On Saturday afternoon, the Friars will be taking on an inexperienced and rebuilding Mississipi State team as part of the SEC / Big East Challenge. Overall, there are 11 other games occurring over Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, giving us an opportunity for some well timed conference pride! Hey, the conference is going down in flames and nobody can be trusted, might as well try to band together to collectively kick the arses of a bunch of schools down south! Oh, you stabbed us all in the back and left us for dead? No worries, at least we can still agree that we all hate Kentucky.
The Bulldogs lost most of their top players from last year, and are in a rebuilding mode after coach Rick Stansbury was “fired” after last season. Maybe he had a tough time juggling coaching Mississippi State and running a prestigious but fake University of his namesake in Saved By the Bell land. “If Stansbury is that hypocritical, they’ll just have to do without Jessica Spano!” You are not the Harvard of the west, Stansbury…North, south, east, or west, there’s only one Haaar-vard!!
In is another Rick, a fellow named Rick Ray. He’s a former assistant coach who spent time at Indiana State, Northern Illinois, Purdue, and Clemson. Unlike Ed Cooley last year, Ray doesn’t have a Vincent Council type player to lean on in order to consistently stay competitive. The team is young and banged up, and have yet to win away from home so far this year. PC should be able to give the Big East a notch in the win column if they continue their smart and resilient play, but it remains to be seen if the Dunk will be rockin’ after Coach Cooley made his plea to the students to support the Friars who have worked hard this season.
WHAT TO: KNOW
Game Time: Saturday, Noon
Opponent: Mississippi State (2-4)
Location: The Dunk
Spread: Providence -12.5
Ken Pomeroy Ranks: Providence #70, Mississippi State #227
TeamRankings.com Projection: Providence 72, Mississippi State 62.5
Hit up the rest of the preview after the jump.
WHAT TO: VOTE FOR
WHAT TO: LOOK FOR
Turnovers on both ends: Remember how I said in the Holy Cross preview that there was a potential for a lot of turnovers? The Crusaders held up their end of the bargain, but PC had their best game of the season in this department (16.1% turnover percentage). That’s precisely why you shouldn’t ever listen to a thing I say. This time, it could get real ugly, I swear. The Friars could have trouble with Mississippi’s defense, which is ranked #46 in the country at forcing turnovers (24.4% turnover percentage). Freshman guard Craig Sword has 14 steals through 6 games, good for 48th in the country. However, Sword gives the ball back way more than his steals bring in, keeping up with the trend of the team as a whole. He turns the ball over on almost 40 percent of his possessions, contributing to Mississippi State’s 325th ranked spot in turnover percentage in the country.
Mississippi State 2nd Chances: Do you believe in 2nd chances? The Bulldogs surely do, and will try to take advantage of the Friars’ sometimes shaky defensive rebounding. Mississippi State grabs 39.7% of their own misses, which is ranked #37 in the country. The Friars front court is going to have to battle the two youngsters Gavin Ware (freshman) and Roquez Johnson (sophomore), who each pull down 3 offensive rebounds a game. LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts need to have a strong game on the boards.
Depth, but you won’t find it anywhere: The Friars can relate to the roster luck Mississippi State has had to deal with. Two freshman already tore their ACL before the season started (guard DeAndre Applewhite in early November, and projected starting point guard Jacoby Davis in July), and junior guard Jalen Steele fractured his wrist after only two games and will be out 6-8 weeks. Rick Ray has been playing 7-8 players, all mostly in the 25-30 minutes per game range. PC has managed to avoid any serious foul trouble this season (having no one foul out yet), but Mississippi State has had players DQ’ed four times. Something to keep an eye on.
Batts to Puerto Rico form: Even though the Friars have won handily over the past two games, Kadeem Batts seemed to have left his overall aggressiveness down in Puerto Rico. He scored under ten points for the first time this season against Fairfield after dealing with foul trouble all game, and followed it up with a 7 point, 6 rebound effort in the Holy Cross blowout. That wasn’t a big deal though, because PC didn’t necessarily need him while Ice Cotton was single-handedly dismantling everyone. We can’t rely on Cotton to be this dominant every time (OR CAN WE?!?!), so Batts needs to continue to produce like he did earlier in the season to give the Friars some balance. Like I mentioned up above, this will be an important game for PC on the glass, and Kadeem can certainly be a huge factor.
