Mississippi State’s Rick Ray spent time with the rest of the league’s head coaches on the SEC coaches’ teleconference Monday morning.
Here’s a transcript of what Ray had to say about the Bulldogs recent struggles and their upcoming game at LSU on Wednesday.
Ray: “I thought our last game against Auburn we put ourselves in a bind with our foul troubles in the first half. We had four guys on the bench at the end of the half sitting with two fouls and having just eight scholarship players that really puts us in a bind personnel-wise.
“I think we gave up way too many points off turnovers. I think Auburn had 26 off of our turnovers in the first half and we had 16 turnovers in the first half. The reason we were out of that game in the first half are because of our inability to guard without fouling and also turning the basketball over.”
What kind of season has I.J. Ready had?
Ray: “He’s had an up-and-down season mostly due to the fact he’s missed seven games that were totally out of his control with injuries – a hamstring and also a concussion. Anytime you’re a freshman and you miss time while you’re still trying to learning the system and get acclimated to college basketball at this level.
“We’ve been really pleased with I.J. when he’s on the court. He’s the type of kid that wants to win and knows how to win. He’s the type of kid who is really contentious about doing the right things. He has some natural leadership ability.
“The thing we’re trying to get I.J. to do is to be more aggressive on the offensive end. He wants to facilitate and at this point in time we need him to try and be a guy that breaks the defense down and score or do something that leads to a score because our team sorely needs that. I’ve got all the confidence in the world that I.J. Ready is going to be a quality SEC basketball player for us.”
How big an upside can Ready have the rest of the season moving into the future?
Ray: “I think he’ll be huge for us with our inability to shoot the basketball. He’s our best perimeter shooter if you look at our 3-point field goal percentage. I also think he’s our best passer too. With our struggles scoring at times he’ll be a huge asset if we can keep him healthy.”
How much of the offensive struggles of late tied to Fred Thomas and Colin Borchert? Those guys have been nice pieces behind Craig Sword throughout conference play.
Ray: “I think it has a lot to do with it but more so than anything just the fact teams have played us zone so much. When teams play us man-to-man we seem to get to the free throw line and that really helps our offense. When teams are playing us zone we really haven’t attacked the way that we attack the man. We’ve got to figure out a way to still be aggressive as we are in our man-to-man offense in our zone offense. I think that’s part of why all of our guys are struggling.
“The second thing with Borchert and Thomas is they’ve got to find a way to be basketball players without the 3-point shot. Both of those guys have a tendency to view how they play basketball by how well they shoot the ball. They are so much better players than that and are so much more. They’ve got to stop living vicariously through their 3-point shooting.”
How difficult will it be against LSU, a team that will go to the zone to prevent the driving lanes for Sword?
Ray: “If you look at their percentages, teams have gotten a lot of points in the paint these last few games against LSU even though they are playing that zone. Some of it is due to them giving up offensive rebounds because it’s hard to find block out responsibilities while you’re playing zone.
“I think the biggest difficulty you have against LSU while they’re in that zone is all the size they have. It takes away the passing lanes and also the driving lanes.”
What are your thoughts on Georgia?
Ray: “First and foremost, Georgia is a well put together team. I think coach (Mark) Fox had those guys understanding what their roles are on the team and how they can help the team and everybody has bought into that. I don’t think they take unnecessary 3’s. Those guys know their roles and responsibilities. I think that’s part of building a team.
“The second thing is they’re so big and long. (Charles) Mann at the point guard spot is 6-foot-5 and is bigger than all the other point guards he plays against. That’s part of the reason he ends up getting to the free throw line so much. Along their front line they have so much size and length that they cover up for some of their defensive mistakes with their ability to affect your shot at the end.
“Also they’ll get offensive rebounds. Those guys are really playing well and that’s a credit to Mark Fox because he’s got those guys understanding where they are as a team.”
Many people didn’t have Georgia at 8-4 at this point in the season. Is there anything they did that surprised you?
Ray: “The one thing you can’t see on film sometimes that you see in person is their toughness. We were up on them big and those guys didn’t drop their head or get down. They just found a way to battle and eventually got back into the ball game. In the second half they really just put it on us. More so than anything, those guys know how to deal with some adversity and continue to do what they do.”
What are the difficulties on and off the court of getting a program to the next level and some things you’ve experienced that you didn’t think would happen?
Ray: “I’ve got an assistant coach here that has been a longtime fan of the SEC and has obviously been a coach at this level. He says besides personnel-wise except for when John Brady took over at LSU, he doesn’t know if there’s been a more difficult situation of a coach coming into the SEC with this personnel-wise. I’m not a historian on SEC basketball and that may or may not be the case.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of issues personnel-wise coming into the program. That’s not anything to feel sorry for me. I just think it’s lost upon people sometimes that we’ve played two years here with six, seven and eight scholarship guys. I feel real confident about where we’re going or where we will be once we get or full allotment of 13 scholarship players.
“But at this point in time it’s hard to hold guys accountable for their errors on the court because we don’t have a substitution pattern. More so than anything, we don’t have competition for those minutes.
“I like where we’re going but I’m frustrated because we’re losing some ball games. But we’ve got to find a way to continue to get better as the season goes along. Our guys have got to figure out a way to get some confidence back in themselves.”
Have you felt recruiting has suffered because of your record the last two years?
Ray: “No not really. If you look at where we are so far, we’ve already gotten three commitments in the 2015 class. Obviously I can’t name any names. We were able to secure some 2014 commitments rather early.
“People have a belief in what we’re doing and what we’re selling here. I think when recruits get on our campus and see how we work with our kids, our facilities and what we have to offer it’s an easy sell. Obviously though if you continue to lose at this rate then it will be a problem. But right now people still believe in what we’re doing and once we get all the able bodies we’ll be just fine.”
What can Borchert and Thomas do to diversify their offense?
Ray: “They can’t settle for the early 3-point shot. I think Colin Borchert has the highest basketball IQ on our team. He can do some other things for our team besides live and die with his 3-point shooting. He’s a versatile player that can score in the post and has a great pull up game. He’s really our second best passer on the team even as a power forward.
“I think Fred Thomas makes a high percentage after a shot fake and a dribble pull up. He’s got to start doing that because teams are still flying at him on his 3-point shot and it ends up being a contested shot. I think some little things like that. Fred Thomas has become probably our best perimeter defender and can affect the game on the defensive end just as well as he can on the offensive end.
“It’s a combination of things each one of those guys can do to help themselves.”