November 19, 2012 9:59:55 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State University first-year men's basketball coach Rick Ray is making sure his players understand the balanced approach they'll need to have on their trip to the Maui Invitational.
Ray hopes to help the Bulldogs find the appropriate mix of pleasure and business at one of the most famous and significant regular-season college tournaments of the season.
"I want them to enjoy this trip, and I want them to do the snorkeling, laying by the pool, and enjoying the surroundings every day that we're there," Ray said. "How many college basketball players, let alone regular students, get to travel to Maui and have the school pay for it? Once we get through the first few days, they're competitors and that switch will happen naturally."
MSU (1-1) will try to build off its first victory of the season against Florida Atlantic University at 5 p.m. today (ESPN2) when it takes on No. 11 University of North Carolina in the first round of the Maui Invitational.
"It's just a name," MSU freshman guard Fred Thomas said. "They got to suit up just like we do."
North Carolina (3-0) has cruised in victories against Gardner-Webb University, FAU, and Long Beach State University, and hopes to use the tournament as the springboard to introduce its new faces to a national audience. One of those new faces is freshman forward James Michael McAdoo. The McDonald's All-America honoree leads the Tar Heels in scoring at 21 points per game. McAdoo is an athletic wing player who can excite the crowd and can flourish on the fast break for coach Roy Williams.
"I like our toughness," Williams said. "I saw that Friday night (against Long Beach State) when the game was still close and the crowd was still in the game. But with the competition here, we're going to have to be even better."
Today's game will be MSU's first against a ranked opponent since it dropped a 73-64 decision to No. 1 University of Kentucky last February in Lexington, Ky. MSU is 0-5 against North Carolina, but that doesn't scare any of MSU's younger players who may not know better -- or care -- about UNC's history.
"This is a great opportunity for our program," Ray said. "Our guys are excited to play a team the caliber of North Carolina."
The three game in three days format will test MSU's depth. Injuries and suspensions have left the Bulldogs with eight active players, including on scholarship. Junior forward Colin Borchert was suspended for what the school called a violation of team rules. He didn't accompany the team Thursday morning when it left for Hawaii.
Borchert, a Phoenix, Ariz., native, and an All-America transfer from East Mississippi Community College, started the first two games for this season and is averaging 5.0 points and 3.5 rebounds in 27.5 minutes a game.
Ray signed Borchert, point guard Jacoby Davis, and shooting guard Andre Applewhite in a two-week period in May. None of them will play in the Maui Invitational. Davis and Applewhite suffered season-ending injuries. MSU also will be without junior guard Jalen Steele, who will be out approximately six weeks after he fractured his left wrist against FAU.
"I don't want to hear excuses," Ray said. "No one is feeling sorry for us. What this does is give guys a chance to step up and compete."
MSU will return to action Tuesday against the winner or loser of a game between Butler University and Marquette University at 1:30 p.m. or 7 p.m.
Southeastern Conference fans should be familiar with Butler shooting
guard Rotnei Clarke, who averaged 15 ppg. for the University of Arkansas in 2009-10 and 2010-11. Clarke transferred after coach John Pelphrey was dismissed two years ago. He is averaging 14 ppg. and is shooting 40 percent from the field for coach Brad Stevens.
Undefeated University of Texas, University of Illinois, and University of Southern California and Division II Chaminade University, the host school, are on the other side of the bracket. Chaminade last won a game in the event in 2010 when it defeated the University of Oklahoma 68-64 in the seventh-place game.