Team preview: Mississippi State
Blue Ribbon Yearbook previews the 2006-07 college basketball season, exclusively on Insider.
(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
A mixed bag of woes -- transfers, dismissals, injuries, defections to the NBA -- helped put an end to an impressive streak at Mississippi State in 2005-06.
Before last season, the Bulldogs had played in four consecutive NCAA Tournaments and won 20 or more game for four straight years, both school records. At Kentucky, a mere 20 wins a season might result in some irate fan buying ad space in the Lexington Herald-Leader and calling for coach Tubby Smith's head.
At Mississippi State, four straight NCAAs is heady stuff.
You can imagine coach Rick Stansbury's disappointment, then, when the streak came to a close. And there was no NIT bid to ease the pain. In years past, a .500 record was good enough to get an SEC team in the little dance. Not anymore, now that the NCAA has taken control of that postseason tournament as well and begun extending bids to any regular-season conference winner that doesn't make the big tournament field.
"We were disappointed not to play in the postseason," Stansbury said. "But I tried to keep everything in perspective. A lot of things happened to us that we couldn't control."
State's troubles began well before the season started, when prized high school recruit Monta Ellis, Parade magazine's co-national player of the year in 2005 (along with Ohio State signee Greg Oden), declared for the NBA draft. Ellis would have stepped in for departed point guard Gary Ervin, who transferred to Arkansas, and been a vast improvement.
"The kid would have been a difference maker," Stansbury said.
After Ellis put his name in the draft pool, the closest thing the Bulldogs had to a point guard was senior Jamall Edmondson, a shooter by trade. That might have worked had not Emondson been plagued by injuries. And freshman Richard Delk, the Bulldogs' next most likely point guard, endured health issues of his own, missing seven games with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Eventually, Stansbury was forced to resort to using linebacker-sized freshman Jamont Gordon at the point. Gordon (13.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.1 spg) did the best he could, but it was a bit much to ask for him to man the position flawlessly. He wound up committing 142 turnovers, an off-the-charts average of nearly five per game.
The final stats reflected State's problems at the point. The Bulldogs finished last in the SEC in assists (11.0), turnover margin (-3.33) and assists to turnover ratio (0.63). State's scoring average of 68.1 was its lowest in a decade.
"The point's a difficult position to play," Stansbury said. "Especially when you get moved to it the first SEC game of the season. It was a learning experience for Jamont. But most of his mistakes can be corrected. They didn't come from a skills standpoint. They came from trying to do too much. Jamont's so mentally and physically tough he just tried to make plays. With maturity, you learn to pick your spots."