Scott Stricklin could have a real mess on his hands if things don’t turn around quickly in Starkville. Mississippi State’s AD — already in the market for a new women’s basketball coach — might just have to jettison his men’s coach next month,
MSU has lost five games in a row. While 19-10 overall, the Bulldogs’ SEC record has fallen to 6-8 and their RPI has cratered at 64. Toss in a #61 strength of schedule rank and Rick Stansbury is on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year. Making matters worse, State plays an old SEC West schedule meaning they’ve avoided doubling up with Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt the past few seasons.
On Sunday, ESPN.com’s Jason King had this to say about Stansbury’s lastest squad:
“Mississippi State has become the most underachieving squad in college basketball. How a team with Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney, Arnett Moultrie and Rodney Hood can be 6-8 in a weak SEC is beyond me.”
Whether King is right or not doesn’t matter. What does matter is that thousands of angry Bulldog fans suddenly have a national writer they can point to who shares their belief that the coach isn’t getting the most out of his players.
But it gets worse still.
Arnett Moultrie — who has led the SEC in double-doubles since transferring in from UTEP last offseason — said yesterday that he thinks he knows why the Dogs are only 6-8 in the SEC… no team unity:
“A five-game losing streak is unheard of at any level of basketball — especially when you’ve got all this talent… Everybody’s got their own agendas.”
Moultrie even said that he turns to his high school coach for advice rather than to his teammates due to the lack of camaraderie. Asked if State could turn things around, Moultrie shockingly said, “Maybe not, probably not.”
Meanwhile, teammate Dee Bost questioned the work ethic of his teammates:
“You have to be self-motivated. If you’re not self-motivated then you shouldn’t be playing. We lose five games in a row, and if you’re not willing to lay it all on the line to win right now, then something is wrong.”
Moultrie agreed with Bost on the work ethic front (so maybe some of these guys do see eye-to-eye):
“I see how (my teammates) come up here and say how bad they want to win and how bad they want to go to the Final Four, but everybody doesn’t work as hard as they say, with as bad as they want to win.”
If that weren’t bad enough, Stansbury’s statements on Monday only dug the hole deeper. Asked about Moultrie’s “probably not” comment, the coach said:
“You wish he wouldn’t feel that way but, hey, if that’s what he said.”
Oh. Asked if his team is becoming fractured, the 14th-year coach said:
“Ain’t no problems there… You win together and you lose together. It’s easy when things don’t go well to separate. The hard thing to do is to stay together and keep fighting. And we’re still playing for a lot.”
Depending on the views of MSU’s AD and biggest boosters, the Dogs could be playing for their coach’s job.
Now, perhaps Moultrie and Bost were simply speaking out of frustration and Stansbury is being honest when he says there are no chemistry problems in his locker room. At least one player — a walk-on — echoes the coach’s view.
But the perception is still awfully bad:
* State is dropping game after game in a season that began with very high expectations.
* Players are squawking in the press.
* There’s been at least one player on the team with a questionable work ethic ever since Stansbury decided to chase the toxic-to-everyone-but-MSU Renardo Sidney three years ago.
* At the moment it looks like Stansbury will be stuck on four NCAA tourney wins through 14 seasons of work… unless his team can make a major run in the SEC tourney, land an at-large bid to the NCAAs, and grab a win in the Big Dance.
Stansbury — as we wrote last week — entered the season as the basketball version of Mark Richt. Too long in one place, he needed a big year to silence his critics.
Now he can’t even silence his own players, much less angry fans. And while State’s season goes up in flames, Stansbury provides quotes like “Ain’t no problem there” for his detractors to stew over.
It’s a little late for Christmas allusions, but to quote Charles Dickens: “If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race will find him here.”