This week’s SEC coaches teleconference is in the books, and we chatted with both MSU coach Rick Ray and Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy. The Bulldogs (7-11, 2-4 SEC) host the Aggies (12-7, 2-4) at 8 p.m. Wednesday (then have LSU at home Saturday). I’ve got complete transcripts from both coaches, and we’ll begin with Ray, who wants his Bulldogs to take advantage of these next two home games.
I thought we had a difficult week this past week playing at Arkansas, ran into a buzzsaw there, and those guys play really well at home. Then we came and played Florida here at home, who I think is the best team in the SEC, arguably, right now, and probably playing better than anybody else in the nation right now. It’s just so impressive that they have probably the best talent in the SEC but also the most unselfish team in the SEC in the way they’re willing to share the basketball and sacrifice themselves on the defensive end. Hopefully our guys have learned from the Florida game. It’s an important week for us with a two-game homestand, and trying to get our guys to understand where we are in the SEC. With I believe seven teams being at 2-4, if they can make some hay here at home, we’re right back in the conference race and trying to be in the upper division of the conference, which I think is important. We’ve got some guys struggling right now with inexperience and freshmen that are trying to figure out their lot in life and what they need to do to sacrifice for our team to be good at this point in time.
Craig Sword’s line vs. Florida – 0 turnovers, 1 foul, 5 steals – did you see something different that game?
I think he’s constantly making improvements as a basketball player. He comes off that nine-turnover game against Arkansas and comes in against Florida and has zero turnovers. Craig is trying to figure out what’s going on with himself and where he fits in in the team concept. Craig Sword is a very competitive kid, but when we get down like we were against Arkansas, he tends to put his head down and just drive the basketball into trouble. It’s not him being a selfish kid or a bad kid, but that’s his way to compete. His way to compete is to steal the ball from the other team, and so he gambles, and that leads to fouls. Or he’ll put his head down and drive the basketball, which leads to turnovers and offensive fouls, both of them being bad. But I think he’s starting to figure some things out.
Is he starting to get it, and is this just the natural process he has to go through?
Oh, I believe so. The problem with our team is our guys have to grow up in front of everybody at this point in time. They don’t have the chance to kind of – like Michael Frazier from Florida is an ideal situation, where he’s a talented freshman, and he’s got those guys out there that are really good players coming off the Elite 8 team. So he just kind of blends in; he doesn’t have to be the guy. Whereas with our situation, guys like Craig Sword, Fred Thomas, Gavin Ware, they have to be the guy. And it’s really an unfair situation for them, so they’re trying to figure it out while they’re going through the season.
Do you see a little bit of Texas A&M in your own team, especially with the inexperience they have?
Having Elston Turner makes a huge difference. I don’t know if you have anybody that’s an explosive scorer like he is that you can rely on as far as a go-to guy. I think that’s a huge difference in a team and I think Ray Turner hasn’t scored here quite as well recently, but in the non-conference he did a pretty good job of scoring the ball around the basket for them. They tend to do some things with their team where they’re trying to get Elston some shots coming off staggers and they do some things with some high-low action trying to get the ball inside or dribble-drive with the high-post guys. The thing I see from Texas A&M that I’m impressed with is I think they’re very sound defensively and offensively. They may not be great at one particular thing but they don’t really particularly hav ea weakness in their defense and what they’re doing offensively.
What has Fred Thomas brought to your team in the last few games?
He’s starting to shoot the basketball better but what I’d still like to see – he scored 19 points but he was 5 of 14 from the field against Florida. What I’d like to see, in an ideal situation, is you try to get two points for every field goal attempt you have. If you shot the ball 10 times and you’re scoring 20 points, you’re at a good rate if you’re at 1.5 so if you shoot the ball 10 times you should have 15 points. For 14 field goal attempts, I’d like to see him score more if you want to go on that ratio.
What are your thoughts on Arkansas’ Marshawn Powell?
