Wednesday, December 13, 2006
When it comes to Big 4 college basketball in Mississippi, success is spelled J-P-S.
Jackson Public Schools alumni will be key players at Jackson State, Mississippi State and Southern Miss this season. (Ole Miss doesn't have a Jackson player on its roster, which might explain UM's problems in recent seasons. The Rebels scored a recruiting coup a few years back when they brought in the Provine Posse, but they were unable to build on that.)
Murrah alumnus Trey Johnson, the nation's leading scorer, is the man who will make Jackson State go. Former Lanier great Charles Rhodes is being counted on to put Mississippi State back in the NCAA Tournament. And Murrah alum Jeremy Wise is a cornerstone in Southern Miss' rebuilding project.
JSU and MSU fans in Jackson can rejoice: Your favorite team will soon be coming to an arena near you. The Tigers will play their first home game of the season on Monday, Dec. 18 against Tougaloo. The Bulldogs are going to play New Orleans in a men-women doubleheader at the Mississippi Coliseum on Thursday, Dec. 21.
Coach: Tevester Anderson (fifth season, 41-49
2005-06: 15-17 (10-8 SWAC)
Arena: Athletics and Assembly Center, Jackson
Radio: 1400 AM
Trey Johnson briefly considered putting his name in the NBA Draft last spring, but decided to return to Jackson State for his senior season. He was the SWAC preseason player of the year and the collegeinsider.com preseason Mid-major player of the year. After the Tigers' first 10 games (all on the road), Johnson leads NCAA Division I basketball in scoring with 30.1 points per game. He has scored more than 30 points six times, but ironically he scored the fewest points (20) in the Tigers' biggest victory, at Big East member Rutgers on Nov. 21. He's definitely the Tigers' go-to guy: He has taken 245 of the Tigers' 597 shots this season.
JSU Coach Tevester Anderson said the Tigers' brutal season-opening road trip, which included stops at perennial NCAA tourney teams Alabama, Georgia Tech, Illinois and Memphis, should boost Johnson's stock with NBA scouts.
"Any time you're playing against top-10, top-25 teams, it gives the pros a chance to come in and see what you can do against top-level talent," Anderson told The Commercial Appeal of Memphis. "He's not doing it against LeMoyne-Owen or Delta State."
The Tigers are also counting heavily on two more Murrah alums, forward Julius Young and center Jeremy Caldwell. Young is averaging 8.3 points and 4.2 rebounds a game. Caldwell is delivering 6 points and 3.8 rebounds a game.
Outlook: Excellent, as long as Johnson stays healthy. Johnson is the reason the Tigers were picked to win the SWAC in spite of losing point guard Charlie White (a Provine alum), who was kicked out of school for carrying a gun on campus.
The Tigers have already played their toughest stretch of the season, so their SWAC schedule should be a piece of cake after that. The Tigers' 4-6 record also bodes well. In 2005-06, the entire SWAC only won eight non-conference games all season.
Coach: Rick Stansbury (ninth season, 164-90)
2005-06: 15-15 (6-12 SEC)
Arena: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville
Radio: 105.9 FM
Mississippi State came into last season short on experience and saw its streak of four NCAA Tournament appearances come to an end. But that dismal season was also a coming-out party for power forward Charles Rhodes, who averaged 13.8 points and 7.1 rebounds a game. The junior from Jackson was even better in SEC games, averaging 17.3 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Now Rhodes and sophomore point guard Jamont Gordon are being counted on to lead the Bulldogs back to postseason play.
"I've got a lot more expectations for those guys than I've had in the past," Stansbury told The Associated Press. "With expectations come more responsibilities."
Gordon leads the Bulldogs in scoring (15.8 ppg) and rebounds (8.6 rpg). Rhodes is averaging 11.1 points and 6.3 rebounds after Monday's 70-52 win at Miami. Rhodes missed a game and a lot of practice after suffering a sprained right wrist. Stansbury said the absence of his star player helped the Bulldogs.
