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Bad Pub Turns Good For MSU Hoops

Earlier this week, new Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Ray gave the boot to two of the Bulldog players he inherited from Rick Stansbury.  Shaun Smith and Kristers Zeidaks were tossed for “repeated violations of team rules.”

On the surface, it’s never good when your program makes news for ix-naying players.  Unless…

ESPN.com’s basketball writer Andy Katz gave Ray and State some props this morning, allowing the coach to sell a new message of accountability to the country:

 

“The biggest thing is to establish a culture of accountability… The programs I’ve been at in Clemson and Purdue we’ve held guys accountable and doing things the right way.  Ultimately that’s the way you win and build programs…

It’s a misconception that I’m laying down the foundation for the future.  It’s not just the future.  It’s for now.”

 

While Ray kicked Smith and Zeidaks off his team, he didn’t throw them out into the cold.  Both players will remain on scholarship “and have the academic support all our student-athletes receive,” until, of course, they transfer elsewhere to resume their careers.

Talk about lemonade from lemons.  Ray’s get-tough policy — think Renardo Sidney would have lasted in his program? — resulted in bad headlines initially only to give way to a national columnist giving him center stage to promote his program and his values.

Seems that Ray’s already recorded his first win at State before ever coaching an actual game.  Kudos.

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MSU’s Ray: “I Don’t Know How To Lose”

New Mississippi State basketball coach Rick Ray explained his background and rang the traditional cowbell at an introductory presser in Starkville yesterday.  As expected, after hearing him speak, State fans are feeling better about the hire (more in a minute).

Ray — who’s drawn positive reviews from those who’ve worked with him — opened with the usual “here’s what we’re gonna be” comments that all coaches use at their introductions:

“The program that I’m going to run is going to be a situation where guys are going to flourish.”

“All I ask you to do this whole time is, throw away your doubts, throw away your fears and get two feet into Mississippi State basketball.  Then see what happens.  If it doesn’t happen they you can start being judgmental, but don’t be judgmental right now.”

“I’m telling you this: We will be successful.  I don’t know how to lose.  The only thing I’ve ever done is win ballgames.  I don’t care if you’re an assistant coach or associate head coach — if you come from a winning program, you know how to win.”

“The system we will run is based on integrity.  I believe you win by doing things the right way.  I want to make sure we put a team on this court that you guys are proud of.”

“I’ve got to get our players believing this is the right way to play basketball, making them better as a basketball player.  Rest assured that all those things will happen.  It will take some patience, but it will happen.”

Ray also explained that he believes in a motion offense with a lot of “screens, moving, popping and cutting.”  He spoke of trying to keep Rodney Hood and the rest of his six scholarship players in Starkville.  He credited predecessor Rick Stansbury for giving him a program to build on and yet he also said the off-court shenanigans would have to stop.

It was a Day One win for Ray.  Of course, all but about 1% of opening pressers are wins.  “He has a commanding presence,” MSU president Mark Keenum said yesterday.  “He’s going to bring a high level of intellect and knowledge to the game.”

As noted above, State fans are gradually getting onboard with the hire.  Especially that, “The only thing I’ve ever done is win ballgames” line.  That’s quite a statement.

The Bulldog fansite ForWhomTheCowbellTolls.com — great name, by the way — now gives a thumbs-up to the man they’d likely never heard of a week ago:

“… I think Rick Ray will be a great fit at State.  He isn’t who was most wanted, but in the end none of the candidates, wanted or unknown, were guaranteed to come in and be successful… The sky is the limit (with Ray), he’s sitting at 0-0 right now.”

True enough.  Ray may turn out to be an A-1 head basketball coach.  But for now he’s a lifetime assistant who’s never run his own program.  He steps into a 14-team league that features coaches like Billy Donovan, John Calipari, Mike Anderson, and Frank Martin.  Oh, and Frank Haith, the reigning National Coach of the Year is coming in, too.  Ray’s taking over a program that will have serious depth issues next year and he’ll have to replace a guy who — even though he was the winningest coach in school history — was forced into very early retirement.

That won’t be easy.  Now, that doesn’t mean State fans shouldn’t be hopeful and supportive.  But buying in hook, line and sinker?  Everybody does it right after a coach is introduced.  But, boy, there sure are a lot of coaches introduced each year, aren’t there?  Not every guy who wins the presser by telling the fans exactly what they want to hear goes on to win enough games to keep his job.

