Mississippi State’s Maui Performance Signals a Tough Season for Rick RayPosted by KAlmekinder on November 22nd, 2012
The Mississippi State Bulldogs spent earlier this week on the beautiful island of Maui as they participated in the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Among the palm trees, sandy beaches, and perfect waves, the Bulldogs’ lack of productivity in the annual preseason tournament showcased why Rick Ray‘s club, which finished in last place in the event, will have to endure a long and difficult path back to the top of the SEC.
The Bulldogs lost all three of their guaranteed games in Maui by an average of 29 points. They averaged only 18 field goals per game, three three-point field goals per game, and, at one point, trailed #9 North Carolina by 49 points on Monday evening. Was this the worst performance from an SEC team in Maui in the last half-decade? Yes. Since 2007, the first year since any one specific school has been in Maui before (Kentucky went in 2006 and 2010), Mississippi State became the first SEC program to finish last in the annual week-of-Thanksgiving tournament. Out of the possible 18 games in the six total years of this research, Mississippi State had three of the five lowest scoring games of any SEC team (averaging 55 points per game). They also allowed opponents three of the five highest scoring games in the six years (averaging 84 points per game).
Have the losses of Dee Bost, Arnett Moultrie, Renardo Sidney and others manifested with this year’s Bulldogs? It looks as if the departures from last year’s experienced squad, ranked 145th in experience according to KenPom, are proving too costly for new coach Rick Ray. They lost 90% of their scoring from a year ago, 83% of rebounding, 97% of assists, and 93% of steals. The returning players from last year’s team (Roquez Johnson, Jalen Steele, Wendell Lewis, Tyson Cunningham, and Baxter Price) only contributed 38% of the total points scored in the three games earlier this week. As the senior-laden group from last year leaves due to graduation, transfer, or professional careers, the inexperienced backups from last year, plus a new coach at the helm and incoming freshmen with no experience, are now in a position where they are forced to start and play all the games without a definitive leader, not to mention injuries and other situations depleting the roster. Result? A 95-49 beatdown by #9 North Carolina on Monday.
In the years previous to Mississippi State’s last place Maui finish, Tennessee finished 7th in 2011, the previous lowest finish by any SEC team in the last six years. The highest? The 2010 Kentucky Wildcats finished 2nd to the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies, whom Kentucky met again in the Final Four later that season. No SEC team has won the Maui Invitational in the last six years, while averaging a 5th place finish in the tournament.
Can the previous six years’ of Maui results predict Mississippi State’s season? No. Tennessee’s 7th place finish was arguably part of their first half downfall last season. The addition of Jarnell Stokes, though, gave the Volunteers a second wind and they ultimately reached the postseason NIT. In 2010, Kentucky finished 2nd at Maui and ended with a 29-9 record and a Final Four appearance, their first in 13 years. Both Vanderbilt (2009) and Alabama (2008) finished 5th on the island and had modest results (24-9 and 18-14, respectively). LSU placed 6th in the Invitational in 2007 but won only 12 other games that year. Regardless of the spread results, Mississippi State and its fans know that the results displayed earlier this week will be a foreshadowing of the season to come.