That Mississippi Valley State begins this season with 14 straight away games catches the eye, but it can be greeted with a yawn. Sean Woods' Delta Devils fit the crazy-schedule profile. So-called mid-major programs need the money that comes with guarantee games, so they embrace a philosophy of anything — almost literally anything — for a buck. They hope the on-court shellackings can toughen the team for conference play.
For Mississippi State, or any school in a BCS conference, to play a crazy schedule comes as a surprise.
How's this for crazy? The Bulldogs played East Tennessee State on Dec. 11, then North Carolina A&T on Dec. 12, then Nicholls State on Dec. 13, then Alabama State on Dec. 14 and then an exhibition against Belhaven on Dec. 15.
That's five games on five consecutive nights, if you're scoring at home. And just to gin up the crazy quotient, the exhibition on the fifth night was played more than 100 miles from campus in Jackson, Miss.
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After what surely was an unprecedented stretch for any college team, Mississippi State left Starkville on Thursday for a two-week road trip that called for games in the Bahamas, Honolulu and Las Vegas.
"It looked a lot better in September when we made out the schedule than it does now," Coach Rick Stansbury said.
There is a method to the madness.
Stansbury wanted as many games as possible before Southeastern Conference play began because point guard Dee Bost and forward Renardo Sidney would be serving suspensions.
Bost had to sit out the fall semester because he had become academically ineligible. He also had been hit with a nine-game suspension for missing the deadline for withdrawing from the 2010 NBA Draft.
Because Bost could not serve the two suspensions concurrently, Stansbury packed as many games as possible into the time between semesters so Bost could return to play against SEC teams.
Sidney, a celebrated prospect since the ninth grade, was serving a nine-game suspension in the aftermath of an NCAA investigation into whether his family received impermissible benefits during the time he attended high school in Los Angeles. He sat out all of last season as the investigative process unfolded.
The nine-game suspension figured into why Stansbury scheduled the exhibition against Belhaven on Wednesday. It came after the ninth game of the season. The State coach wanted to give Sidney a tuneup before his first "real" game in more than a year and a half, which was scheduled for Saturday against Virginia Tech in the Bahamas.
Sidney scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds in 15 minutes against Belhaven. That fell far short of his own expectations.
"I thought I was going to get 30 [points] and 20 [rebounds]," he told the Jackson newspaper, The Clarion-Ledger. "I was cramping real bad. It was just a poor game decision, not hydrating real well. I've got to do better and hydrate and eat more bananas."
Unlike the five games in five nights, the trip for games in the Bahamas, Honolulu and Las Vegas was coincidental.
"We wanted good competition," Stansbury said. "I didn't realize we would not have Dee" because he missed the deadline for withdrawing from the draft.
After playing Virginia Tech in the Bahamas on Saturday, Mississippi State was to travel to Hawaii to play Washington State, either Baylor or San Diego and then a third game in the Diamond Head Classic against possibly Butler, Florida State or Utah. On the way home, the Bulldogs will play St. Mary's in Las Vegas on Dec. 29 before dragging home the next day.
Mississippi State needed an upgrade in strength of schedule. Going into the two-week trip, Collegerpi.com rated the Bulldogs' strength of schedule at No. 315.
Stansbury downplayed the physical toll of five games in five nights.
"These kids play so much AAU basketball, two or three games a day," he said. "And for the most part, practices are more difficult than games. If you're tired in a game, you sit next to the coach. If you're tired in practice, you stay in there.
"It's getting emotionally ready game after game after game. That's a challenge."
As noted earlier, the University of Kentucky — and not the NCAA — might be responsible for the time it's taking for a decision on Enes Kanter's eligibility. If the NCAA had again ruled Kanter ineligible despite UK's "new information," the school would have an unlimited amount of time to decide whether to again appeal.
Theoretically, this means UK could benefit from having Kanter practice all season while supposedly pondering whether to appeal. Players in eligibility limbo can practice if the school launches an appeal.
UK announced its "new information" shortly after the NCAA's decision to allow Cam Newton to continue playing despite believing that the Auburn quarterback's father tried to sell his son's services to Mississippi State.
One big difference: the NCAA had insufficient evidence linking Newton to the play-for-pay scheme. With Kanter, the NCAA has documentation of the pro team in Turkey depositing money in the player's bank account.
If UK is dragging out the process in hopes that a credible rationale for declaring Kanter eligible will emerge, that contrasts with the norm. Usually, schools want a fast resolution.
Kansas knows something?
Kansas learned this month that questions about freshman Josh Selby's amateur status would not prevent him from playing this season. This led KU to send out a transcript from Selby's news conference. The transcript included this:
Question: How did Selby feel about sitting out nine games for Kansas when Enes Kanter will miss the entire season at Kentucky?
