South Carolina basketball beat writer David Cloninger looks at every other team in the SEC as the season approaches.
2012-13 record (SEC finish): 10-22, 4-14 (T-12th)
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Rick Ray (10-22, second year; 10-22, second year)
Top returners: G Craig Sword (10.5 ppg, 2.9 rpg); G Fred Thomas (9.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg); F Colin Borchert (9.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg)
Biggest losses: Jalen Steele (10.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg); Wendell Lewis (8.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg); Baxter Price (0.0 ppg, 0.2 rpg)
Rick Ray needs a hug.
The good thing about his situation is there’s nowhere to go but up. Following the grime of the Rick Stansbury era, a mass exit of players and then suffering through a season where four players had their seasons end due to knee injuries, Ray’s first season as a head coach was a harsh truth. The Bulldogs simply didn’t have the manpower or the talent to compete, which was evident from a 13-game losing streak during the mid-season stretch.
But MSU won three of its last five games after that streak, including a win over South Carolina in the SEC tournament, to at least restore some hope. Ray may be looked on as a sort-of caretaker, steering the program back to recruiting and winning the right way, but he isn’t looking at himself that way. He wants to get MSU back to where it’s used to being.
Having a healthy roster will help, and having seven freshmen to learn the system can help more. Will it pay off right away? Doubtful, but the Bulldogs have a conducive schedule to get some confidence early and then head into the SEC slate. Who knows? With Marshall Henderson suspended for the first game against Ole Miss, perhaps the Bulldogs can get a rivalry win and use that to springboard into the heart of the season.
2012-13 record (SEC finish): 13-17, 5-11 (T-11th)
Coach (record at school, years; overall record, years): Vic Schaefer (13-17, second year; 93-127, ninth year)
Top returners: C Martha Alwal (12.1 ppg, 9.7 rpg); G Kendra Grant (11.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg); F Carnecia Williams (8.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Biggest losses: Darriel Gaynor (5.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg); Shamia Robinson (4.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg); Jessy Ward (1.8 ppg, 0.5 rpg)
Vic Schaefer has something to build on.
Last year wasn’t terrific, but it hasn’t been that long since Mississippi State was a 20-win squad (2010, tied for third in the SEC). He has one of the best “big girls” in the league to depend on in Martha Alwal, and his second and third-leading scorers also return.
It won’t be easy, as the Bulldogs are behind the rest of the league in recruiting and talent, but they can sneak up on some folks. Will it be enough for a top-four finish? Doubtful, but MSU could sneak into that 5-6-7 range if it takes care of its non-conference schedule.
Starting on the road against Houston isn’t desirable, but MSU doesn’t have another tough team to play before the SEC begins (unless it gets matched up with UCLA in a tournament in late November). The first three SEC games are all winnable, although two are on the road against Florida and Arkansas. They won’t get any favors from the RPI, but RPI doesn’t matter unless a team has the wins to go with it – and if MSU has enough of those, perhaps the selection committee only sees that.
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