WHAT TO: READ
Friars.com: Gamenotes [PDF]
Scouting the Bulldogs: Mississippi State enters the game with a 2-4 mark. In their most recent game, the Bulldogs defeated Alcorn State, 60-42, on November 27 in Starkville, Miss. Sophomore forward Roquez Johnson (Montgomery, Ala.) leads the team in scoring (15.2 ppg) and is second in rebounding (6.6 rpg). Freshman forward Gavin Ware (Starkville, Miss.) leads the team in rebounding (7.7 rpg).
HailState.com: Gamenotes [PDF]
Mississippi State and Providence are meeting for the first time. The Friars are one of three
teams MSU is playing for the first time this season, with Marquette and Texas-San Antonio
being the other two.
MSU is 10-14 against Big East foes, including the setback to Marquette last week.
Against Alcorn State, MSU held a plus-30 rebounding margin (50-30). That was the highest
margin since being plus-32 (55-23) against Arkansas-Little Rock on Dec. 11, 2004.
The 50 rebounds were the most for the Bulldogs since grabbing 50 against South Carolina in
the 2009 SEC Tournament in Tampa.
Mississippi State held the Braves to just 42 points, the fewest since limiting LSU to 39 in January of 2008 in Baton Rouge.
Providence Journal: Cooley wants PC fans to step it up
“I really hope our fans are appreciating the effort, energy and attitude of our players,” Cooley said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our guys. They’ve been absolute warriors. I feel blessed to coach this group after all the adverse moments that we’re dealing with. It’s a credit to our players.”
“We’re going to need a lot more energy in our crowd on Saturday playing against an SEC opponent (Mississippi State) at noon,” he said. “Sleep up Friday night, grab every person you have and come on down. Our players deserve to play in front of a full house on national TV (ESPNU). We need a lot of energy in our building. We are very, very tough to beat in here. No matter if we have five, four or two players on the floor, these kids are giving it their all.”
NBC College Basketball Talk: Your 2012 SEC/Big East Challenge CBT staff picks
Mississippi State at Providence
Harten – Providence
Martin – Providence
Dauster – Providence
Johnson – Providence
Payne – Providence
Machir – Providence
Angevine – Providence
CBT pick: Providence, 7-0
SEC Media Day Preseason Poll
7. Ole Miss
9. Texas A&M
13. South Carolina
14. Mississippi State
For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: Mississippi State Basketball 2012-13 Preview: A Marathon, Not A Sprint
Like my running, the race that new Mississippi State head basketball coach Rick Ray will run to rebuild this program will definitely be a marathon, not a sprint. But also like a marathon, it’s a race I believe Ray, along with those who support the program, know is worth running. But rest assured, State fans, that this will take time. In the age of college basketball where the rebuild is expected to happen sometimes overnight, it won’t at Mississippi State. And that’s OKAY with those of us who know the situation coach Rick Ray was left with, and for those of us that can be honest with ourselves about the state of the program. But it’s also okay because we believe we found the right man, and in time, the new Rick in town could lead this program back to the heights we’ve been accustomed to (and maybe even higher).
For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: Mississippi State Basketball 2012-13 Preview: Backcourt
Also thrown into the fire will be freshman Craig Sword. Sword comes over from Montgomery, Ala., as the state’s player of the year. He was already slated to gain serious playing time but the departures mean that he could possibly be moved over to point if needed. These problems are something that haven’t been seen at MSU in quite sometime. Prior to this season, MSU had either a proven point man, or someone who had proven it at the prep ranks. Sword is normally a shooting guard but his skill set could make MSU better than what it would be with Bloodman.
For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: Mississippi State Basketball 2012-13 Preview: The Frontcourt
Gavin Ware – 6’9 280 lbs. – Forward – Freshman
2011-12 Stats: (Starkville High School-MS) 17 ppg, 11 rpg, 5 bpg
Props to Rick Ray for hanging on to Ware. The Bulldogs need frontcourt help and the local product has the talent to contribute right away. Gavin was a consensus 4-star recruit out of Starkville High School. He’s a big kid who can throw it down, but is also developing a mid-range game.