So the jury is still very much out on Rick Ray, the only SEC coach who’s never run a program before.  We wish him well.

His deal: four years, $1 million per year plus incentives.  He also announced that he will retain at least one Stansbury assistant.

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Cross Prohm Off Mississippi State’s List

Murray State basketball coach Steve Prohm won’t be Mississippi State’s next coach.

Murray State announced it has agreed on a one-year extension with Prohm, whose new deal will run through May 31, 2016.

Prohm’s base salary will increase to $270,000 and his total compensation will be $300,000 annually, which would fall well short of what Mississippi State was capable of offering.

“I love it here,” Prohm told CBSSports.com of his deal to stay at Murray State. “They gave me a great opportunity.”

Prohm was considered last week to be Mississippi State’s “primary target” to replace Rick Stansbury. Now, MSU athletic director Scott Stricklin will have to look elsewhere.

And with South Carolina expected to hire Kansas State coach Frank Martin, you can expect Mississippi State fans will push even harder for the Bulldogs to land a big name in Starkville.

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UM’s Kennedy Will Remain A Rebel For 2012-13

Andy Kennedy just met his new boss — Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork — last week.  There’s currently an open position at his alma mater with his name written all over it.

But the Rebels’ basketball coach is staying put.  Both Kennedy and UM chancellor Dan Jones said so yesterday.  Here’s the coach’s statement:


“Despite reports to the contrary, I have had no discussions with UAB regarding their head coaching position.  I’ve put many years of ‘sweat equity’ into Blazer Basketball, and Birmingham will always be a special place to me and my family, but I am right where I’m supposed to be.

The privilege of coaching at Ole Miss in the ultra-competitive SEC is something that I will never take for granted, and we will continue in our efforts to move this program forward.  There have been numerous milestones met over the last six seasons, and we have many more goals to reach.”


The takeaway?  Kennedy will be getting a contract extension that was already in the works when Bjork was hired.  We at MrSEC.com believe he deserves that as he’s led a program with league-worst hoops facilities to five 20-win seasons in six years at Oxford.

However, he’s also never reached an NCAA Tournament and he’s about to start working for a hotshot, young AD that he knows little about.  And new athletic directors often like to hire their own guys.

If Kennedy fails at Ole Miss or if Bjork gets froggy and someday nukes him, the coach could come to regret not re-starting his coaching clock at another school — even a school like UAB that would pay him considerably less than Mississippi.  Remember, Rick Stansbury had a chance to move to Clemson just a couple of years before he “retired” at Mississippi State.  Think he’d take that one back at this point?

Also, with much of a young team back next year, expectations of an NCAA berth will be on the rise at Ole Miss.  But if Kennedy is eventually ousted from the school, it’s likely that his soon-to-be extended contract will at least put some nice parting cash in his wallet.

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Murray State AD Says He’ll Have A Statement On Prohm In “Coming Days”

When word leaked out that the firm aiding Mississippi State in its search for a new basketball coach had contacted Murray State’s Steve Prohm, Twitter took off with reports that Prohm was the Bulldogs’ top choice.

Maybe, maybe not.  Search firms contact lots of guys.  Some of those calls are leaked to the press by coaches (or their agents) who want a nice raise at their current spot.  Some of those calls are never revealed.  The fact that Parker Executive phoned Prohm doesn’t necessarily mean he’s Scott Stricklin’s first choice to replace Rick Stansbury.

Good thing, because it sounds like Prohm is in the process of trying to work out a new deal at Murray State.  Immediately after his team’s elimination from the NCAA Tournament, the 37-year-old coach said he would definitely be back at the Kentucky school next season.  Now his AD is hinting that a new deal is in the works.

Reached for comment by The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Murray State athletic director Allen Ward said: “A this time, I’m not making any further comment as to coach Prohm and his contact with MSU.  I hope to have a statement in the coming days.”

Prohm just led the Racers to a 31-2 record in his first year as the school’s head coach.

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MSU Is Moving Ahead With Stadium Expansion

Mississippi State got approval yesterday on some new renderings of an expanded Davis Wade Stadium.  According to Brandon Marcello of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the school will likely begin construction in early 2013 with the work to be completed in time for the 2014 football season.

The project will add 6,000 seats… many of which will be “premium seating.”  The price tag?  Try $80 million.  (With that expense and Rick Stansbury’s retirement package — which is being handled with private money — one has to wonder how much cabbage State will have to offer a new hoops coach.)

