February 27, 2013 9:36:22 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- It's easy to look at the rosters for the Mississippi State University and the University of Kentucky men's basketball team and see the different in depth and talent.
While MSU's injuries and suspensions likely will make it difficult for Rick Ray and the Bulldogs to beat Kentucky at 7 tonight (WCBI), the first-year MSU head coach may want to look at the recruiting success coach John Calipari has had in recent years to help the Wildcats reload. According to Scout.com, Kentucky has had the top ranked recruiting class in the country each season since Calipari took over for the fired Billy Gillespie in 2009. Kentucky is projected to repeat that feat with its 2013 recruiting haul.
On the other hand, MSU (7-19 2-12 Southeastern Conference) continues to scour the nation for players who fit Ray's system and could be highly acclaimed talents by their junior and senior years. Compared to Calipari's job, Ray's task may seem unfair because Kentucky is a "blue-blood program" that typically competes for the nation's top players, while other programs, even ones like MSU that have had recent success in their leagues and at the national level, recruit lower-rated players and other prospects who have to be developed.
"I think that's probably accurate for all the other teams in the country beside Kentucky," Ray said of having to find prospects that fit his system at MSU. "The one thing about recruiting, it's not just about going out and getting a top-100 guy. It's finding who fits your program and what kids are going to get better.
Ray said he and assistant coaches Wes Flanigan, Chris Hollendar, and George Brooks will have similar success to what he accomplished when he was an assistant coach at Purdue University and Clemson University and competed against the best programs in the Big Ten Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference.
MSU's class of early signees includes three-star talents I.J. Ready, a point guard from Little Rock, Ark., and center Fallou Ndoye, of Finley Prep in Nevada. The Bulldogs have also signed forward Travis Daniels from Shelton State Community College (Ala.).
Kentucky's 2013 recruiting class has five five-star talents, including the best guard duo in twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison, of Richmond, Texas and the best center duo of Dakari Johnson, of Montverde, Fla., and Marcus Lee, of Antioch, Calif.
"Identifying those guys that are not in the top 100, that's where you make your hay in recruiting," Ray said. "My daughter can go out and see (Kentucky freshman forward) Nerlens Noel is a really good player. It's now going out and finding those guys that are out of the top 150, out of the top 100 that you can recruit, come into your program, and feel that's going to go from being a three-star guy to a four-star guy, a two-star guy to a three-star guy. I think that's the talent in recruiting. It's not just identifying the easy guys to recruit."
Despite a season-ending knee injury to Noel, Calipari's strategy has Kentucky (19-8, 10-4) in position to earn its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, and its 21st in the past 22 seasons.
"The issue has been the last seven or eight years, we've won 30 games," Calipari said Tuesday. "That's never been done in the history of our sport, but we think it's the norm like you are supposed to win 30. Then everyone with us now all the fans and media, you are supposed to win 30."
One of MSU's concerns about its 12-game losing streak, the school's longest single-season skid, is the negative recruiting tactics other programs are using against it in an attempt to convince recruits the Bulldogs will continue their losing ways.
"Anybody that's been around me and has talked to our guys on the team, they see we're about individual development and getting them better," Ray said. "If you have anybody who has common sense, they'll understand it's a unique situation. That person you're recruiting who can't understand that, then you probably shouldn't want to recruit them any way."
MSU will try to snap the losing streak without sophomore forward Roquez Johnson, who remains on indefinite suspension. Ray said Monday he and his coaching staff will re-evaluate the status of the Montgomery, Ala., native after the team gets back from Lexington, Ky. MSU will play host to the University of Mississippi at 4 p.m. Saturday.
"I'm looking forward to playing at Rupp Arena (because) I'm a basketball fan and you grow up hearing about Rupp Arena and all the success they had there," Ray said. "The question is whether we're good enough to exploit them. The answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. We have to figure out as a staff how we're going to attack Kentucky and have success."
MSU is coming off a 72-31 loss to Vanderbilt University on Saturday. The Bulldogs made only seven field goals in the loss, their fewest in the modern era (since 1950). The previous low of eight came at Feb. 26, 1959, at Ole Miss.
"When you're losing, no matter what's going on, it's hard for people to buy into it," Ray said. "It's like telling somebody to keep investing in this stock, keep investing in this stock. Why would I keep investing in this stock if I keep losing money? It doesn't make sense. That's the same way some of our kids are going through it."