From the preseason ranking, loses to mid-majors and lesser conference foes, the buzzer beaters that resulted in multiple broken hearts, 2009-2010 is one to forget. To put it bluntly, MSU couldn’t finish or close out games. Sometimes, the main problem was showing up. In the first game of the season, after leading by 9, State fell to Rider (17-16) by 14 at home. 2 weeks later, State fell to Richmond (26-9) at home as well. Even though the Spiders went on to have a successful season, the Bulldogs at one point found themselves in a 14 point hole, only to lose by 1. Then there was WKU (21-16). A school of great tradition, but not a stellar year, beat the Dawgs by 3, after leading by as much as 12. After a solid start in SEC play (3-0), State traveled to Tuscaloosa (Bama finished 17-15) and lost by 5, after not being able to overcome a 12 point hole. 5 days later, MSU visited Fayetteville in a dream scenario, to take on a struggling Arkansas team (14-18). What do I mean by dream scenario? Long story short, snow and weather conditions kept a usually raucous crowd out of Bud Walton arena, and only 3,500 attended the game. The Bulldogs led by as much as 12, only to fall by 5. After a lone win to lowly LSU, MSU hit a tough road stretch at UF and Vandy. State went on a 15-2 run in the final minutes at Vandy, in an attempt to make up for a 14 point deficit. They lost by 3, with a chance to tie at the buzzer. At UF, Aerosmith’s Same Ol’ Song and Dance couldn’t explain it any better. Down 12 at one point, the Bulldogs fought to make it a 4 point game in the final minute, but lost by 7. For those who might suffer from heart conditions, recalling any of the UK match ups just might do you in…read with caution. Just a refresher, State led by 7 with 2:40 to play, and to skip a rampage of information, let’s just say they lost by 5 in OT. After the first heartbreak to the Cats, MSU ran off a streak of 3 wins in a row, before heading to Auburn (15-17). Knowing that they could not fall into the temptation to try to out-shoot the Tigers, the Bulldogs did not contest shots, and allowed Auburn to shoot 51%, falling behind by 11, and losing by 9. Then there was the much hyped, much-needed possible win versus #13 UT. Remember this one, with tourney implications on the line, the Vols stormed out to a 17-0 lead, and instead it looked like UT was the team fighting for their lives and in need of a big win. MSU lost by 14, and Varnado and Stewart’s senior day was ruined. With the bad taste in their mouths from the regular season that had just transpired, the Bulldogs set out to earn a NCAA berth, with solid play in the SEC Tournament. Strong wins over UF and Vandy, placed State head-to-head with #2 UK once again. After matching each other step for step, MSU stretched the lead to 5 with just 2:30 to play, but State missed critical free throws was outscored 7-2 in that final span. The Cats forced OT on one of the most controversial plays in State’s basketball history, and then won the game by 1 in the extra period. Later that night at 6pm, the Bulldog Nation sat in front of their tv’s, as the Bulldog players watched from the Golden Triangle Airport. One regional bracket after another went by, and never once did we see that beloved M-State logo pop up in any of the slots. UF’s and Minnesota’s entry, only served as salt in the wound. Heart break had been served twice in one day. Later that night, MSU received a #1 Seed in the NIT, and from the start MSU fans eyed the possible second round battle with historic UNC. The Bulldogs would get their chance. The Bulldogs held a 12 point lead in the opening minutes, only to cough up the lead and trail by 6 at the half. After watching a very exciting second half, State fans saw the Bulldogs push the lead to 3 with 1:38 left. One off-balance, off the glass 3 by UNC, a blown opportunity to tie or win the game by State, and a miraculous lay up over the 6-9 frame of college basketball’s leading shot blocker, resulted in MSU’s final heartbreak of the 2009-2010 season. A season of not finishing games, or being able to close out games, was over. It’s hard to believe that the Bulldogs were able to claim the SEC West, especially in a season with so many frustrations. The sad thing is, the Bulldogs were just shots and seconds away, from making this a season to remember, but instead, 2010 will go down as one to forget. Put aside the officiating at times, and the fact is we didn’t win games.
