Mississippi State’s basketball season is over. The Bulldogs lost seven of their last nine games. They lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament to 11th place Georgia. They lost at home in the first of the NIT to UMass.
State trailed for most of the game and was actually down by 14 with 15 minutes to play before rallying, forcing a pair of overtimes, and then losing. The loss came in front of an announced crowd of 2,507 at Humphrey Coliseum.
With Darrin Horn getting the axe yesterday in South Carolina, several buzzards are now winging westward to circle while State AD Scott Stricklin mulls Rick Stansbury’s future.
Yesterday, after an introductory press conference for MSU’s new women’s basketball coach, Stricklin was asked about Stansbury’s status:
“We’re going to talk about women’s basketball today. Looking forward to the NIT game tonight and rooting the team on. We’re going to talk about women’s basketball…
(The men’s season’s) not over. So we’ll talk about it when it’s over.”
After last night’s loss — ya know, when the season was over — Stricklin would not comment.
But Stansbury was asked about his job status and his postgame reply was as follows:
“I haven’t given it any thought. I think you know this, what we’ve done through 14 years speaks for itself. That’s all I can say about it. Naturally, we didn’t win as much as I want to win. Even with that, we found a way to do what we did. Anything short of winning a championship here, that’s a disappointing year for me, too.”
He could have added that in 14 seasons he’s become the all-time winningest coach in MSU history. But as we’ve said so many times on this site, after 14 years, people start to remember only the bad, not the good.
Stansbury has led the Bulldogs to the NCAA Tournament just six times in his tenure. In this day and age, fans view a tourney bid as a birthright whether they’re in Lexington, Starkville or Juneau. Six in 14 is nothing to hang one’s hat on with fans. Neither is the fact that Stansbury has failed in his six chances to reach a Sweet Sixteen — two first-game exits, four second-game exits.
On top of all that, expectations began to rise at State when Stansbury took a shot — or sold the soul of his team — to ink Renardo Sidney. Southern Cal and UCLA ran the other way from the Los Angeles big man when the NCAA started looking into him. Stansbury gave him a shot anyway.
Since then, he’s gone 24-12 and reached the 2009-10 NIT (in a season in which Sidney was forced to sit out), 17-13 with no postseason tourney in 2010-11 (in a season best remembered for Sidney’s weight, lack of effort and fight on national television with a former teammate), and 21-11 with another NIT bid this year. Sidney — who worked out on his own in the offseason with ex-NBA’er John Lucas and skipped a team trip to Europe — was benched for the final 23+ minutes of last night’s game.
After the game — as many players scattered without talking to the media — Sidney simply tweeted, “I’m out!!” There’s been talk that Sidney might leave after this season.
State fans and Stansbury should hope he does. The Bulldogs need to get their soul back. Since inking Sidney the words dysfunction, chemistry and effort have repeatedly come up in talks about MSU’s team. The player may be the best guy in the world, but there’s no debating that State’s locker room went kaboom as soon as he stepped into it.
Arnett Moultrie — who scored a season-high 34 last night — openly criticized the effort of some of his teammates two weeks ago. Last night, however, he said he has “a timetable in the next few weeks or so” to make a decision on jumping to the NBA. “If I do come back, it’ll be to play with (Rodney) Hood for another year.”
The freshman Hood did quite a bit of talking after last night’s year-ender:
“Everybody knows we have a lot of talent. It was the little things. It wasn’t things you saw on the court, it was the little things off the court, stuff like that. We’ve just got to go back and fix it. This (kind of collapse) can’t happen next year…
(Character issues) was a piece. It didn’t start in November, it started during the summer. We’ve just got to go back and correct it…
Next year we’ve got a good group of guys coming in, good character guys. Next year we’re going to give a good, honest effort every single game — practice, conditioning, everything.”
You do the math on those statements. Upset State fans won’t want to hear this, but Stansbury needs to be given another year to fix things and it’s Sidney — lack of effort, bad attitude and all — who needs to go.
Many an MSU fan has emailed us here at MrSEC.com to ask if State could go out and grab a big name coach if it canned Stansbury. The answer? No.
A prospective coach would look at State’s basketball heritage. All-time the program is hovering just a bit above .500. The school has 10 NCAA Tournament appearances in history and six of those belong to Stansbury. He’s the winningest coach in school history and he had the Dogs in postseason play 11 of 14 years.
What big name coach would look at that and decide, “Yeah, I could do better than anyone who’s come before.”
So State would be looking at grabbing an up-and-comer which usually results in more misses than hits (for every Billy Donovan, there’s a Stan Heath, a John Pelphrey, an Andy Kennedy, a Darrin Horn, etc, etc).
Or MSU could grab someone with some NCAA taint on them who’s just itching to get back into the game. On that front, State might want to give Stansbury two more years and then go running to ex-Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl’s door when his show-cause penalty ends.
But to fire Stansbury now and go land a proven winner? Ain’t happening. Starkville’s a nice town. I’ve been there and found the people to be charming, friendly, Mayberry’esque. But if you think recruiting 18-year-old basketball stars to Starkville, Mississippi is easy, think again. And again, a “name” coach would know that.
Stansbury deserves a year to clean up the mess. Even though the mess occurred on his watch and began — in this writer’s view — when he bent over backwards to grab a bad attitude guy like Sidney. But if you’re playing the odds, State’s best chance for turning things around and reaching NCAA tourneys comes with Stansbury, not some mid-major riser.
That’s the take at MrSEC.com.
But now we throw out another of our old goodies: The fans have the final say. Want to force an administration to make a coaching change? Don’t go to games. State fans didn’t last night. Stricklin — like South Carolina AD Eric Hyman before him — will weigh the cost of fan apathy.
If he deems the cost to be too high, then Stansbury will walk the plank. Whether we think he should or not.