Below is a video released by the school that shows the overall plan for expansion.  If nothing else, all this proves that even the poorest — and we use that term loosely — athletic department in the SEC has plenty of cash to toss around.





Slick.

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A.D. Stricklin Still Mum On Stansbury’s Future At MSU

Why do we say that questions swirl?  We don’t say they’re spinning or floating or buzzing.  Questions always seem to swirl. 

Just wondering.

‘Cause questions continue to swirl in Starkville today.  Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin wouldn’t return messages from the Magnolia State media yesterday as most of the state’s talk show callers dialed up their favorite programs and called for Rick Stansbury’s ouster.

The coach — who as we told you yesterday is the most successful coach in MSU history — has two year’s remaining on a deal that stands to pay him at least $1.3 million per season.

Yet Brad Locke of The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal writes that “fan outcry against Stansbury is the loudest I’ve ever heard it, and fans made a statement Tuesday by not showing up — a season-low 2,507, turned out” for the NIT opener (and closer, as it turned out) with UMass.

For all the talk of power brokers and big money boosters and good ol’ boy networks, in the end, it’s the fans that ultimately decide coaches’ fates.  If enough fans stop buying tickets, stop paying for parking spots, stop buying popcorn and Cokes, and stop making donations, a program’s revenue stream eventually runs dry enough that the administration must take action.  Whether it really wants to or not.

So one of those questions swirling around Starkville today — Is the revenue stream drying up so quickly at State that Stricklin will be motivated to blow up the best basketball coach his school has ever had?

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Stansbury, Players React To NIT Bid, Late-Season Swoon

After 14 years as head coach, Rick Stansbury’s popularity is probably at low ebb today.  The Bulldogs failed to reach the NCAA Tournament with a team that many felt back in November could actually compete for second-place in the SEC behind Kentucky.

As his players took to Twitter to share their thoughts — Arnett Moultrie tweeted “Well ug et what you u deserve” – Stansbury tried to keep things on an even keel:


“Naturally, we are disappointed we are not playing in the NCAA Tournament, but at the same time we are looking forward to the NIT.”


Don’t bet on it.  The Bulldogs dropped six of their last eight games including two painful losses to a Georgia team that’s season is already over.  It was just two weeks ago that players on State’s team were questioning one another’s effort.  The possibility of an early flame-out is very real for this squad.  They open at home with UMass and then will likely travel to #1 seed Seton Hall.

Senior Dee Bost said via press release that he’s “thankful for another opportunity, especially after leaving the SEC Tournament on a sour note.”

The question is: Which of his teammates are thankful for another opportunity and which ones just want a disappointing season to end?

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Stansbury Appears To Fiddle While Starkville Burns

Scott Stricklin could have a real mess on his hands if things don’t turn around quickly in Starkville.  Mississippi State’s AD — already in the market for a new women’s basketball coach — might just have to jettison his men’s coach next month,

MSU has lost five games in a row.  While 19-10 overall, the Bulldogs’ SEC record has fallen to 6-8 and their RPI has cratered at 64.  Toss in a #61 strength of schedule rank and Rick Stansbury is on the verge of missing the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.  Making matters worse, State plays an old SEC West schedule meaning they’ve avoided doubling up with Kentucky, Florida and Vanderbilt the past few seasons.

On Sunday, ESPN.com’s Jason King had this to say about Stansbury’s lastest squad:


“Mississippi State has become the most underachieving squad in college basketball.  How a team with Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney, Arnett Moultrie and Rodney Hood can be 6-8 in a weak SEC is beyond me.”


Whether King is right or not doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that thousands of angry Bulldog fans suddenly have a national writer they can point to who shares their belief that the coach isn’t getting the most out of his players.

But it gets worse still.

Arnett Moultrie — who has led the SEC in double-doubles since transferring in from UTEP last offseason — said yesterday that he thinks he knows why the Dogs are only 6-8 in the SEC… no team unity:


“A five-game losing streak is unheard of at any level of basketball — especially when you’ve got all this talent… Everybody’s got their own agendas.”


Moultrie even said that he turns to his high school coach for advice rather than to his teammates due to the lack of camaraderie.  Asked if State could turn things around, Moultrie shockingly said, “Maybe not, probably not.” 