Those of you who have read my work before, you know I have my opinions about Rick Stansbury. But, I will say in watching him walk off the court at the end of the SEC Championship game, and at the end of the UNC game, it was the look of a coach who was only defeated due to his players not executing what he had ask them to do. Be that a certain style of defense on a final play, or one in which a player didn’t take the shot he drew up in a timeout. That’s speculation, but it’s different than what I’ve felt or seen before from Stans. With that said, for the 12 year in a row, a couple of things that I’m getting sick of seeing year in and out, are the following: (1) We take our foot off the pedal, way to early. If I’m the only State fan who feels this way, let me know. But take the UNC game for instance, State was up 16-4, hot from 3 and all around, and then what all Bulldog fans refer to as “Stans’ Ball” kicked in. What’s that? It’s simply gaining a large lead, and instead of pushing your lead out even further, you play a Dean Smith style of 4 corners, with no intention of looking to shoot the ball, til 6 seconds are left on the shot clock. Also known as a period in which, other teams get the idea, force turnovers off lazy passes, get out in transition, and completely swap their old circumstance for your new one…which is TIMEOUT! Up 16-4, next thing you know you are down 20-19. That’s a 16-3 run, and thanks to letting the Heels back in the game, you are down at the half. Gotta fix this. (2) We need a X’s and O’s coach, to assist Stansbury in game winning situations. Take the first UK and UNC games. Both games we had offensive possessions to put the games away. In both cases, we gave either Bost or Stewart the ball, and told them to drive and draw the foul, rather than drawing up a play that put our guys in the position to make a shot to seal it. Teams are so immune to that technique now days, that they expect it. As far as defensive chances to close out games, the opportunities were there. I can’t help but think of Patrick Patterson’s wide open baseline jumper that forced OT versus UK, or this past weekend’s game winning drive and lay up by Larry Drew II. In both cases, the defensive set up was a joke. Gotta fix this. (3) Finally, we have to win the games we should win. No excuse for loses to WKU and Rider. I feel like a broken record, but a Stansbury team is gonna lose 4 or 5 games a year, that they shouldn’t, that’s just a reality. Our team has to be ready to play, regardless of the opponent. Want to know how to fall out of the national spotlight, and lose your ranking? Lose these games. On the opposite side of the spectrum, we can’t wait to start playing during the final 5 minutes against the UF’s, the Vandy’s, etc. Common trends, that need to be stopped. As much as I like Stans, these things are major areas of weakness every year. Gotta fix this.
I do give credit where credit is due, and Stansbury deserves some considering what he was able to accomplish considering our roster situation. John Riek was suspended for the first 9 games, due to NCAA sanctions. That time away, took game conditioning and valuable experience away from the 7 footer from the Sudan. Not only that, but after this year it was quite apparent that Riek still needs recovery time for his knee to heal. State also missed out the physical play and presence of Elgin Bailey. The Junior had provided valuable rest to Varnado in years past. Not only that, but Bailey also held his own on D, in rebounding, and wasn’t bad at finding his way into the scoring column. There is always the Renardo Sidney case, which I won’t delve into. But after the first 10 games or so next year, Sidney should find his way onto the court, possibly earlier depending on the appeal. Last but not least, Dee Bost’s stamina was pushed to the limit this season, due to a preseason injury to Twany Beckham. When you consider the fact that 2 of these injuries, contributed to the fatigue of our 2 best players (Varnado and Bost) night in and night out, it makes you wonder the season we might have had, with health on our side. One thing we will always wonder about though is, the duo that never was…that being Varnado and Sidney side by side.
Overall, what’s your feelings about next year? Positive or negative? No clue what to expect? This is the last basketball post of the year, so rest assured the basketball talk is over.