"Our team has kept functioning without Charles," Stansbury told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. "Hopefully, he can come back and add to it, but we've had players step up, and that's what you have to have to make the team better."
A freshman who's going to see lots of playing time is Ben Hansbrough, the younger brother of North Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough. Ben was named SEC Freshman of the Week after ringing up 23 points, 8 assists and 3 steals in his first start against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
Outlook: Improving. The Bulldogs' tougher-than-usual early season schedule could pay dividends when SEC play begins. State (6-2) is picked to finish fourth in the SEC West. Potential problems are turnovers (MSU averages 15.6 per game) and youth (10 freshmen and sophomores). A young team means that Stansbury, who's second on State's all-time victories list with 170, might feel that he has to coach. The less Stansbury coaches, the better off the Bulldogs will be.
Coach: Andy Kennedy (first season)
2005-06: 14-15 (4-12 SEC)
Arena: Tad Smith Coliseum, Oxford
Radio: 97.3 FM
Andy Kennedy has come home to Mississippi to revive the Ole Miss basketball program. His predecessor, Rod Barnes, inherited an NCAA Sweet 16 program but couldn't keep it going. His alma mater fired him after four straight losing seasons.
Kennedy, a Louisville native, told USA Today that his plan is to "change the approach a little bit. We're also going to try to change the attitude and culture of Ole Miss basketball." The school once promoted its head basketball coach to assistant football coach. That's the basketball culture in Oxford.
Dwayne Curtis, the Rebels' top returning scorer and rebounder, missed the Rebels' first eight games due to a stress fracture in his left foot. The junior center saw his first action against Memphis last Saturday, playing 17 minutes, scoring 2 points and pulling down 6 rebounds. Ole Miss has to have an effective Curtis to have any chance in the SEC, which suddenly seems to have a bumper crop of big men.
Meanwhile, Kennedy's up-tempo style appears to suit senior guards Bam Doyne (16.7 points per game), Clarence Sanders (15.3 ppg) and Todd Abernethy (11.1 ppg).
Freshman guard Eniel Polynice is off to an impressive start. He had back-to-back double-digit scoring performances against New Orleans and Memphis.
Outlook: Mediocre. The Rebels have been piling up wins in the early season. They were 7-2 entering Tuesday's game with Louisiana-Monroe but they haven't exactly faced murderers' row. Last Saturday's 82-70 loss to Memphis is probably an indication of what will happen in SEC play. The Rebels were picked to finish sixth in the SEC West and will probably sink to that level. Fans will certainly find the Rebels' new style more entertaining to watch than the old half-court game, but the results won't be any more palatable. If the Rebels somehow finish .500, Kennedy will be a cinch for SEC Coach of the Year.
Coach: Larry Eustachy (third season, 21-38)
2005-06: 10-21 (3-11 CUSA)
Arena: Reed Green Coliseum, Hattiesburg
Radio: 1180 AM/103.3 FM
Coach Larry Eustachy spent the offseason purging the Southern Miss roster. He dismissed four seniors-to-be and brought in 10 newcomers. Jeremy Wise is the biggest name among the first-year Golden Eagles. He signed with Mississippi State following his senior year at Murrah. But he couldn't get eligible and spent a year at prep school before signing with USM.
Wise is the only USM player to start all seven games this season. The freshman guard is averaging 16.9 points and has been the Eagles' leading scorer in five games. Wise gives the Eagles a scoring threat to go with Courtney Beasley, USM's only dependable scorer last season. Beasley is averaging 11.3 points and 6.4 rebounds a game this season.
Center Demar Dotson, a junior college transfer, has come on strong in the last three games, averaging 17.3 points and 9.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 225-pounder originally signed with the Eagles two years ago but had to go the juco route because of grade problems.
