Mississippi State’s Rick Ray joined the rest of the league’s coaches on the SEC men’s basketball teleconference on Monday to discuss the Bulldogs recent performances and preview its match-ups this week.
Here is a transcript of Ray’s time on the call…
Ray: “I thought we went down and competed on the road at Texas A&M. I thought we allowed way too many paint touches for A&M. I think people are starting to figure out that A&M is a pretty good team with their victory down at LSU.
“I didn’t want our guys to be disappointed about that loss and understand that it’s a process. You’re not always going to have success when you’re trying to fix some things. I really was pleased that our guys were able to come back here to to ‘the Hump’ and have a strong defensive performance against a really good Vandy offensive team. For it to pay off with a win was really beneficial to our team.
“Now we’re getting ready to go on the road to Auburn and try to handle their pressure. Cinmeon Bowers is a double-double machine at this point in time. Obviously, (KT) Harrell is a really talented scorer. We’re just going to make sure that we’re continuing the process and fixing things that are wrong with our team. Then we worry about our opponent after that fact.”
What is your assessment of Vanderbilt’s freshmen?
Ray: “It’s not just in SEC play, but I think the biggest thing is you have a blueprint on how to guard some guys based on success or unsuccess on teams who have played them before. It’s a great way to help you scout the opponent.
“You can see the success that some teams are having against Vandy and also the failures they’re having against Vandy. When you’re watching tape, it gives you a blueprint on what to do and what not to do.
“I don’t know if it’s more of the freshmen struggling or just the scouting report. That’s hard for anybody who’s been at the top of the scouting report. Now (Riley) LaChance is getting special attention. Guys used to open up on those shuffle cuts and now they’re not. Guys are figuring out where to jump to the ball and when to help. It’s not that those guys are struggling, it’s just people are doing a good job of scouting.”
What impressed you the most about Tennessee?
Ray: “I think the thing that jumps out right away is what you want from any ball club, to compete. I think Donnie (Tyndall) really has his guys believing in what he’s doing. Donnie’s really smart and keeps things simple on the defensive end.
“Most people on the defensive end are worried about how to guard all these screens. Their plan is real simple. On makes they run a 2-2-1 and then fall back into a match-up zone. They don’t worry about the intricacies of guarding a man offense.
“Since he’s kept it simple for them defensively, they’re really able to concentrate on the things that are important like getting your guys to play hard and compete. I really think Donnie has done a good job of that.”
Is Tennessee a tough team to play defensively?
Ray: “I don’t believe in ugly wins or pretty wins. At this point in time, a win is a win. But what Donnie forces you to do is makes everybody on the court be a decision-maker. I think that’s what a lot of people struggle with. Most teams have one or two guys who are good decision-makers.
“But when you’re playing that match-up zone, you get the basketball and have to make a decision on when to attack, pass, post feed or take a shot. It forces guys to make a decision fast and most guys are uncomfortable with that.”
How has Oliver Black transitioned to being more comfortable on the court over the last couple of games?
Ray: “I think it’s got to do with playing time and us really forcing the issue for him to be more aggressive offensively. He’s always been good for us on the defensive end and is a real quick thinker. He’s a guy that flies around and plays hard on the defensive end.
“But I thought he was getting some opportunities at the rim, especially with his ability on offensive rebounds and movement, to finish. We got him concentrating that when he got those opportunities not to look to pass. He was looking to pass when he was the guy that was open.”
How much of a better team are you at home and why?
Ray: “I think traditionally any team is better at home. I don’t think what we’re doing as far as being a better home team than a road team is an anomaly. I think it’s pretty status quo. Guys are much more comfortable at home and also have their fan base behind them.
“I don’t know what the actual answer is and don’t know if anybody does. I just think traditionally you play better at home.”
How close are you to being able to beat some team in the top half of the league?
Ray: “We talk to our team that we can lose to anybody in this league and I think we can beat anybody in this league. It’s about how we handle ourselves. The biggest difference maker for us is our inability to take care of the basketball at times.
“I know people focus in on our shooting woes but I think that pales in comparison to giving the other team 15 to 20 points a game because we don’t take care of the basketball.
“For us, I think we’ve been really good on the defensive end. If you look at our stats, we’re one of the top teams in the country in scoring defense and rebounding percentage. Our problem is we’re towards the bottom of the country in our assists to turnover ratio. If we can fix that, I think it really makes a difference for us in our day-to-day games.”
How important is it for your team to knock down some 3-pointers to help loosen things up defensively?
Ray: “I think it would help our assist to turnover ratio. What happens is teams will sag off of us and we don’t have the patience to probe the defense and move the basketball. I think we want to make individual plays and once we start trying to make those individual plays early in the shot clock, it’s just not there.
“I think the biggest key for us whether we make our 3’s or not is about our shot selection. I think sometimes when we move the basketball we’ll end up with a good 3-point shot and our guys should take that shot. What happens for us is that we end up taking contested 3’s out of frustration at times because of the way the other team is playing us.
“To me, it’s about our patience. We’ve got to make sure we’re sharing the basketball, probing the defense and not settling for a contested three. I think once we do that our shooting percentage goes way up.”
Do you see I.J. Ready providing the leadership and maybe some outside shooting for this team down the stretch?
Ray: “I think so. I.J.’s got to be comfortable with his role. I think I.J. is a young man who wants to be a consummate point guard with a high assist to turnover ratio and find the open man.
“But for our team at this point in time, we need him to be aggressive and out there making plays with Chicken (Craig Sword) not being the same guy. He’s our best guy coming off the ball screen in order to make a play.
“I think sometimes he’s apprehensive about that because he doesn’t want to turn the basketball over. Also he’s small. Sometimes having the ability and wherewithal to put yourself in amongst all those trees and still come out with a successful play, I think he’s hesitant about that at times.
“He’s got to realize that if he wants his team to be good, he’s got to be willing to go in there and make those plays and take some risks.”