While most everyone across the country this week ready's for the NCAA Tournament by filling out brackets and deciding where they will watch all the madness, there is another tournament that is taking place. A tournament for those left out of THE tournament. The National Invitational Tournament is beginning and either you are super excited to be here because you are a program that has not had much success and this feels like a step forward; or - you feel this is a step backwards when you should be playing this coming weekend in the NCAA's.
For Mississippi State (21-11) I can assure you this is a step backwards. This group of Bulldogs were just eight weeks ago ranked in the top twenty and a sure fire lock for the big dance. After a colossal collapse the last few weeks, one has to wonder what the mindset of this team is as they host the Minutemen of Massachusetts (22-11).
For head coach Rick Stansbury, the Bulldogs have no one to blame but themselves for being a participant in the NIT. “There’s no one to blame but us,” Stansbury said. “We had our opportunities. Most times this time of year you’re trying to play your way in. We basically played our way out.”
With the students on spring break and players tweeting yesterday about not really wanting to practice, you have to wonder will this team (MSTATE) show up mentally ready to play. For Stansbury, it is up to him and his staff to try and salvage something for this year but he knows with this bunch it is easier said than done. It’ll be a huge challenge for us, as you know,” said Stansbury. “It’s a huge disappointment for us. So it will be a huge challenge. It’s not like we’ve got a Wednesday or Thursday game, we’ve got a Tuesday game.”
Stansbury continued with an obvious hangover from the past weekends SEC Tournament meltdown, “Naturally everybody is disappointed,” Stansbury said today. “There’s a lot of anticipation still, even though we know we didn’t play well down the stretch. You’re sitting there and for the most part everybody had you in until you wake up Sunday morning; and had you on the edge still. But when you leave the door open for somebody else to make the decision you expect the worst. We had an opportunity to close the door in many situations. That’s what makes it more difficult.”
Now for Stansbury as his coaching seat gets hotter by the minute, he has a difficult task on hand which is to motivate a team that has seemed at times disinterested and beyond the point of motivating - to get themmentally ready to play in a tournament they really could care less to play in.
Stansbury continued, You’ve got to be mature enough to put the disappointment behind you. It’s another opportunity to play and compete.”
And he better hope his team is ready as the Minutemen have victories this year over the likes of Xavier and Temple who are both in the big dance. UMass has shown throughout the year to be very balanced and can fill it up beyond the 3-point line at a moments notice.
This will probably be the final game of the 2012 season at Humphrey Coliseum for several Bulldogs as the winner will advance to play the winner of Seton Hall vs. Stony Brook - Seton Hall is a one seed on this side of the bracket.
Depending on what is on Athletic Director Scott Stricklin's mind - If the Dawgs come out flat and lay an egg tonight, this could very well be Stansbury's last game at the Hump as well. For Stansbury, if he has any tricks up his sleeve he better use them now. There may not be no tomorrow for him either.