Outlook: The Eagles are picked to finish 11th among CUSA's 12 teams this season. Former party animal Eustachy is obviously doing what he thinks is necessary to bring the USM program back from the dead. But the constant turnover in players has created instability in the team. The Eagles are 7-0 for the first time since the 1985-86 season, but don't be fooled. Three of USM's victims are low-level NCAA Division I teams, one is a Division II club and the others are members of the NAIA's GCAC, including Belhaven.
USM's players know the score, too. "The teams we've played are not good like the people in our conference, but they give us a chance to see where we're at," Beasley told the Hattiesburg American.
Next up for the Eagles is a date with Alabama on Saturday, Dec. 16, in Mobile. Eustachy has called his team the youngest in CUSA and one of the youngest in the nation. That's not a formula for success.
[quote]The less Stansbury coaches, the better off the Bulldogs will be. [/quote] You must not be too familiar with Stansbury... the guy can coach. I'm not saying he's the best coach in the world, but he's won his share of games from coaching decisions. And he's always got well above average talent. Granted, he seems to always lose a preseason game at home to some unknown team... but I think it's usually from shuffling lineups around to find the best chemistry. So, that's a knock on him. I'm not sure if the SEC has a "great" coach in the entire league. I think that Gottfried at Alabama is probably the worst (now that Rod Barnes is gone). I've never seen them play anything but "organized" streetball. That's why they're so bad on the road. Gottrock$ is like a deer in the headlights outside of Tuscaloosa... and they get plenty of help from the zebras at home, for some reason.
I dunno, Millhouse, I'd say that Kentucky's Tubby Smith and Florida's Billy Donovan are pretty close to being great coaches. Winning an NCAA title will do that for you. If only Tubby could recruit as well as he coaches, UK fans might not hate him so much. Stansbury is probably a better coach than he gets credit for, but he has presided over some inexplicable losses in games where State clearly had a better team. Sometimes his players don't seem motivated (or even interested) and you have to put that on the coach when it happens in college. I will give Rick credit for being a great recruiter, though. He has Mississippi virtually locked up. And just think about Jonathan Bender, Travis Outlaw and Monta Ellis, all of whom signed with State only to jump to the NBA early. Imagine if those guys had played in Starkville ...
- Dr. S
Donovan is too young and too early in his career to be great, but he's definitely on the right track. Of course, Florida has the biggest budget in the most well endowed athletic conference in the land. Winning there in any sport is a given. Tubby? I doubt you'd find too many uKat fans that would call him a "great" coach. He won the NC his first year with Pitino's players. He hasn't been anywhere near it since. UK will always be in the top 2 or 3 of the conference in any given year if they're not #1. This football conference doesn't have a school that has dedicated as much to their basketball program as UK has in past decades. And, year to year, I'm not sure any ever truly will. UF winning the title last year was probably more of an anomaly than a sign of things to come. All this to say... The line about "the less Stansbury coaches, the better" just doesn't seem accurate to me. He definitely needs to step it up when he gets to the NCAAs. But, other than that, he's done a very, very solid job at State. On the other hand, while he is regarded as a great recruiter, recent defections have caused me to rethink this a little. Watching umiss play South Alabama this weekend, I noticed that USA's point guard (Stephen Cowherd) was a former Stansbury recruit. He never panned out, and then we signed Gary Ervin (worst PG ever - now in pigville). Walter Sharpe was a highly regarded player that is out of basketball now, and Jerrell Houston was, too. I love the lineup that we have today, but they've come together in a most unusual way. Stansbury has had way more than his fair share of recruiting failures in the past 5 years, not even taking into account the 3 times in the past 8 years that he's had signees go directly to the NBA! It's almost miraculous that he's got the team that he does today!
Congrats to my Dawgs for throttling alabama today to win a share of the Western Division title with umiss! The state of Mississippi pwned this half of the conference this year. Even if it was a down year, somebody had to win it. And it sho' nuff got won today. What a thrashing!