Jan 21, 2015; Auburn, AL, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs guard I.J. Ready (15) dribbles the ball against the Auburn Tigers during the first half at Auburn Arena. The Bulldogs won 78-71. Mandatory Credit: John Reed-USA TODAY Sports
In case you didn’t watch it Wednesday night, the Mississippi State Men’s Basketball team won their game against Auburn 78-71. The Bulldogs have won two games in a row in SEC play for the first time since exactly one year ago today, when they beat these same Auburn Tigers after an overtime victory over Texas A&M. It also ended a 22 game road losing streak that dated back to January 12, 2013 when the Bulldogs went to Athens and beat Georgia. Based off the reaction to the victory on social media, people are wanting to buy into the team again. But should we?
It’s a tricky question. I was right there with every one else last night. The Bulldogs controlled the game up until the last four minutes and then Auburn made a furious rally and pulled within two at one point. I.J. Ready steadied the ship for the Bulldogs with a big three pointer and helped seal the win at the free throw line. It was an impressive performance.
As impressive as it was, we’ve been down this road with this basketball team. They jumped out to a 5-0 start, and one of those victories came against a decent Utah State team. But then the terrible, no-good, very bad losses came. If you don’t remember, the Bulldogs dropped games against Arkansas State, South Carolina-Upstate, and McNeese State. There may have been darker times in the Men’s Basketball program, but I am not aware of them. Then there was another ray of hope with an equally impressive win over Florida State. Just as quickly as our hopes had risen yet again, They go out and lose the first three SEC games, and the team looked really bad in the first two losses. And now we are starting to have our hopes built up again with consecutive wins over Vanderbilt and Auburn. So are we finally turning that corner under Rick Ray, or is this another moment when our hopes have been rising just to have them dashed against the rocks one more time?
My advice is to be cautiously optimistic. Craig Sword looks like he has finally gotten healthy. If he has, that will be a big boost to the team, and will go a long ways toward winning some games. I.J. Ready is starting to emerge as a quality point guard. He has battled injuries ever since he arrived, and if they can keep him on the court, the team will have the floor general they desperately need. Gavin Ware has been a good player ever since he arrived, but he hasn’t had any help in the post, and Fallou Ndoye provides enough of a relief to at least allow Ware to catch a breather.
There are still glaring flaws on this team. We still don’t know who our go to scorer is. Fred Thomas leads the team with 10.4 points. I wouldn’t exactly call that lighting it up. We also are terrible from three point range, shooting just 28.6% from beyond the arc. And the free throw shooting is at best mediocre. The Bulldogs only shoot 70.1% from the charity stripe.
After the loss to Arkansas State, I wrote that I was ready to end the Rick Ray era. Am I willing to come completely off that stance at this point? No, but it has softened ever so slightly. The previous two years under Rick Ray, the Bulldogs went through 13 game losing streaks in SEC play. They both started right about this time. That simply can’t happen again. If you look at the schedule, you are trying to find out just how many games this team can win. There are six more road games, and three of them are against the three teams currently below Mississippi State in the SEC standings. Winning those would go a long way to giving this team some more confidence on the road. They have seven more home games, and will only be favored to win at most two of them. If they can figure out a way to scrap out 8 or 9 wins in SEC play, I’m confident in saying Rick Ray will have done enough to get him to a fourth year. A lot of fans wanted this team to make it to the NIT this year. The Bulldogs would have to win around 12 or 13 games in SEC play for that to happen, and I just don’t think we are there yet. It might not be a popular decision to keep Ray if we don’t make the NIT among the fans, but I firmly believe Scott Stricklin wants to do everything he can to give Ray one more season.
I’ve been one of Rick Ray’s most vocal critics this seasons simply because in my opinion the team should have been more competitive in some of their losses, and they have some simply inexcusable performances on their resume. While I have been hard on him, that doesn’t mean I don’t like him. I really do. I have wanted him to succeed, and knowing the situation he was handed when he arrived, I hoped like crazy he would fight his way through it. If he will or not, I don’t know, but I will be pulling for him to make it.