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January 7, 2014
Ray, Bulldogs, not scared of Rupp challenge
Rick Ray started his SEC season off by speaking to the media on Monday afternoon. The Bulldogs begin their quest for a bigger conference year on Wednesday when MSU travels to Lexington to take on the #15 Wildcats of Kentucky at historic Rupp Arena.
"I'm proud of the fact that we've gotten to 10 wins considering we won 10 games all of last year, but we've got a daunting task to start off play at Kentucky," Ray said. "They're obviously a really talented ball club with unique individuals as far as their talent level. We've been preparing for them the last couple of days and we're excited for the challenge."
Ray spoke on how his players have improved in just a year.
"I think our guys have done a really good job at accepting their roles," Ray said of his team. "We're not a really good shooting team, but we've done a good job penetrating and making plays. I think the biggest difference is we have a year of maturity under our belt. When you have maturity, it's a lot easier to know who you are and what your role is on an individual team. The thing that's still hard for us at this point is we're back to having eight scholarship players. That's a little difficult for you but if you have the right scholarship players you still have the chance."
One of the main reasons that the Bulldogs haven't been able to expand their roster is the attrition they've dealt with. Recently, freshman Andre Applewhite was the latest to make the move somewhere else because of playing time despite starting half of the Bulldogs' games. Ray sees the transfers much more out of hand than most.
"I think it's gotten out of hand when you look at the numbers. You're in a tough situation. You have 13 scholarship players and you're going to play nine or 10 people so you're always going to have three or four guys that don't see the court. No one recruits somebody and says you're going to ride the bench. We recruit guys to contribute to Mississippi State basketball and sometimes those guys that don't make those contributions decide that they want instant success. I think it's something that's unfortunately a common theme, but I don't think it's something that weighs negatively on a program."
"If I had my druthers, if you transfer you sit out a year regardless of the situation," Ray said of the rule. "I think the NCAA is kind of painting themselves in a corner. I just think that they should make a blanket statement, you transfer and you sit out a year."
With the transfers and injuries, Ray has been forced to find depth from players that he would like to develop much more. Freshman Jacoby Davis is one of those players that he wants in the game more and production to improve when he enters.
"I think more than anything, it's going to take experience," Ray said of Davis' minutes improving. "I think Jacoby is going to have to get out there and see what he does. I think Tyson has to get out there and see what he does, he's more of a constant because you know what he's going to give you. My biggest concern is that emergency four spot. If we're in a situation where two of our guys are in foul trouble, who's our emergency four? We've got to figure that out."
Help is on the way in three signees for next year's class. Ray likes what both bring to the table.
"I think the one thing about Maurice is, everybody can see that we like shooting. I think Dunlap is the type of person that's going to provide an outside threat right away. Now the key to him is can he handle things physically? You don't know that about a freshman coming in so we've got to make sure in the offseason we're getting him bigger and stronger so that he can take on the rigors because I feel really confident that he can make perimeter shots."
"If you talk about the other freshman, Demetrius Houston, he's kind of opposite. He's got the physical attributes right away to step on the court because of his athleticism and his body. Now, does his skill level match his athleticism? They're two different guys. If you could combine them, then you've got a ready-made guy that can come in right away and play a lot of minutes."
Moving on to the present state of State, Ray has his biggest challenge of the year ahead. Facing off against some of the best talent in the country and over 20,000 blue-clad fans will be a task most would run from. Ray is ready to attack it, literally, at the rim.
"Your biggest concern with Kentucky is their rebounding margin," Ray said. "I think you can do some things to maybe get a stop but the stop doesn't end unless you get that defensive rebound and they've got so many guys with length to go get the basketball. (Julius) Randle is the type of kid that you're going to say that you're going to force him to shoot some shots but that's easier said than done because he's so big and strong that he puts his head down and drives and spins. He's a lottery pick and any time that you've got a lottery pick he's going to produce some challenges. The thing about him is he's such a physical presence. He's the type of player that doesn't settle for jump shots. That's what makes him so difficult to guard and he draws fouls all the time."
Preparing for players like Randle is difficult for a coach with a smaller group of players, but the speed is what could make the difference. He wants three players surrounding the ball and constantly helping Gavin Ware and Colin Borchert in the post.
"I think the one thing we talk about is 31 and that's three guys on one. So we're going to make sure we have everybody on the ball especially when Randall has the ball. He represents a unique situation. Most times when you pick and pop and drive you just switch it and we can't do that with I.J. and Trivante because that's a complete mismatch. Now what we've got to do is pick out a spot and beat him to a spot on situations and try to be there to help Colin and Gavin."
One big advantage the Bulldogs have going for them against Randle is their improvement in fouls. The post players have remained aggressive defensively while staying out of foul trouble, something that will be key on Wednesday.
"I think this is the first time that anybody has played on this level. Roquez was on the team the year before but he really didn't get any quality minutes. You look at Colin and he didn't participate on this level either. I think more than anything these guys have gotten accustomed to the way that college basketball is played at this level. Then they had to make more adjustments to the way they're calling fouls and I think they've done a great job at that."
Another improvement made might be the biggest of Ray's first two years. Craig Sword has improved his field goal percentage by nearly 20 points and is leading the team with 14 points per game. Ray sees it more about the shots he's not taking in year two.
"The one thing about him is he hasn't shot the ball very much and I think that's helped his field goal percentage more than anything," Ray said of Sword's improvement. "Now he gets to attack the rim and not settle for those shots. I don't know if Chicken is shooting the ball any better but he's making better decisions with the basketball when or not when to shoot."
Now for Sword, Ray and the rest of the Bulldogs, they will see just how far they've come in a year. After losing by 30 at Rupp last season, MSU still didn't seem scared of the situation. Ray expects the same this season with hopefully a different result.
"I will say this about our team last year, I never thought we went into a situation where we were scared of that situation," Ray said about his team last season. "I thought that we were always ready to play and if you go into a place like Rupp Arena and you've got fears you're not going to have success on the basketball court. I will say that about my team last year. I don't anticipate that being a problem again. I think if anything our guys have too much confidence in their abilities at times and that's a much better thing to have. Because when you get into a hostile environment and you try to instill confidence in a guy, it's probably not going to happen."
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