February 26, 2013 9:51:53 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Of the nation's 347 Division I men's college basketball programs, Mississippi State University is 329th in experience.
This statistic, created by basketball sabermatrician Ken Pomeroy and his website kenpom.com, isn't lost on MSU coach Rick Ray.
"The thing we have to realize, and our team knows it, is there's nobody in the country that has went through what we've went through," Ray said Monday on the Southeastern Conference media teleconference. "I don't care what level: NAIA, Division II, junior college. With the numbers we have, I would wonder if anybody in history of college basketball has gone through what we've went through as far as the off-the-court issues and the injuries."
In 2009-10, the year after qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history, Binghamton University was forced to use a starting lineup of two scholarship players, a Division III transfer, a player at
Binghamton as part of a dual-degree program with the University of Turkey, and a local player turned walk-on hero.
Following a series of incidents in the fall of 2009, an investigation by the State University of New York (SUNY), Binghamton's parent institution, found that Binghamton's administration had significantly lowered its admissions standards for recruits in response to pressure from coach Kevin Broadus and his staff. The investigation also detailed several possible NCAA violations by Broadus and his staff. It resulted in Broadus' resignation in October 2010, the resignation of the school's athletic director, the firing of two assistant coaches, and the dismissal of six players from the team.
The Bearcats, led by then-first-year head coach Mark Macon, had seven scholarship players left: one returning starter, two more with playing experience, three freshmen, and one junior college transfer. Binghamton finished 13-18 and 8-8 in the America East Conference the following season, but those win totals have been the program's highest since the scandal.
In Starkville, the continued suspension of sophomore forward Roquez Johnson leaves MSU (7-19, 2-12 SEC) with eight active players -- six on scholarship.
"We can't use the number of players we have as an excuse for anything," MSU freshman center Gavin Ware said Monday. "Do we get fatigued? Yes, but (hypothetically) we could have 25 players on the team next year and if we don't get our individual games better, it doesn't matter."
MSU's lack of depth has forced walk-ons Tyson Cunningham and Baxter Price to average double-digit minutes in the past five games, something nobody at MSU thought would be possible in Ray's first season as a Division I coach.
"When someone says I understand what you're going through, no you don't," Ray said. "You really don't."
When asked Saturday about the MSU's 12-game losing streak following a 72-31 loss to Vanderbilt University, the longest conference drought in one season, Ray mentioned his team's numbers game.
"With all these statistics about (school) records on how bad we're getting blown out, I'd like somebody to go back and look at the statistics at how many scholarship players they had," Ray said. "They didn't have six scholarship players and two walk-ons."
Vanderbilt (11-15, 5-9) had 10 players score Saturday.
"We can learn from this losing to help us when we get older as sophomores and juniors," MSU freshman guard Fred Thomas said. "We have to learn how to win at this level, and everything is a major responsibility. I've never lost this much, and I hate losing."
Ray insists he isn't trying to make excuses for the 12-game losing streak. He also doesn't have buyer's remorse for taking the job.
"I don't need for people to feel sorry about what's going on for me or for our team," Ray said. "I'm just stating facts. I don't have an agenda. I tell (the MSU players) every day I wake up I'm thankful for the fact I'm the head coach at Mississippi State. I know we're going to be good."