Meanwhile, teammate Dee Bost questioned the work ethic of his teammates:


“You have to be self-motivated.  If you’re not self-motivated then you shouldn’t be playing.  We lose five games in a row, and if you’re not willing to lay it all on the line to win right now, then something is wrong.”


Moultrie agreed with Bost on the work ethic front (so maybe some of these guys do see eye-to-eye):


“I see how (my teammates) come up here and say how bad they want to win and how bad they want to go to the Final Four, but everybody doesn’t work as hard as they say, with as bad as they want to win.”


If that weren’t bad enough, Stansbury’s statements on Monday only dug the hole deeper.  Asked about Moultrie’s “probably not” comment, the coach said:


“You wish he wouldn’t feel that way but, hey, if that’s what he said.”



Oh.  Asked if his team is becoming fractured, the 14th-year coach said:


“Ain’t no problems there… You win together and you lose together.  It’s easy when things don’t go well to separate.  The hard thing to do is to stay together and keep fighting.  And we’re still playing for a lot.”


Depending on the views of MSU’s AD and biggest boosters, the Dogs could be playing for their coach’s job. 

Now, perhaps Moultrie and Bost were simply speaking out of frustration and Stansbury is being honest when he says there are no chemistry problems in his locker room.  At least one player — a walk-on — echoes the coach’s view.

But the perception is still awfully bad:


* State is dropping game after game in a season that began with very high expectations.

* Players are squawking in the press.

* There’s been at least one player on the team with a questionable work ethic ever since Stansbury decided to chase the toxic-to-everyone-but-MSU Renardo Sidney three years ago.

* At the moment it looks like Stansbury will be stuck on four NCAA tourney wins through 14 seasons of work… unless his team can make a major run in the SEC tourney, land an at-large bid to the NCAAs, and grab a win in the Big Dance.


Stansbury — as we wrote last week — entered the season as the basketball version of Mark Richt.  Too long in one place, he needed a big year to silence his critics.

Now he can’t even silence his own players, much less angry fans.  And while State’s season goes up in flames, Stansbury provides quotes like “Ain’t no problem there” for his detractors to stew over.

It’s a little late for Christmas allusions, but to quote Charles Dickens: “If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race will find him here.”

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Florida Helps Tourney Resume, Bama & MSU Do Not

Yesterday we showed you which SEC basketball squads “fit the profile” of a traditional NCAA Tournament team.  Like Greg Brady fitting the suit of the new Johnny Bravo, 95% of the time, you call tell which teams will reach the Big Dance by simply looking at a few numbers: RPI, strength of schedule, record versus Top 50 RPI, quality road wins, bad losses to teams outside Top 100 RPI.

Last night, Florida further locked up a bid to the NCAAs with a win at Alabama.  The Tide and Mississippi State failed to help their causes.  LSU — which is too far off the bubble to begin with — got a nice win that should help its NIT status:

 

Florida 61, Alabama 52

If the Gators weren’t a lock before last night — by the numbers they were between a “lock” and “probable” — they’ve punched their ticket now.  Patric Young (19 points) and the Gators dominated Alabama inside for a nine-point road win.  The win is the second road victory over a Top 50 RPI club for the Gators and it gives UF its 14th consecutive 20-win season.

Alabama struggled in the paint without suspended stars JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell.  Trevor Releford and Andrew Steele did return for the Tide last night, but the team is now 0-2 with both Green and Mitchell out of action.  Anthony Grant — who’s really paying an on-court price for taking a bold off-court stand — says he’ll evaluate the status of Green and Mitchell before Saturday’s game with Tennessee.

The fact that Bama was shorthanded shouldn’t impact the Gators’ tourney resume.  Alabama, on the other hand, is now just 2-5 against Top 50 RPI clubs.

 

LSU 69, Mississippi State 67 in OT

Rick Stansbury’s team had a chance to steal a road win at Baton Rouge last night.  Instead, they saw their overall record fall to 19-7 as LSU’s Anthony Hickey sank a driving floater with 1.4 seconds remaining in overtime.  The win pushes LSU’s record to 15-10 overall. The loss was the second in a row for MSU… both coming in overtime (Georgia won at Starkville on Saturday).

Ralston Turner led the Tigers with 17 points.  Dee Bost and Rodney Hood scored 15 and 14 to lead the Bulldogs.

For MSU, last night’s loss did not hurt so much as it failed to help the Dogs’ NCAA hopes.  We would conclude that their resume still lands them in the “probable” category for an invitation to March Madness.

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