MississippiÂ State coach Rick Ray directs his team during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game. (Photo by Phil Sandlin, AP)
This season has been anything than consistent for Rick Ray and Mississippi State basketball team.
The Bulldogs (7-15, 2-8) have been hit with injuries, suspensions and at times that has caused them to have only six scholarship players.
Ray suspended junior guard Jalen Steele before Saturday's loss to Florida. Steele's suspension will continue for Wednesday night's 7 p.m. game against Missouri at home.
"It should be the same that we had for Florida," Ray said of the number of scholarship players for the Missouri game on Monday's Southeastern Conference teleconference.
It is unclear if Steele will make the trip for MSU to LSU on Saturday. With Steele's suspension still in effect, the Bulldogs have only six scholarship players and eight men on the roster.
The lack of depth has made it tough for Ray to put a consistent five on the court.
"It's a by-product of, first of all, not having enough guys to put forth a team where you can constantly have the same five guys," Ray said. "Also, we've had some problems here with suspensions, so that changes things in our starting lineup."
Mississippi State is also young. The lone senior scholarship player Wendell Lewis has been lost for the season with a knee injury.
The Bulldogs consistently play three freshman and two sophomores.
"The other thing is just the youth and inexperience that we have on our team," Ray said. "Some guys are going to go through lulls or hit that wall where you need to get them out of the starting lineup and bring them off the bench. Some guys, because they're playing better, deserve to get in that starting lineup."
Picking a starting lineup hasn't been that tough for Ray. Against Florida on Saturday, MSU used its seventh different lineup of the season.
Ray knows with the low numbers everybody will get minutes.
"To me, it's not that big of a deal who's starting and who's not starting," Ray said. "At the end of the day, with this team, you're going to play. You're going to play significant minutes, so it's really not that big of a deal."
In the SEC today, Kentucky at Florida and Alabama at Georgia are the featured games. Other than Mississippi State hosting Missouri, Wednesday games are Ole Miss at Texas A&M, Tennessee traveling to Vanderbilt and Arkansas at Auburn. The lone game on Thursday is LSU at South Carolina.
Besides State traveling to LSU, Saturday features a full slate of games. Kentucky travels to Tennessee, Auburn hosts Florida, Alabama will be at home against South Carolina, Missouri is on the road at Arkansas, Vanderbilt host Texas A&M and Georgia travels to Oxford to take on Ole Miss.
to win on road
It's hard to win on the road in college basketball and Missouri is well aware of that.
The Tigers are 0-5 this season on the road and 0-4 in league play.
"(If) you look at the numbers, we haven't defended well on the road and we haven't shot the ball as well on the road," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said. "Teams are going to play better at home than they do on the road."
The Tigers first two games on the road in the SEC were at Oxford and Gainesville, Fla. The Tigers lost 64-49 to Ole Miss and 83-52 to Florida. The Tigers were without Laurence Bowers and Keion Bell.
"(In) the first two games we played at Ole Miss and at Florida, we weren't healthy," Haith said.
The Tigers had a chance to beat LSU and Texas A&M on the road. They lost by three to the Bayou Bengals and by two to the Aggies.
"The last two we played better at LSU and A&M," Haith said. "We just didn't finish those games. We're still not defending like I would like us to do. That's all a mental-toughness type thing. I'm hoping we can get that going here down the stretch because four of our next five are on the road."
on 5-game win streak
The Georgia Bulldogs (12-11, 6-4) opened the SEC season 1-4, but since then have won five-straight games.
The Bulldogs of the Peach State got the steak started with a 59-52 win over Texas A&M on the road.
"Our team had a slow start to the year and never really became confident," Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. "We've just been fighting uphill most of the season. That day in College Station, we beat a team that we have great respect for. We beat good basketball team. That helped us have some confidence."
During the streak, UGA has beaten A&M on the road, Auburn at home, South Carolina and Tennessee on the road and A&M again this time at home.
The Bulldogs are playing their best ball of the season, but Fox still sees areas where his team can improve.
"There's a lot of room for us to improve," Fox said. "We have been for the most part pretty good defensively. We've improved throughout the year offensively. Now we have a lot of guys who are chipping in and making a couple of plays every game. We are playing like a team."
The Bulldogs put their win streak on the line tonight when they host Alabama at 8 p.m.
honored by SEC
Tennessee's Jarnell Stokes and Kentucky's Nerlens Noel earned SEC Player of the Week honors.
Stokes was selected as the player of the week, while Noel the freshman player of the week.
It's the third week in a row Noel has won the honor. Noel averaged 10 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in wins over South Carolina and Auburn.
Stokes averaged 18 points, 10.5 rebounds, two assists and two steals in games against Georgia and South Carolina.
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