SEC Basketball is Atrocious

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Basketball season has been a lesson of endurance for Mississippi State fans in 2014. We all knew it was going to be. The Bulldogs are battling with South Carolina and Auburn to avoid the basement of the SEC standings. Can it get any worse for the Bulldogs? Considering that this is all happening in one of the worst basketball years for the conference, I’d have to say yes.

The SEC will never be known for its basketball prowess. We are a conference that is driven and thirsts for football above everything else. But just because we aren’t nuts about basketball doesn’t mean we can’t be at least a respectable basketball league. As of right now, there are only two schools that don’t have to worry about a spot in the tournament on Selection Sunday. Florida may be the top overall seed, and Kentucky is battling for a better seed in the tournament. Tennessee and Missouri have outside shots at making the tournament, but any slip ups by either from here on out will kill their chance. The only other shot that any team from the SEC has of making it to the tournament will be winning the SEC Tournament come March.

It isn’t a coincidence that the basketball downfall started right about the time the SEC was flexing its muscle as the undisputed king of the football world. In the early part of the 21st century, the SEC was putting five, six, and seven teams in the tournament on a regular basis. Now, we are doing good to get more than two or three. As football got stronger and stronger, basketball continued to lose more and more of the spotlight.

That is where the crux of the problem lies, and I don’t know how it is going to be fixed. Of the 14 programs playing basketball, there are only three head coaches that have solid job security: Calipari at Kentucky, Donovan at Florida, and Stallings at Vanderbilt. And to be honest, Stallings doesn’t have the job security that he once did. If you look at the rest of the coaching landscape, is there any coach that you think the fans are just thrilled with? There may be some that the fans are willing to wait on, much like Rick Ray, but if the right coach came along, they would jettison their current guy right now. The problem is the league isn’t going to attract any quality candidates.

Which brings us back to Rick Ray. There has never been any doubt that Rick Ray inherited a monumental rebuilding job when he took the reins of the program at Mississippi State. Fans knew that and many pledged to be patient. Despite the lack of wins in his first year, many thought he was instilling a sense of discipline that was absent from the Renardo Sidney years of the Rick Stansbury era. The team played hard, and many would say they enjoyed watching the team play even though we didn’t win much. We looked to 2014 just hoping for continued improvement.

For a while in December and January, we thought we were getting that. We won a few games and had a 3-2 record in conference play to go along with a 13-5 record overall. Then the losing started.

After last night’s game with Tennessee, we have now lost 10 straight games. The only one that we might even have a shot to win is the season finale against South Carolina. While many said they would be patient, that patience is starting to wear thin. More and more fans are starting to voice their displeasure with Rick Ray. The anger though isn’t stopping with him. There are a lot of fans who are still mad that Stansbury was let go in the first place, and the continued struggles of the basketball team has given them an open door to sound off against his firing once more. There are others who are complaining about Stricklin botching the coaching search since Rick Ray was the best we could come up with after parting ways with Stansbury. They said he couldn’t land a good coach. I think they may be right, but in the world of basketball in the SEC today, I don’t know that anyone can.

Think about it: what rising coaching star wants to come to a basketball program that is going to be a red headed step child to the football team? It’s one thing to play second fiddle to the football program, but in the current state of the SEC, you’re not just playing second fiddle, you’re lucky to get a fiddle at all if you are the basketball coach. Outside of Kentucky, every team’s fans in the SEC is going to pour their heart and soul into football, and if they have time or nothing better to do, they might pay attention to basketball. As a result, attracting a coach is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable.

And this is where those who didn’t want Stansbury removed become the loudest. The logic is that since we weren’t going to find anyone better, we never should have made the change. I hate this logic. It basically says we stink now, but if we make a change we might stink worse, so let’s not risk it. I was an ardent Stansbury supporter until the program fell apart in his final season. I hated that it ended so badly, but it was time for a change, and I truly believe Stansbury  himself believed that. At his final press conference of the 2012 season, he said that he brought up retirement to Stricklin. I believe that. I think he knew that if he didn’t, then he was going to be let go.

So now we have Rick Ray. He wasn’t the first choice, the second choice, heck he wasn’t even the fifth choice if I remember correctly. Ray was the perfect example of the difficulty that every SEC school faces when finding a new basketball coach. Unless you are Kentucky or Florida, you aren’t going to get a name the fans can get excited about. You have to roll the dice on whoever you can find and hope they work out. Bulldog fans are starting to wonder if Ray is. I still think he needs one more year. I don’t know that there is any coach that could win without a full roster of scholarship players, which is the situation Ray finds himself in. He is going to have that opportunity in 2015. At the end of it, we might see that he isn’t the right man for the job. Even if we firmly believe that there isn’t a better candidate for the job, if you don’t believe he is the guy to improve the program you still have to make the switch and hope you find a diamond in the rough. In the SEC of today, there is going to be a lot of switching going on.