Coach Rick Stansbury enters his 14th Southeastern Conference opener tonight as his 15th-ranked Bulldogs square off against Arkansas.
State carries a 13-2 record into the outing looking for its fourth opening conference win against the 11-3 Razorbacks.
Recent history shows the Bulldogs have learned how to win in Fayetteville, Ark. as the Bulldogs have won three of their last four trips to the Natural State.
However, Stansbury knows that has nothing to do with this year’s matchup.
“Every year's different," Stansbury said. "We take a different team up there; they've got a different team. There's no question, they're better in a lot of ways than they've been, because they've got so many guards that can play.
“I'll tell you this, when that place is right, that's the most difficult place to play in this league. What makes places always difficult is the team you go play against. You're not having to play against that crowd, even though it's a factor, but it's that team that you have to play against. They probably hadn't been as consistent lately, even though they've had some good teams.”
The difference this trip is the return of an up-tempo, pressure style made famous by Nolan Richardson, a system in which new head coach Mike Anderson is familiar with.
“They're doing what they do," Stansbury said. "They press, they get after you. Again, they're a good team. They're 11-3. They've got a lot of different weapons, a lot of different guys that can dribble and pass it and shoot the basketball. They're good around that block, but their strength is all those perimeter people they play.”
Knowing the press is coming would have been a scary prospect for State a season ago but this year, Stansbury believes he has the players to take care of business.
“I think we’re more equipped to handle full-court pressure than we were last year for sure,” he said. “We had one guy that could dribble the ball last year against it. That wasn’t Riley (Benock) or Ravern’s (Johnson) strengths. We have other guys that you feel comfortable bringing up that basketball. When you got other options, definitely makes you better.
“We've got multiple handlers and we’re not limited to one guy that can bring it up like last year. We've got guys that can bring it up at time. That’s good for us.”
State won’t just face a full-court press from Arkansas, it is their half court defense that seems to be its hallmark.
“They want to press you like they've always done, they want to get after you in the halfcourt.,” said Stansbury. “I don't know if it's like it used to be totally yet. I'm not sure they can do some things they've done consistently over the years, but that's what they're trying to do.”
On the offensive end, the Hogs are lad by freshman guard B.J. Young who averages 14.1 points per game. Young, along with sophomores Mardracus Wade and Rickey Scott will likely utilize the pick-and-role often as they look to attack State’s Renardo Sidney who has shot over 75 percent from the floor over the past four games.
“That’s a very obvious thing that people attack Sid at is ball screens," Stansbury said. "They make him guard ball screens. There’s only so many ways you can guard them without playing zone. We've got to be able to continue to improve at things with that ball screen. Most times (Sidney) has been better at it and we have to find something that works best for him.”
State will counter with one of the top scoring tandems in the Southeastern Conference this season, Arnett Moultrie and Dee Bost. The duo is ranked fourth and fifth respectively in scoring with Moultrie picking up 16.8 points while Bost manages 15.9 points per game.
Moultrie also has eight double-doubles this season as he leads the league in rebounding with 11.9 boards per game.
“I think we match up OK (with Arkansas)," said Stansbury. “Missing Powell is bad and good for them. You take away a guy that can score and is powerful around that paint.
“At the same time, when you take him out they play with another skill guy a lot more. The way they play they can go on rolls because they are skilled and they can put those four guards out there together and sometimes there are 3-point guards or guys that played point guard, guys that can pass it and shoot it.”
The tip is slated for 8 p.m. and will be broadcast on CSS with Matt Stewart and Daymeon Fishback on the call.