Mississippi State’s Rick Ray joined the rest of the league’s head coaches on the SEC Teleconference on Monday.
Ray answered questions about the Bulldogs opening round game against Vanderbilt at the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.
Ray: “We’re getting ready for a really well-coached Vanderbilt team. Coach (Kevin) Stallings does about as good a job as anybody in the nation at exploiting some of your weaknesses both on the offensive and defensive end.
“On the offensive end for them, they do a really great job of running a lot of set plays. They set their guys up in good situations to score the basketball. I think when you’re playing a Vanderbilt you’ve got to rely more on your principles more so than just guarding their sets. They’ll do a lot of sets but they do a lot of counters to those sets to exploit anything you do while guarding the basketball.
“I think in the first game against them Damian Jones got into early foul trouble and I think he’s a kid who’s got a world of potential. I think he’s going to be a really good player in the SEC. Having him available on the court gives them an inside presence along with their outside shooters and scorers which will be a problem for us.”
What is the mindset of your guys heading into the SEC Tournament?
Ray: “The one thing we’re trying to focus on, because we’re playing Vanderbilt, we actually played a good game against them and it was a closely contested ball game. We had a couple of chances to cut it to two points with under two minutes and missed point-blank layups and a couple of tip-backs in. You can show them that you had some success against Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt so that’s one thing that always helps.
“I think the second thing is we went into the SEC Tournament last year and won a game for the first time since 2010. I think you point to those two positives because the negatives are very obvious.”
How is your team holding up from a depth standpoint mentally and physically?
Ray: “It’s a problem. I don’t think you can sit here and say we are on an even playing field with everybody else. Our first year we were playing with six and seven scholarship guys and this year the whole season we’ve played with seven and eight scholarship guys.
“I think there’s two things we just don’t have. One is we’ve never had any competition for playing time. I think any program needs that. The second thing is I’ve never had my best teacher which is the bench. You need that to have that competitive fire in your program all the time.
“But our guys continue to play hard. Everybody’s got their bumps and bruises at this point in time. But we’re mentally fatigued as well as physically fatigued but our guys have got to pull it together for this stretch run.”