Coming into this year Mississippi State fans felt this was a return year to the NCAA tournament for Rick Stansbury's basketball bulldogs.  Why not? A senior point guard, a transfer forward/center in Arnett Moutrie, a rebuilt Renardo Sidney and a stellar true freshman in Rodney Hood. This team had all the makings of a team that could make a run come March.

Flashes of a really good team showed in wins over Texas aTm,West Virginia and Arizona. But - with recent ups and downs and an overtime loss to Georgia this past Saturday, State may go from sure lock NCAA team to a bubble team or be left out if things aren't corrected quickly. 

Starting tonight Mississippi State 19-6 (6-4) begins their final stretch in SEC play.  State will travel to LSU 14-10 (4-6) to take on the Tigers in a game that's considered a must win. Of the remaining six games, four are on the road and the dawgs have the luxury of hosting Kentucky in one of its remaining two home games.

To say that this LSU game rings paramount is an understatement.  In Jerry Palm's latest bracketology predictions the bulldogs from Starkville are now projected as an 8-seed, where they were a 5 or 6 just a few weeks ago. 

The dawgs after this past Saturday's loss to Georgia plummeted to number 43 in this weeks RPI rankings.  This is all to familiar toMississippi State fans and its time to put up or shut up for Rick Stansbury. 

To add fuel to the fire, after theGeorgia loss - there was talk of fatigue, being tired and just worn out after playing Ole Miss just two nights before.  This adds more concern to not only the fitness of this bunch of bulldogs but the mental toughness of this team.  The play a day, rest a day play a day format now in the SEC (Thursday - Saturday schedule) is no different than a tournament format or the NCAA Tournament.  One may ask, if this team gets tired now, it will have no chance next month - IF they make the tournament.

Fans have flooded message boards, call in shows and social media expressing their displeasure and if State looses tonight in Baton Rouge the wheels could fall off this team.

See - perception is reality and right now State fans feel this is just the way its going to be with Rick Stansbury. High hopes - mediocre results.  Granted Rick has done a really good job in my opinion during his stay at Mississippi State, but over the last few years his teams have shown to be soft, lack mental toughness and loose to teams they are frankly better than on paper.

This time of year is all about getting hot and finding a groove heading into that final stretch and tournament ball.  For Rick Stansbury, the time is now.  The time is today.  In my estimation he needs to finish 4-2 on this stretch and win a game in the SEC Tournament.  That would secure a good seed.  A loss tonight, this team may spiral out of control for Stansbury.  If that happens, there probably will not be a next year in Starkville for the ole ball coach. 

For Stansbury, this is where the rubber meets the road, and that road starts tonight off I-10 in Baton Rouge.