Mississippi State released it's out of conference schedule for the 2014-2015 basketball season earlier this week, and the Bulldogs have an interesting slate of foes for the first part of the basketball season. The resident geniuses of the blog decided to take a look at the schedule and share their thoughts.
I'd prefer to catch a couple more teams poised for good seasons, but we've got some "name" teams in there - St. Louis, Bradley/TCU, Oregon St, and Florida State.
I like State early on. Only South Carolina Upstate and FSU return at least 3 starters from a winning team. Anything shy of double-digit wins would be a disappointment. I'm expecting 10-3, possibly 11-2 if we catch a break.
With repeated assurances that State's days of six-scholarship-players-and-a-prayer are over, I'm genuinely excited about the upcoming season. As we've all noticed, Rick Ray's teams regularly bring the effort and grit we so sorely missed in Stansbury's final days. Now that those hard-working freshmen and sophomores have some experience with one another and with Ray's expectations, I'd like to think that things will start to gel this year.
The non-conference schedule, though, is frankly a little underwhelming. There are certainly some bright spots, of course. A home game with Florida State, who has been a competitive ACC team over the past five or six years, is noteworthy, as is a neutral-court game with Saint Louis, a team I somehow randomly caught enough on Fox Sports last year to become pretty impressed with. The game with Utah State, who is a stalwart of the strong-but-not-Gonzaga mid-major scene, should also provide a good chance to see how a Rick Ray team at full strength handles a well-disciplined program.
But otherwise, the slate of game is pretty bland. There's the obligatory McNeese State match-up. There's a road game that doesn't make any sense (Oregon State). There's a SWAC game. There are the random games with southern teams whose basketball programs we're vaguely aware of (Tulane, Arkansas State, and Western Carolina). And there are the games against schools you didn't know existed (USC Upstate and Clayton State).
(There's also the game between either Bradley or TCU. After mistakenly choosing last year's TCU game to be my first televised look at the 2013-2014 MSU basketball team, I think I'll just pretend that potential rematch isn't on the schedule.)
With the possible exceptions of Saint Louis and Florida State, there's no reason we shouldn't be in a position to win all of those games.
I'm not sure what to expect, but that's part of the fun. Here's hoping that this is the year Ray lifts us out of the steaming pile of poo left by our former coach.
I love the non-conference schedule simply because it combines enough name recognition with should-be sure wins that it's perfect for a team like ours that's improving but still not "there." Rick Ray still needs wins more than anything which this schedule will give him, yet at the same time there are a few games in there that should raise MSU fan's collective attentions more than, say, a schedule completely full of Alcorn States or directional schools.
To me, this year is one where the team has to take a step forward from the previous two seasons. The core group of Thomas, Sword and Ware are all juniors now, and IJ Ready is as seasoned as an SEC sophomore PG can be after being thrown in the fire last year. The non-con schedule should be something that these guys can handle for the most part; if not, the program may be in bigger trouble than we all originally realized. In a year where getting above .500 is a priority, I think this schedule is a big step in the right direction of getting there.
The non-conference schedule jumps out to me as one that belongs to a team getting ready to dip its toe in the waters of competitiveness again. You know how terrible it is during the summer to take those first steps into a cold pool? That is what Mississippi State is starting to do with this schedule. There are games against respectable foes such as Florida State and St. Louis. Those will be good litmus test games for the Bulldogs, and while maybe not wins for Mississippi State, if all is going well with the team, they should be competitive.
Looking at the schedule, there should be eight solid wins from this slate of games. Last year, the Bulldogs struggled with some teams of a similar caliber, but experience and depth should make that issue go away. There are also a few games that should be losses on that schedule. The trick for Mississippi State is to come out of it with 8-10 wins. Anything less will be a bit disappointing.
This is an important stretch for Mississippi State and Rick Ray. By the end of last year, one could wonder how much the Bulldogs had really improved. There were still blowout losses and a few hard fought wins. Last year, a lack of depth and experience could explain away a good bit of that. Things have changed this year, and the Bulldogs need to show tangible improvement. In no way is this an attack on Ray or his progress in an inherited dumpster fire, but the fans need the program to show improvement to encourage support for the team and Ray.
That's what we say. What do you think about the out of conference schedule?