Well, I mean, against us I thought he was really good and I thought he was really good from watching tape. I think he’s a match-up problem for most teams because he’s an inside-outside guy, but he can make 17- to 19-foot shoots consistently. You can even extend it out to the 3-point line, but he’s also a post presence, too. The thing that’s unique about Marshawn is that he doesn’t have to have deep post positions or angles. Most post guys in this day and age needs some sort of an angle or deep post position in order to score. You can throw the ball to Marshawn off the block and he’s still a threat to score the basketball because he’s so skilled. I think he has the total package of what you’re looking in a skilled four. That’s the type of skilled four I would like to have on my team. I just think he’s a really good player and he played well against us.
He was held scoreless at Texas A&M and only played 12 minutes and since come back with a vengeance. Seem like he has more resolve?
Oh, I can’t answer that. Obviously that’s the inner actions of their team and what’s going on there, so it’s probably a little more in depth than I would k now. I just know that he’s a good player that played really well against us.
Now, we’ll hear from Kennedy, whose Aggies have lost four in a row (just like MSU).
First of all we’re obviously disappointed we’re not winning, but I’m proud of our guys for competing. I think we’re maxing out in a lot of areas. We’ve got to get some other guys playing well, and we’ve just got to get some other guys besides Elston scoring the ball. Teams are doing a really good job of taking him away since his Kentucky outing, and we’ve got to get more performance out of those guys. Excited that our guys are still competing, and I think we’re close to breaking through. We look forward to playing on Wednesday night.
3-point shooting has suffered during four-game losing streak, why so?
Some of it has been the defenses we’re playing against have really stepped up and taken Elston Turner, limited him from getting open looks. And then we’ve got new guys competing at a new level, and they’re struggling adjust to how hard they have to play and how efficient we need to be. We’re not taking care of the ball as well as we would like, and it’s putting a lot of pressure on our defense. We’ve got to do a better job of valuing the ball and getting better shots.
Speaking of valuing the ball, your assist-to-turnover ratio hasn’t been great, how do you address that?
It’s a combination of not making shots when you do make an assist, and then just playing young guards. We start a freshman point guard (J’Mychal Reese) who is struggling at times. When he takes care of the ball as well as some of our other guys, then it gives us an opportunity to win. We’ve lost our last three games with opportunities to win in the last three minutes of the game. We’re close, we’ve just got to do a better job of valuing the ball and making open shots.
Scoring is really down across college basketball this season. Do you have an explanation why teams are struggling so much offensively?
Well, first of all I think the defenses are better than they’ve ever been. I think that has something to do with it. It’s just hard to find shooters, guys who can shoot and do some other things. There’s a shortage of shooters that are out there and guys who can put the ball in the hole. The AAU game is just an athletic game and it goes up and down, there’s not a lot of discipline some times in those games and guys don’t really learn how to play until they get to college and have to learn how to play together. I think some of it is basketball IQ. It’s gotta get better.
Does it concern you to see scores in the 30s and 40s as far as the overall appeal and interest in college basketball?
It’s concerning when it’s me. We struggle scoring. But, no, I think the trend will change. It seems to take a couple years, and I think the trend will change and you’ll see teams shooting the ball better and coaches coaching a little bit differently and attacking some of these defenses.
Have people turned to the box-and-1 to defend Elston Turner? How would you describe the defensive adjustments teams have made to him?
Well, when you score 40 points at Kentucky and we win, it gets the attention of not only the coaches but it gets the attention of the players. I think teams have done a really good job of doubling him when he comes off a ball screen and showing great support on him when he comes off down screens. Then he’s missed some shots. He hasn’t shot the ball as well when he’s been open, which is part of the game. I think that’s been the biggest key and we don’t, right now, have a lot of guys stepping up to support him when he is taken away. You’ve got to get people to turn their head to look at somebody else every once in a while, and we’re not having enough of those possessions.
How is Elston handling it?
He was frustrated some against LSU, but he’s working through it. He was better against Georgia, and they did a really good job of guarding him, but he had 13 points and a number of assists. It’s a lot of the experience for him also.