Six scholarship players on the current roster, an experienced junior that's been suspended indefinitely, eight-straight losses, and a nationally-ranked baseball team about to hit the diamond this weekend sounds like the perfect recipe to close this far-from-storybook ending on a depressing basketball season, right?
Mississippi State basketball (7-15, 2-8 in the SEC) has shown us that a group of players who practice hard and have a drive to be a collective team can win a few games. Seven is an embarrassing number from the outside looking in but anyone from our perspective knows that number is respectable to the max. Ten total wins at the beginning of the season looked like a fantasy and Ray would be deemed a Miracle Worker" if that occurred. With eight guaranteed games left (and possibly more if State can win a few crazy ones in Nashville's SEC Tournament in March), State could not only get ten but maybe even eleven or twelve. Nothing short of a fantastic season result is a few blood, sweat, and tears away. State could easily make games out of LSU at LSU, Vandy at MSU, Ole Miss at MSU, USC at USC, and Auburn at Auburn. After that, they will face an uphill battle in the Bridgestone Arena.
Rick Ray spoke to the media Monday. He discussed all issues. Ray was upset his squad didn't "begin the week" at Ole Miss last week. With it being a rivalry game, he said the first half didn't provide a spark to put his team in a position to win until late in the second half. Early fouls by center Gavin Ware prevented him valuable minutes. In Saturday's Florida game, he mentioned the Gators knew "how to protect their home court." That's the type of environment, as well as Oxford, MSU needs to get used to with inexperienced players on the court. The inconsistent starting lineup is also something else that plagues the Bulldogs. When you have a small number of possible players, "you're going to play significant minutes." Despite the losing streak, the team is "surprisingly in a pretty good state." Players like Fred Thomas (10 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 77% FT), Craig Sword (9.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG, team-high 39 steals), Ware (9 PPG, team-high 102 rebounds), Colin Borchert (4.6 RPG, 28 assists), Trivante Bloodman (team-high 641 minutes, 61 assists), Tyson Cunningham (5.9 PPG), and even Baxter Price (12 games, 39 total minutes) are getting attention from other coaches due to their heavy involvement. These kids are buying in to their staff's philosophy. Times will be tough, things will look bad, but you must continue to work hard. This is even gaining Rick a lot of outside respect from other teams including Billy Donovan and Missouri's Frank Haith.
Speaking of the Missouri Tigers (17-6, 6-4), they visit The Hump Wednesday at 7 p.m. Mizzou isn't the best SEC team on the road this season. Their 0-5 road record is raising a few eyebrows from the media trying to figure out the Tiger's season resume. But at times, Missouri has throttled folks like Ole Miss, Alabama, Georgia, Vanderbilt, and Auburn. Here's a scary fact: Laurence Bowers, Jabari Brown, Phil Pressey, Alex Oriakhi, Earnest Ross, and Keion Bell all average at least 10.5 points per game. If we play six vs. six in stats, we're toast. They're an up-and-down team depending on their venue, no doubt. If fans can pack The Hump Wednesday and bring the noise, a Mississippi State victory over a well-versed, Big Dance Missouri squad isn't completely out of the question.
But, wait, don't get me wrong... go out and support MSU baseball Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as we host Portlandia.