January 22, 2013 11:14:28 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University's men's basketball coach Rick Ray has diagnosed his team's problem in its past two Southeastern Conference games: The Bulldogs haven't valued possession of the basketball.
"I don't know if it's guys being tired or more so guys being undisciplined, (but) that's what it boils down to for me," Ray said Monday. "I think sometimes fatigue makes us do things we shouldn't be doing on both the offensive and defensive end. There is a whole bunch of different battles you fight when you are dealing with a short, depleted roster."
In double-digit losses to the University of Alabama and University of Tennessee, MSU (7-9. 2-2 SEC) turned the ball over an average of 17.5 times per contest. The Bulldogs reverted to their early season mentality of allowing inexperienced mistakes to cripple them. While Ray can chalk up the turnovers to youth, a new system, and an inability to hold players accountable because he is using a seven- or an eight-man lineup, a three-game winning streak to start 2013 showed him what the Bulldogs can do when they execute in the motion offense. Now the trick will be to find a way to execute against pressure defenses. He said teams likely will take a page from Alabama, which used a aggressive defense to force turnovers en route to a 75-43 victory last week at Humphrey Coliseum.
"Anybody that saw that film sees we might struggle versus a run-and-jump and presses, and that's all (MSU's opponent Wednesday) Arkansas does, is press," said Ray, whose team will face the University of Arkansas at 8 p.m. Wednesday (CSS), "so we've got to take care of the basketball. That will be our No. 1 concern offensively and defensively. When you turn the basketball over, you have no chance to set your defense."
MSU is last in the SEC and in the bottom 10 schools in the country in turnovers per game (17.2) and assist-to-turnover ratio (0.57) with two freshman guards at point guard role. The Bulldogs also are relying on junior Jalen Steele, who is trying to return from a serious wrist injury.
On Saturday in a 72-57 loss at Tennessee, Ray pointed to silly and fatigued-based fouls by post players that made it difficult for the Bulldogs to defend a physically imposing Volunteers team that relies on points in the paint from forward Jarnell Stokes. Less than 10 minutes into the game, starting power forward Colin Borchert and center Gavin Ware were on the bench with fouls and were forced to miss a majority of the first half. The fouls made it impossible for Borchert and Ware (combined six points on 3-for-13 shooting) to find a rhythm.
"We can take maybe one guy getting two quick fouls, but in the past couple of games we've gotten two guys with two quick fouls," Ray said. "That just makes us a really small team with Tyson Cunningham playing the four spot. We just can't have success defensive rebounding with that rotation."
Arkansas (11-6, 2-2) forces 17.6 turnovers per game thanks to the "40 minutes of hell" full-court style of pressure coach Mike Anderson, an assistant to former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, brought back to Fayetteville, Ark. The Razorbacks are third in the SEC and 21st in the country in steals per game (9.2 per game). However, Arkansas has scored less than 70 points in five or its six losses. That is a number Ray said MSU will target Wednesday.
"We've had success when we hold people in the 50s, but we're holding people in the 70s the last couple of games. That's too many points because we struggle on the offensive end," Ray said. "I don't know if we can consistently score 70 points to beat a team, so those are things we're going to concentrate on here in these next couple of days of practice."