August 21, 2013 12:18:32 AM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- Rick Ray will begin his second Southeastern Conference slate in the league's most historic building -- Rupp Arena.
After the announcement of the SEC slate Tuesday, Mississippi State University learned its 2014 league schedule will open with a road affair against the University of Kentucky.
Kentucky, which failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament in 2013 a year after winning the national championship, is bringing in the top ranked recruiting class according to several publication with six players in ESPN.com's Top 100 rankings.
"We're chasing perfection. We're chasing greatness. We're chasing things that have never been done in the history of our game," Kentucky coach John Calipari said during a May news conference. "I don't mind a little pressure. I've had it my whole career. I've had the gun to my head for 20-something years. And you know what? I'm at my best when the gun is to my head."
Last season, MSU stumbled through a 4-14 conference season in Ray's debut as a head coach that resulted in a final 10-22 record. The frustrating league slate, which included a 13-game losing streak also included an 85-55 blowout by the Wildcats in Rupp Arena.
The Wildcats and traditional rival University of Mississippi are two of the five teams MSU will play twice this season, along with Auburn University, Texas A&M University and University of Georgia. The final three home-and-home opponents listed finished 14th, 11th and ninth in the league last season.
"We are opening up SEC play in style with our game at Kentucky," said MSU coach Rick Ray, whose team returns all five starters from a year ago.
"We will see very early if our guys are prepared for SEC play with our first three games being at Kentucky, against our rival Ole Miss, and then at Alabama."
With the SEC schedule announcement meaning the completion of the 2013-14 slate for the Bulldogs, the schedule features just five games against teams in the 2013 NCAA tournament (Florida Gulf Coast University, University of Nevada at Las Vegas, University of Florida, Ole Miss and the University of Missouri).
"We have some very challenging games on this schedule against some proven teams that made the postseason last year," Ray said. "Florida Gulf Coast is coming off a Sweet 16 run; Utah State has the 4th highest winning percentage in college basketball the past 11 years behind only Duke, Kansas and Gonzaga, and UNLV has made the NCAA Tournament four years in a row."
MSU will be making its first trip to Missouri. The Tigers have won both previous meetings starting with a 102-78 win in the 1975 Show Me Classic and a 83-75 victory in a 2007 non-conference game. MSU has never played Texas A&M in College Station in men's basketball with the only meeting in the Lone Star state being a 58-54 Aggies win in 1964 in Houston.
"I am looking forward to playing in some great SEC venues that I have not had the pleasure of visiting yet, like Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and Missouri," Ray said. "If you are a member of the SEC, your schedule will never be easy."