November 8, 2012 10:11:12 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- It may take a couple of weeks before Mississippi State University men's basketball coach Rick Ray knows what talent he has on his team.
In his first season as a Division I head coach, Ray is eager to discover how his team will react to a competitive environment, especially on the road. He will get to find that out at 7 p.m. Friday (WKBB 100.9 FM) when MSU opens the season at Troy University in the brand new $40 million Trojan Arena.
For Ray, who earned his undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and worked as an business actuary professional dealing with the financial impact of risk and uncertainty, he wants to have a proper sample size before he makes an evaluation.
"I don't know if we'll have a true evaluation of our guys until a few games into the season," Ray said. "I don't you can look at one game and say this team is this and this kid is that because I think you need a culmination of a few games before you can decipher what a kid actually is."
Friday's opener will be the Bulldogs' first true road game since 2000 when they opened at the University of California in the first round of the preseason National Invitational Tournament. Ray said he can't remember the last time his team opened a regular season on the road. He doesn't think it has happened once since he became an assistant at a high major program.
"I want to get across to our guys that there will be a lot of excitement and hype from Troy due to thief crowd and basketball team," Ray said. "We need to deliver the first blow and sustain playing basketball and calm down then we'll be fine. If we get wrapped up in their emotion, then we'll be in trouble."
Ray said he has watched MSU's 80-76 exhibition victory against William Carey University "at least twice" since Sunday. He said the messages he has stressed in practice have had little to do with scoring.
"We have been working on the little things we messed up on in the exhibition game," MSU junior guard Jalen Steele said. "We put a big emphasis on defense and rebounding. Once the game comes Friday, we'll see where we are at."
MSU fell short in several hustle categories against an undersized and less athletic William Carey squad in front of an announced crowd of 1,472 at Humphrey Coliseum. MSU was outrebounded 12-10 on the offensive glass, which allowed the Crusaders to hold a 15-12 edge in second-chance points.
"I don't think we were the right spot on defense," Ray said. "We weren't prepared in help side, and I think we did a bad of job of not already being there in help position."
Offensively, Ray said the Bulldogs are going to have to develop a better understanding of shot selection.
"If you look in the points in the paint, if we're taking quick shots and getting points in the paint, fine," Ray said. "In terms of shot selection, I think there was 26 seconds on the shot clock when we took a shot (against William Carey). Unless you're getting fast-break points, that's way too short to be possessing the basketball."
MSU officials announced Tuesday morning freshman guard DeAndre Applewhite will have surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his left knee. Applewhite sustained the injury Friday at practice. Ray said Applewhite's injury means walk-on guard Tyson Cunningham, of Columbus, will have added responsibility.
"Our preparation throughout the entire summer and the fall has been with the intentions that Tyson Cunningham would play," Ray said. "Maybe from Tyson's perspective with Dre going down with the knee injury it's right there in front of him. I think from Tyson's perspective he's probably our best communicator and he's our best talker."
Cunningham's teammates have demanded the 6-foot-3 guard put in twice the work because they know he will be a critical part of a nine-man rotation. MSU had only 10 active players, including eight on scholarship.
"Tyson is going to hit the gym extra hard and he is going to have to do everything extra," Steele said. "He might not be used to this. I tell him every day, 'You are going to have to do extra stuff.' He might have to wake up at night and go to the gym and shoot."