Bulldogs, Rebels falling behind on the court

Published 11:30 am Thursday, March 15, 2012

When this season started for Mississippi State and Ole Miss, all signs pointed to talented Mississippi State making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and Ole Miss possibly slipping in through the back door.

Conventional wisdom is 0-for-2 if you’re scoring at home.

The state’s two SEC teams earned bids to the Not Invited Tournament and the Bulldogs were especially miffed.

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“well u get what u deserve!” Bulldog forward and Howell Trophy winner Arnett Moultrie tweeted on Sunday, when the Bulldogs waited in vain for their names to be called on the NCAA selection show.

Can you blame them?

Since the NCAA Tournament has swelled to a porcine 68 teams this season, the winner of the pointless NIT should be considered the nation’s 69th best team. Even if going to the NIT final four means a trip to New York.

In Starkville, questions need to be raised about coach Rick Stansbury’s job security after the Bulldogs shed parts all over the runway before takeoff to make it two straight years without a NCAA berth. A solid two-game stretch sandwiched between a five-game losing skid and an inexplicable loss to punchless Georgia in the SEC Tournament does little for a NCAA Tournament resumé.

Stansbury’s team rarely showed its world-beating talent and looked rudderless late in the season, minus any urgency or heart. Renardo Sidney showed that he was anything but worth the wait after his NCAA-mandated suspension for the 2009-10 and the first few games of last season. With Sidney, Moultrie, fabulous freshman Rodney Hood and senior guard Dee Bost, the Bulldogs should’ve been a lot better.

But they weren’t. And 14-year coaching veteran Stansbury should take the blame, especially after Tuesday’s listless loss to UMass at home in the first round of the NIT.

Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy pulled a lot of rabbits out of his hat as he overcame having to dismiss two players — guards Dundrecous Nelson and Jamal Jones — in January. The Rebels put together a decent season, but the lack of offensive punch and a bench thinner than Dick Vitale’s hairline led to a 1-7 mark against the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) Top 50. That alone is enough to kill any chances of a NCAA bid, even with a win over second-seed Tennessee in the first round of the SEC Tournament.

But until the Rebels get a new basketball arena, the five-year NCAA drought will continue. It’s hard to attract top-shelf recruits when you’re playing in an aging dungeon like the Tad Pad, the SEC’s worst basketball arena.

It’s clear that even if Southern Miss loses to Kansas State today in the NCAA Tournament, Larry Eustachy’s program has all of the momentum. With Memphis leaving for the Big East, the Golden Eagles are in prime position to compete for NCAA berths every season.

Which is something that can’t be said in Oxford or Starkville.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at swilson@vicksburgpost.com.