Night Line: Mississippi State Shows Its Upside in NYCPosted by rtmsf on November 18th, 2011
Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist.
For the past two seasons, Mississippi State has been a team that’s warranted strong preseason buzz but never lived up to expectations. After a home loss to Akron in its second game this season, it looked like the same old story for these Bulldogs. But just one week later, the outlook of Rick Stansbury’s team has completely changed.
On Friday night, Mississippi State defeated No. 16 Arizona in Madison Square Garden to be crowned champions of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer, one night after it knocked off–No. 18 Texas A&M in the semifinals. MSU used a balanced offensive attack in which eight different players all converted at least two field goals to control this game from the outset. Its depth and talent were on display all night, as veteran leaders Dee Bost and Arnett Moultrie played well and were joined by impressive young reserves Wendell Lewis and Deville Smith. In limited minutes, Moultrie dominated inside to the tune of 19 points and ten rebounds on 8-10 shooting, while senior lead guard Dee Bost racked up eight points, six boards, and five assists.
Watching tonight’s game just makes you wonder how the Bulldogs lost at home to Akron last week. Perhaps we should just accept that this, again, is who Mississippi State is — talented enough to beat ranked teams on back-to-back nights, but undisciplined enough to lose at home to a team from the MAC. MSU’s ability to bounce back from the early upset and improve immediately to win two games over good teams with excellent coaches should leave a real impression on the rest of the SEC and, perhaps, the entire country. The Bulldogs could be ranked in the new Top 25 come Monday, and the buzz will be building again. This team goes eight deep with a combination of experience and youth, and a good mix of size inside and speed on the perimeter.
Perhaps the most impressive player on the floor tonight for the Bulldogs was Deville Smith. The freshman reserve guard brings an added dimension to this team; he runs the point and allows the multi-talented Dee Bost to play off the ball. Smith is unbelievably quick and shows no fear, possessing an ability to blow by defenders at will to get to the rim or set up open teammates inside. Not only did the Bulldog guards control the flow of the game, but their size inside dominated the interior. Moultrie piled up his 19/10 in just 23 minutes of action. Wendell Lewis came off the bench to add six points and seven boards. Renardo Sidney had eight points in 19 effective minutes. The fact that it took this long to mention Sidney is another good sign for the Bulldogs; the enigmatic forward just might be settling into a role for this team. He’s not a star, and he’s not an offensive go-to player. But he’s a space-eater and skilled big man who can be productive in limited minutes.
It certainly feels like these back-to-back wins for Mississippi State are the start of something special. But what can we really make out of the ranked opponents they just beat? It’s likely too early to tell how good Arizona and Texas A&M truly are. A&M was playing without its best player and leading scorer who’s still recovering from a knee injury, Khris Middleton. Arizona is just a bunch of moving parts right now, and Kyle Fogg and Solomon Hill do not look like the leaders needed to guide them along. There’s talent there, but they’re thin inside and were not able to effectively use their guards to gain any kind of advantage in this game.
Perhaps it is too soon to crown Mississippi State as a legitimate SEC contender and national presence. But there’s not many teams in the country that have looked quite as dynamic as the Bulldogs on both the perimeter and interior so far this season. We’ll see how Rick Stansbury gets his team ready to handle success. If they don’t start believing their own press clippings when they get back to Starkville, perhaps by the time the SEC begins we just might be looking at another conference challenger.