never know when your foul trouble''s gonna happen." 


How MSU guards the versatile Thompkins, who averages 17.6 points per game, remains to be seen. Stansbury hinted at Augustus guarding Thompkins because of Georgia''s depth in the post. 


"Most people, (UGA) makes you guard (Thompkins) with a four guy because he has another big guy beside him, whether it''s (Chris) Barnes or big (Jeremy) Price," Stansbury said. "That''s kind of the advantage to their team. They''re big around that block."



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