It’s Monday, which means we get to hear from all the SEC’s basketball coaches on the weekly teleconference. Today I listened in to MSU’s Rick Ray – of course – and Alabama’s Anthony Grant. The Bulldogs host the Crimson Tide on Wednesday (8 p.m., CSS).
Per usual, I have the transcripts from both coaches’ chats. First, Ray.
Obviously really pleased with the start we’ve gotten off (to) in SEC play. I thought we had really turned a corner as a ball club with the win against New Orleans, and then to go out and win a game against South Carolina, then especially going on the road and winning at Georgia, I think our team is steadily improving. Depth obviously is obviously still a concern and a problem. There was times out there where the tallest guy on the court was 6-5, and played a lot of stretches with the tallest guy on the court being 6-7. We’ve got to continue to try to figure out ways to combat that. But I’m really pleased with the way our team is competing and playing hard and continuing to improve. I’m just happy with the play of Craig Sword. He just got named SEC freshman of the week, so I’m happy individually for that particular kid.
Sword has really stepped up his game in SEC play:
The thing that’s happened for him is he’s become more important to our offense as teams pressure us. He’s the best guard on our team as far as being able to go by and make a play individually. The thing that Craig has to become better at is seeing that secondary defender, because he has that burst and athletic ability to create and get by people, but sometimes he struggles with what to do once he gets into the paint with the secondary defenders. I think against South Carolina he had seven turnovers, but he’s done a really good job of continuing to try to reduce his turnovers. But as scouting reports get out and people see more and more film of him, they’re going to become more help-conscious when he drives the basketball. But I’m really happy with the way he’s continued to get better as a basketball doing.
How is Sword’s sprained ankle doing?
Same status. He’s been in a boot. It’s tender right now, and I don’t now if we’ll practice him at all today or tomorrow. I haven’t met with Scotty (Johnson, trainer) about that yet. He should be able to play (Wednesday), but how effective he is continues to be a concern.
What did you do to adjust to adjust to Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on Saturday?
We had the same game plan in the first half, but because of our foul problems, we played much more zone in the first half than we did in the second half. I just think the biggest adjustment was that we played more man, and so when you play more man you can be more man-conscious toward Caldwell-Pope. Our whole scouting report going into the game was to be Pope-conscious – that’s the word that we used, Pope-conscious. When we had to play those zones, he broke loose on us a little bit and was able to get some open shots, and we were able to change that in the second half by just playing more man rather than zone because of the foul situation.
With Georgia not having great second scoring option, how did that affect your game plan against Caldwell-Pope?
I thought Charles Mann was a problem for us. He does a really good job of being able to maneuver ball screens. He’s effective as far as coming off a ball screen and being able to turn down a ball screen and make a play. That was evident because he got to the free throw line so much. We had a hard time corralling him. So he’s a secondary scoring option for them. What really happened more so than anything is they got the ball in some scoring opportunities in the paint, and we fouled them, but they failed to convert at the free throw line.
Was the Alabama A&M loss was sort of good for you, help the team focus on what needed fixing?
I hope we don’t have to continue to bottom out in order to get better. First and foremost I hope that’s not the case. The game against Alabama A&M, we played so well in the first 15 minutes, and then we just went into a lull. We have those scoring droughts, and after the Alabama A&M game we did a really good job with our team of showing them how well they played in that first 15 minutes, and if we can follow that up. More importantly, not get our heads down and get distraught when we’re not able to score. If we can continue to play defense and grind it out, if we can stop them from scoring when we’re not scoring, we’re still in the same boat having a seven-point or six-point lead. Getting this young, inexperienced team to understand that you’ve got to continue to grind and play defense when you have those scoring droughts is a challenge. It helped those guys understand that during this semester break we really did get better. Obviously we went out and played that great game against New Orleans, and now we’ve got these two SEC wins. Our guys have a little bit more confidence in not only themselves but in what we’re doing as a team.
How important to have center Gavin Ware emerge?
It’s huge just because of what you said, having an interior presence. At the end of the day, when teams are pressuring you or you’re having a hard time of scoring, the closer you get the ball to the paint, the more opportunities you have to break down a defense, whether that be with guys who can dribble-drive into the paint or you can just simply post-feed the ball into the paint. Gavin Ware gives us that post presence. Now, he’s got to do a better job of being able to understand time and score and when we need him and getting himself open more. And then once he gets himself open, being able to execute against these big, long, athletic SEC athletes. But as he continues to progress and continues to learn, he’s going to be really important to us. Not only that, he’s the only center that we have on the roster right now.
Grant wasn’t on even two minutes, and I asked the only question. So here’s what he had to say.
We’re starting off with a Mississippi State team that’s playing extremely well right now coming off two great wins here to open up SEC play. I’m really impressed watching them on film. Their defense has been outstanding, their ability to take the other team’s strengths and then ability to use that defense to create offense for them, they’ve really been impressive watching the play. And I’m sure it’s going to be a tough environment going in there to their building for our second road game of the SEC. Then Saturday getting a chance to come back home and play against a Texas A&M team that right now is playing as good as anybody in our league. I’m really impressed watching them. Didn’t have a chance to watch it yet, but seeing the outcome of their games against Arkansas and against Kentucky this past weekend, obviously they’re playing extremely well. So it’ll be a great challenge for us to come back home and have to play them over the weekend.
Is it unusual for a young team like to buy into playing tough defense like MSU?
Coach Ray has done a great job. Those guys have bought into what they need to do to be successful and what allows them to win. You can tell they’re playing with passion, playing together. That is rare for a team that’s relatively new in terms of the different faces they have, to figure that out as quickly as they have. I think that’s a testament to coach Ray and his staff and they job they’ve done.