MSU ends the 2013 season with a record of 10-22 after losing to Tennessee in the 2nd round of the SEC Tournament. Despite losing 69-53 in this game, it was a great finish to the season – winning 3 out of 5 after losing 13 straight in SEC play and never giving up. This team never gave up, and it helped end the year on a positive note, which included a SEC Tourney win.
In the 101 year history of Mississippi State basketball, the 2012-13 season easily ranks in the top 10 worst years of the program. Winning percentage-wise, there are a handful of teams that have been worse – but in terms of the number of losses, this team ties the 1986 team for the most ever (22).
Really, things have been salvaged a bit in the last couple weeks of the season. The victory over Ole Miss – against one of their better teams – was huge. Then another win over Auburn to avoid last place in the conference. Those wins allowed this team to avoid setting records such as the longest losing streak in program history, standing alone with the most losses in a season, and the 2nd worst winning percentage ever, if they had gone 7-34 (1951, .158).
This has been a serious rebuilding effort by Rick Ray. As if there aren’t enough obstacles to clear anyway, this team stepped on a few landmines that made things even more difficult. Here are those hurdles listed chronologically:
- All 5 starters were lost from the 2012 team including 6 of the top 7 scorers.
- Rick Ray’s first ever signee, [expected starter] freshman G Jacoby Davis, tears his ACL in July during summer workouts – out for the season.
- In September, [the 9th leading scorer from the 2012 team] Shaun Smith and [potential starter] Kristers Zeidaks were dismissed from the team due to repeated rules violations.
- Just prior to the season opener, Rick Ray’s second ever signee, freshman G Andre Applewhite, tore his ACL – out for the season.
- In the second game of the year, [the 5th leading scorer from the 2012 team] Jalen Steele broke his wrist and missed six weeks.
- Colin Borchert was suspended for the Maui Invitational the week of Thanksgiving, leaving the team with only 6 scholarship players.
- In mid-December, [the 8th leading scorer from the 2012 team and only senior] Wendell Lewis fractured his patella – out for the season.
- Jalen Steele came back from his wrist injury in late December (in enough time for an embarrassing loss to Alabama A&M), but in early February he was suspended for 3 games.
- Once Steele came back, Roquez Johnson had his own 3 game suspension.
- In the second to last regular season game, Jalen Steele tore his ACL and meniscus – out for the season.
For pretty much the entire season, Rick Ray was playing with six scholarship players. The roster said seven, but someone was injured or suspended all the time. Thank goodness for walk-on Tyson Cunningham and his 20 minutes per game.
With all of the above items mentioned, it doesn’t seem like it could have gone much worse. But, it could have. Like I mentioned, there were some pretty horrible records for futility that could have been broken, but this team kept fighting and won some games down the stretch. They showed a lot of effort, and that is something we just didn’t see enough of toward the end of Rick Stansbury’s tenure.
Looking ahead to next season, I think things will get a lot better. The chances of even making the NIT are a long shot – but the 30-40 point losses and long losing streaks should not happen.
Think back to the beginning of the SEC schedule when State beat South Carolina at home and Georgia on the road. Those were some exciting games that were played by a team full of energy. At the time, I was really excited about what Coach Ray had brought to Starkville. Looking back, I don’t think that was a mirage – just a sign of things to come. Realistically, we couldn’t maintain success with six scholarship players available, half of them true freshman. Ray eased up on the intensity in practice and that helped get a few wins against the lesser teams toward the end, but you can’t do that and expect to beat the better ones.
Wendell Lewis should be back next year as he is expected to get a medical redshirt. Jacoby Davis and Andre Applewhite will be back from their injuries, hopefully Jalen Steele will make a full recovery. I.J. Ready is coming in from the high school ranks. With all the experience gained by these young players this year, this list of names coming in to provide more depth in just sheer numbers will help out tremendously. I think MSU will have a shot at 15 wins, but perhaps more importantly – be competitive in every game.
It was a rebuilding year, and a nasty one at that. We’ve hit rock bottom (yet still beat Ole Miss) and now it’s time to climb the mountain again. Rick Ray has us pointed in the right direction, we’ll get there soon enough.