Jan 8, 2014; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats guard James Young (1) dribbles the ball against the Mississippi State Bulldogs guard Craig Sword (32) in the second half at Rupp Arena. Kentucky defeated Mississippi State 85-63. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
I didn’t watch the game against Kentucky because the Memphis based affiliate doesn’t show the Wednesday night SEC Network games.
But that doesn’t mean I was unaware of what I think are some positive things going forward.
The Moral Victory
The basketball team lost 85-63 against a far superior, more athletic Kentucky team Wendesday night. Most recaps will mention how much Kentucky dominated the second half of the game. And they did, there is no question about it. But what is probably going to be overlooked by many publications is how Mississippi State went toe-to-toe with the Wildcats for the first half and actually led entering the second half of play.
Make no mistake about, this was a moral victory. Some will accuse us here at M&WN of being hypocrites for celebrating a moral victory for the basketball team, but we are not as willing to do the same for the football team. The two programs are in completely different points in their development. We just came off the fifth year of the Mullen era, a time when Mullen should have the team going in the exact direction that he wants it going. Because of that, we expect a little more out of the football team. The basketball team is in year two of the Rick Ray era. He inherited a team that was completely barren of talent and experience. He is trying to rebuild the team in a manner that he believes will be successful for the long term. So we are willing to be a little more patient while he gets things going the way he wants.
What Does It Mean?
It’s very simple, the first half showed that the team can compete. They won’t always face teams as talented and athletic as Kentucky every night in the SEC. Most people assume that every player for Mississippi State played their best half of basketball in the first half, but that isn’t true either. Three starters, Ware, Ready, and Thomas, failed to score at all in the first half. We got solid bench contributions from Bloodman and Johnson to help make up the scoring deficit that the three starters failed to provide. The team is showing that they continue to buy into the philosophy that Rick Ray is trying to use. When they execute that plan, there are going to be opportunities to make up for the talent deficiency that they will often face.
How did it Fall Apart?
Despite the fact the team is buying into what Ray is preaching, they still lack depth. Craig Sword is a legitimate All SEC caliber player. After Sword though, there is a pretty good drop off. I.J. Ready has done a good job this year of filling the hole at point guard we had last year, but he was completely overwhelmed in this game. He had 0 points, 2 assists, and 3 turnovers. The Wildcats showed in the second half, that if you can force the Bulldogs to create turnovers, we can be beaten in transition. Mississippi State had 15 turnovers on the night, most of which came in the second half that led to easy alley-oop baskets in transition. The team still needs more playmakers to be able to keep up with the Floridas and Kentuckys of the basketball world.
Ole Miss comes to Starkville without their best player Marshall Henderson on Saturday. Henderson will be serving the second of a school imposed suspension for all of Henderson’s drug related problems over the offseason. This is a great opportunity for the basketball tream. If they come out and run the Rebels off the floor without their best player, it will be evidence that the first half was no fluke. The Rebels are not a bad team, but they are not as talented or athletic as the Wildcats. The Bulldogs showed they can beat the Rebels in Starkville last year, they need to prove that they are still improving and take care of business this year. A poor performance will make many think the great first half was more of a result of the Wildcats long layoff, and less about an improved Bulldogs squad. Regardless, I think the first half showed that the basketball team may not be as far away from legitimacy as we initially thought.