Answer: I do feel that I am lucky because when I saw what happened with the Kanter situation, I wondered if they (the NCAA) would do the same thing with me. But God does things for a reason, and I am just thankful that God gave me the opportunity to play a game in college."
Cal knows something?
As a playful(?) aside on Friday, John Calipari referred to a new arena in Lexington in four years. With the existing lease expiring in 2018, did the UK coach know something?
Bill Owen, president and chief executive of Lexington Center Corp., was unaware of a plan for a new arena in place within four years. "Maybe Cal knows something I don't," he said.
A "significant amount" of study remains to be done before serious planning and construction begins on a new arena, Owen said. And don't forget the important co-project: expansion of the adjoining Lexington Convention Center. The study will take "plus or minus a year," Owen said.
In an earlier interview, Owen said it would take one year to design the project and two more years for construction.
So Calipari's four-year timetable is plausible. But in the current financial climate, it's wishful thinking.
Here's an update on Georgia, Kentucky's opening opponent on the SEC schedule.
Going into this weekend's play:
■ Georgia had gotten plenty of experience with possession-by-possession competition. All eight games had a two-possession margin inside the final minute with four decided on the last possession.
■ Georgia led the SEC with two victories on an opponent's home court. In the previous three seasons, the Bulldogs had won a total of three games on opponents' home courts.
The 3-28 record in those seasons included 0-11 in 2009-10, 1-9 in 2008-09 (the only victory coming at UK) and 2-8 in 2007-08.
■ Georgia had seen plenty of zone defenses. Opponents clogged up the middle and dared the Bulldogs to shoot jump shots. The Bulldogs' 39 three-point baskets placed them last among SEC teams in that category, and they were ninth in three-point accuracy (33.6 percent). That includes 12-for-22 three-point shooting against Georgia Tech.
■ Transfer guard Gerald Robinson was proving to be a difference maker, not necessarily as a scorer, but as a creator and distributor. His playmaking led to the winning play in Georgia's three most notable victories: against Saint Louis, Alabama-Birmingham and Georgia Tech. He led all SEC players with an average of 5.4 assists.
20-1 odds on UK
Bodog.com released updated odds last week on the chances of various teams winning the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Even with Kyrie Irving's injury, the Web site made Duke an 11-4 favorite to win it. Ohio State was second choice at 11-2, followed by Kansas at 7-2, Michigan State at 12-1 and Pittsburgh at 18-1.
Bodog.com lumped Kentucky with Kansas State and Syracuse at 20-1.
Here are the odds on other teams of note:
Tennessee 25-1, Connecticut 25-1, North Carolina 35-1, Florida 55-1, Louisville 55-1, Minnesota 60-1, Vanderbilt 75-1, Mississippi State 80-1, Butler 100-1, Alabama 150-1, Georgia 150-1, Indiana 150-1, Louisiana State 200-1 and Ole Miss 225-1.
To use the likeness of an active player in a commercial venture is an NCAA rules violation. This causes a problem for makers of a UK basketball-themed calendar.
With a July 1 printing deadline, the makers err on the side of caution when debating whether to use information or pictures of underclassmen possibly not entering the draft.
"Eric Bledsoe was an NBA lean so we stayed away from mentioning him," said John Spalding, a UK graduate and one of the calendar's designers.
The 2010 UK calendar can be ordered via the Internet through Sunday night at Seasonneverends.com. The calendar, which sells for $14.99, is also available at several area stores including Kennedy Book Store, Joseph-Beth Booksellers and All Sports.
Alabama announced that single-game tickets for games against Kentucky and Auburn would be available starting Monday at 8 a.m.
Tickets will be available on Rolltide.com. Tickets are $20 for adults and $8 for children 18 and under. Fans may purchase as many as four tickets for the Jan. 18 game against UK and as many as eight for the Feb. 23 date against Auburn.
Fans are encouraged to take advantage of the "print at home" feature and receive their tickets instantly via e-mail. Tickets may also be mailed or left at public will call.
Tickets for both dates are also available through one of two season mini-plans offered by the ticket office. The SEC East Mini-Plan includes the Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia games, and the SEC West Mini-Plan features Auburn, Mississippi and Mississippi State. Both packages are available for $45 each and may be purchased by calling the ticket office or via RollTide.com.
UK fans of a certain age remember the name David Lattin. His dunk sent a message early in Texas Western's historic victory over Rupp's Runts in the 1966 national championship game.
His grandson played in an event at Scott County last weekend. Khadeem Lattin, a freshman big man, scored seven points and grabbed a team-high 11 rebounds for the Houston-based Second Baptist Eagles in a game Dec. 10. He also blocked two shots and made three steals.
To Rupp's Runt Thad Jaracz. He turned 64 on Wednesday.