Coach Rick Stansbury put his Bulldogs on display in a noon (actual start time more like 12:15) set of scrimmages lasting 20, 20, and 12 more minutes. At least 1,500 came by the Hump to preview coming Bulldog attractions, including a scattering of Kentucky football fans curious what the consensus West Division favorite will look like this winter. And if most of both left after that first 20-minute game, everybody saw enough to recognize a team with unlimited offensive possibilities.
Defense? Well, another issue entirely and something Stansbury will doubtless spend the remaining weeks before season tipoff addressing. But today was all about putting ball in basket and there was no shortage of shot takers and, even better, shot makers.
Final statistics will be available on the MSU athletics site. Evaluating them initially will require some effort as Stansbury kept swapping personnel among the maroon and white lineups…often series by series. The only player this seemed to affect was soph center Wendell Lewis who played perceivably better on one team than the other. This though was more a reflection of who Lewis was up against than what color shirt he was wearing.
Because Lewis, a modestly-used freshman backup, appears the most improved player on this entire roster. He and nominal first center Elgin Bailey were also the only post men making any consistent efforts on the defensive end, too, though reserve center John Riek managed a few moments on that end in the form of shot blocked purely on wingspan and not positioning. As the second game turned into ramble-scramble Riek found himself with the ball and unobstructed near the goal for some emphatic dunks showing he is much farther along this second fall at State.
But it was Lewis and Bailey making better impressions. Lewis was much more aggressive around the goal, both calling for the ball and working in traffic for high percentage shots that this year he was able to finish. And Bailey's efforts were even more encouraging as he seems almost over his series of health issues. Almost, because after the second game he took off the protective brace and wrapped the left knee in a large icepack. When in the game though Bailey was running full-throttle without any apparent issues. He also scored the ball when presented high-percentage opportunities, and as noted held his defensive ground in the lane very well. Their combined play today gives Stansbury a genuine November choice when picking his starting center between the more offensive Lewis and space-eater Bailey.
Then again, post play was often an afterthought Saturday. Everybody wanted to shoot for the crowd, or for bragging rights over teammates, and open looks were very rarely turned down by anyone. Not surprisingly those Dogs doing the best job with those looks were senior wingman Ravern Johnson and Bost. Put on opposing teams most of the day, they dominated perimeter play with trademark treys from all areas of the arc, led by eight from Bost for 40 total points. Johnson had five treys and 30 total points.
However, Johnson's stated goal of expanding his scoring skills to shorter shots and attacks on the goal were displayed in full. Again, minimal defensive labors assisted, but Johnson would have created some of his baskets even given a half-decent defender to beat. In fact his only shortcomings came on the too-easy layups without any pressure; those had a tendency to rim-out. Otherwise Johnson was the offensive pacesetter. And Bost is already known as more than just a perimeter popper. So none were surprised at his jaunts down the lane to either take the ball to the hole himself or dish to an open teammate.
Stansbury's problem of course is that Bost won't be available until January 8 and SEC season. Somebody has to fill the point (though Bost is realistically working as much as a two-guard as a one-man now); thus the ‘starter' today was Twany Beckham for one side and transfer Brian Bryant on the other. Both got help from older hand Riley Benock, who had a very good scrimmage on offense; his jump shot has gained some valuable arc in the final off-season but Benock was also looking more to score than before.
Bryant showed why his junior college coach was so high on the guard, though, and based purely on today's work is assuredly in the picture to start at point next month. If not immediately due to others being older in State's system, then soon enough. In fact the combination of Bryant and Bost was easily the most dynamic Bulldog backcourt of the day and hints at what how up-tempo this team can be come SEC season. With others throwing up threes as available, there weren't as many shots left for redshirted frosh guard Shaun Smith to take. He may still be getting up to college speed after missing a year for injury, but on a couple of open attempts the form was fine…especially on the ‘winning' shot to end game-two. He hasn't got time to waste either because frosh Jalen Steele is obviously going to be a contributor all over the court; he probably did more genuing ‘defending' than any other guard today, if measured by positioning and consistency.
Not everyone had a great Saturday though. Two Bulldogs left the court openly frustrated and with good reason(s). Senior Kodi Augustus simply struggled in every aspect. Not for lack of offensive opportunity because the forward slung it up as often as anyone but with less to show for it. He was 10-of-25 shooting through three games, and 3-of-12 at the arc. And Sidney? The big soph had his own struggles too, quite obviously amplified by still-incomplete conditioning. In fact, he cramped up almost immediately in the final game and this after sitting out almost have of the second to rest.
For the shortened day Sidney was 4-of-13 shooting and 2-of-6 on treys; though making longballs was not necessarily a good thing as it encouraged him to stay out on the perimeter and fire away. This was at the expense of post-play where the 6-10 and 275-or-so soph will be needed in SEC season. He had just six rebounds in 24 minutes; guard Bryant chased down ten boards himself.
Sidney does have time to get himself and his game back in shape, since he won't be activated until December 18 against Virginia Tech. His attitude will also need some adjusting as Sidney didn't mind showing, even shouting, his displeasure with teammates, with coaches, with officials, and anyone else he noticed after a miss, a turnover, or even having a ball blocked…as Riek did a couple of times. State and Stansbury do need Sidney to deliver upon arrival, though, if this is to be a team that has more than outside shooting to rely on.
The Bulldogs go on display again next Saturday, with a real—if exhibition—opponent. Lindsay Wilson will be in the Hump for a 2:00 contest, giving a further look at what Stansbury had his squad work on in the week ahead.