Over the course of the next five days, I want to look at some things regarding the athletic programs at Mississippi State. I then plan to put them to the Mythbusters test. If you’ve never seen the show on Discovery, they always test the myth and then determine if it is confirmed, plausible, or busted. We will do the same for the myths of Mississippi State. We will do 2 for basketball, 2 for football, and one for baseball.
The frustration with the basketball team’s performance was evident after our last regular season victory against Texas A&M in January. The losses mounted, and the fans voiced their displeasure. At the beginning of the year, it was obvious that there would be no change of coaches regardless of what happened on the court this year, but there were still some who would have liked to see Scott Stricklin make the change now. Despite all of that, there is a growing sense that Rick Ray will be the Croom of basketball, a guy who comes and cleans up the program, but has little success on the court. What does the evidence say?
It’s not pretty. Overall in his first two years, the Bulldogs are 24-41. The SEC record is even worse with a 7-29 mark in those two years. Take your pick on which year was worse. We won four games in the regular season during the 2012-13 campaign, but lost many of them by 20, 30 and 40 points. In 2014, we won one less game, but the margins of defeat were much more respectable. If you want to argue for either, you’re splitting hairs. They were both bad, and it is of little use to argue degrees of bad.
There is no question that the roster is lacking in depth and talent. Trying to figure out whose fault it is often becomes a matter of finger pointing. So let’s stick to what can be proven. The team is playing with less players because of academic issues, transfers, and dismissals. Once again, this isn’t an argument over whose fault it is, it’s just try to point out the results of those issues. Winning with the current roster would be a monumental task, and I don’t think anyone is arguing otherwise.
This is definitely a mixed bag for Rick Ray. There are two players that you can make a case for Ray developing well or not: Craig Sword and Fred Thomas. Craig Sword has shown a unique ability to get to the basket and score points. The two things he lacked in his game at the end of his freshman season are the same two things he lacked in his sophomore season, a consistent outside shot and ability to convert free throws. Sword does not seem to have developed much in his time spent with Rick Ray. On the other hand, you have Fred Thomas. He wasn’t showing much development either until he was benched towards the end of the year. Once he was, he came to life. He played some of his basketball down the stretch and now appears to be one of the players to build around in the 2014-15 season.
Late Season Optimism
One thing both seasons had in common was the late season wins that no one saw coming. Rick Ray won a late season game against Ole Miss and the first round of the SEC tournament against South Carolina to boost optimism heading into this year. He did it again this year when the Bulldogs upset Vanderbilt. He came close to beating Ole Miss in the SEC tournament as well before the team just ran out of gas. It’s one more piece of evidence that makes evaluating the coach that much more difficult.
The Verdict: Plausible ( I promise, they are not all plausible). Despite the fact that we knew that was a major rebuilding job, we as fans have wanted to speed the process up. Many are wanting results now, and I don’t blame them, but they were never going to come. It was heightened by the victories over FGCU and USF in December, games we weren’t expected win, and an early 3-2 start in the SEC season. They created false hope. That being said, this can’t continue. Mississippi State fans may not be as enthusiastic about basketball as we are football, but we do enjoy it, and we are proud of some of the things we have to accomplish. If you look at what we did compared to last year, I don’t blame you for having little hope that he will get the job done. The problem with this is we simply don’t have enough of a sample size to make definitive statement one way or the other. Next year will give us a better idea about how to definitively answer this myth.