Strengths: Long arms, good hands, strong base
Weaknesses: Needs to continue to improve his face-up game, came to campus a little heavy (must control weight)
Mississippi State Sports: Rick Ray reflects on what went wrong in Maui, looks ahead to Alcorn State (with video)
“The thing that’s most concerning for me is playing smarter than the other team,’ Ray said. “We continually put ourselves in a hole by turning the ball over. Our assist-to-turnover ratio a negative-2-to-1, and it should be the other way around as far as a positive 2-to-1. I know we’ve got a young, inexperienced team, but the worst thing you can do on offense is give the ball to the other team. We continually have that problem. We’ve got to get that rectified if we’re going to beat anybody that’s a quality opponent.”
Mississippi State Sports: Turnovers a concern as Bulldogs approach start of hoops season (with video)
But those turnovers are what will worry the coaches as they prepare for the season. In fact, that’s an issue these Bulldogs may deal with quite a bit throughout Rick Ray‘s first season at the helm, especially at the point guard spot. Sophomore Trivante Bloodman, a newcomer, has assumed the role as the full-time starter after presumed starter Jacoby Davis went down with a season-ending knee injury in August.
“He has a high turnover rate for a point guard,” Ray said of Bloodman. “That’s the biggest thing he has to correct, but as far as being a leader, a guy who is a defensive pest and a guy who is going to try to make sure his job is (winning), he’s done a really good job with that.”
ESPN College Basketball Nation Blog: Rick Ray’s mission: Rebuild Mississippi St.
Ray said his goal is to play an up-tempo style that will keep opponents “on their heels.” But he realizes that’s sometimes easier said than done.
“At the end of the day, coaches get paid millions of dollars to stop you from doing it,” he said. “The surest sign of a bad basketball team is a team that gives up points in transition. When the opportunities aren’t there, I’ll run motion offense. I want to give guys freedom and give guys who have a lot of versatility a chance to make plays.”
Pleased as he is with the work ethic of his current players and the response he’s getting on the recruiting trail, the thing that encourages Ray the most is the support he’s received from fans. When the Bulldogs are winning, there aren’t many home-court advantages in the SEC as strong as the one in Starkville.
Ray said he senses an eagerness among the MSU fanbase to get the program rebuilt in a hurry. He’s going to try his best to make it happen.
ESPN College Basketball Nation Blog: Summer Shootaround: SEC
Best-case scenario: This is all about the rebuild. Rick Ray inherits a program in a massive state of transition. Best-case? Incoming freshman Fred Thomas, a four-star shooting guard, shows glimpses of a brighter future.
Worst-case scenario: Ray is living it this week. On Sunday, incoming shooting guard Craig Sword was arrested and charged with misdemeanor possession of a firearm. Then Ray learned that freshman guard Jacoby Davis tore his ACL and is likely to miss the 2012-13 season. Losing one would be bad enough; losing both would be a disaster. It’s going to be a long season in Starkville.
ESPN College Basketball Nation Blog: Nonconference schedule analysis: SEC
Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-21)
Next-toughest: at Providence (Dec. 1)
The rest: at Troy (Nov. 9), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 13), Alcorn State (Nov. 27), Texas-San Antonio (Dec. 4), at Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 15), vs. Central Arkansas (Dec. 22 in Jackson, Miss.), Alabama A&M (Dec. 30), New Orleans (Jan. 3)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — Rick Ray’s first season doesn’t come with too many early challenges — and that’s probably a good thing. The Bulldogs could get crushed in Maui, opening with North Carolina and facing either Butler or Marquette the next day. There aren’t really any heavy hitters after that, though, so the opportunity will be there for some confidence-building wins.
A complete overhaul has rendered Mississippi State’s basketball program barely recognizable from a year ago.
Longtime coach Rick Stansbury is gone. So are all five starters and a big chunk of the bench production.
In their place is first-year coach Rick Ray and a band of Bulldogs that are mostly inexperienced, undersized or both. From the outside looking in, it appears Mississippi State might be in store for a long season.
But Ray — who came to Starkville after two seasons as an assistant at Clemson — isn’t ready to call this a rebuilding project.
WHAT TO: WATCH
Rick Ray moving forward after Maui
MSU 60, Alcorn State 42: Video Highlights
Men’s Basketball highlights: Mississippi State (EA Sports Maui Invitational) [Nov. 21, 2012]
Marquette Wins Big Over Mississippi State
UNC vs Mississippi State Highlights
Troy vs. Mississippi State Men’s Basketball Highlights – Nov. 9, 2012
WHERE TO: FOLLOW
WHERE TO: WATCH
WHERE TO: LISTEN