The Mississippi State men's basketball team have had its fair share of ups and downs this season.
The non-conference portion of the schedule has taught head coach Rick Ray and the Bulldogs several things.
MSU has dropped an embarrassing 59-57 loss to Alabama A&M at home on Dec. 30, 2012. The Bulldogs then rebounded with dominating 97-46 win over New Orleans last Thursday.
"We had the bad loss at home to Alabama A&M," Ray said in the Southeastern Conference teleconference on Monday. "The unfortunate part of the result of that (is) everybody feels like outside the program that we did not get better.
"The semester break has been key for us as far as our individual player development and our team getting better. I felt that all came to fruition in our game against New Orleans."
Mississippi State (5-7 overall) now turns its attention to the SEC. The Bulldogs open their 18-game conference slate Wednesday at home against South Carolina (10-3).
"We're headed in the right direction as far as improvement as a ball club and improvement individually as we start SEC play," Ray said.
MSU has been plagued by the injury bug this season, but for the most part, it is at full health now. Senior big man Wendell Lewis is still sidelined by a knee injury and there has been talk of him not returning this year and taking a medical redshirt so he can play next year.
The Bulldogs have seven healthy scholarship players and two walk-ons. The Bulldogs did get back junior guard Jalen Steele against Alabama A&M and he seems to be ready for the SEC part of the schedule.
With the low numbers, getting better in practice is something that is hard to do, especially when managers and coaches are scrimmaging against the players.
"We haven't had a chance to get better in practice a lot because we're playing against managers and coaches," Ray said. "Sometimes it's hard to hold our guys accountable as far as what we want to do on the court."
to play against MSU
South Carolina junior guard Bruce Ellington is expected to play against Mississippi State in the SEC opener.
Ellington, who also plays football for the Gamecocks, is returning to the basketball team.
Ellington caught a 32-yard touchdown pass with 11 seconds left that led the Gamecocks to a victory over Michigan in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.
Ellington did spend a few days with Gamecock basketball team early in the season.
"Early in the year, he was with us for like 12 days," South Carolina head coach Frank Martin said Monday.
"On the 12th day, he was completely different than he was on the first day. As far as his timing and his conditioning, basketball and football are two different sports. They are played differently. I could tell after 12 practices that he has a chance to be real, real good."
It is unknown if freshman forward Michael Carrera will play against the Bulldogs. He suffered an injury earlier in the season.
Missouri, Texas A&M
open first season in SEC
The SEC basketball season gets underway today when No. 10 (Associated Press) Missouri hosts Alabama at 6 p.m.
"We are excited about the start of SEC play," Missouri head coach Frank Haith said.
The Tigers along with the Texas A&M Aggies enter their first season of SEC play. Both joined the conference last year.
"There's a buzz and another level of enthusiasm for us, especially this being our first game in the SEC as a university," Texas A&M head coach Billy Kennedy said.
Texas A&M hosts Arkansas on Wednesday.
Each team will play an 18-game slate. In past years, teams played 16 SEC games, but with the addition of the Tigers and the Aggies the conference decided to expand the conference slate.
Other games to open SEC play feature South Carolina at Mississippi State, Georgia at No. 11 Florida, Ole Miss at Tennessee and LSU at Auburn on Wednesday. Kentucky travels to Nashville, Tenn. on Thursday to take on Vanderbilt.
SEC coaches not
concerned with league's
The SEC has not had the best showing in the non-conference portion of the schedule.
Texas A&M lost to SWAC opponent Southern University and Mississippi State lost to Alabama A&M out of the same league.
Kentucky started the year in the top five, but after several losses has dropped out of the top 25.
"From the outside looking in, you see maybe some of the challenges and difficulties in some of the games we have had this year," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said. "In the months of November and December,
it's almost like teams form their image, their identity and how good or bad their league is and I've never really agreed with that. I think teams get better. A lot of teams right now have lost a lot of people.
Kentucky's lost a lot, Vanderbilt's lost a lot, Mississippi State's got a new coach and South Carolina's got a new coach. There's just been a lot of turnover in personnel of key guys."
Many SEC coaches agree with Donovan's thoughts about not judging teams in November and December. Many see other conferences struggling as well.
"We act like the SEC is the only league in the country that lost games in the non-conference slate," Martin said. "You look at every other league across the country, they have lost some games in the non-conference slate. It's part of the whole scheduling process. (In) college basketball, there has become parity because of the one-and-done rule. A lot of BCS schools lose kids early to the NBA. A lot of those lower and mid-major schools have kids that stay three, four or five years."