As you may have heard if you frequent Twitter, Mississippi State’s men’s basketball team held a closed scrimmage last night and a few of us media types were permitted to watch and take notes.
Now, you can’t take too much away from a team playing against itself, but a few things are certain. This group of Bulldogs is coached hard and wisely, with frequent stops in team play before the 20 minute scrimmage to teach, correct and help.
The stops were for running, too. You won’t be seeing players dragging down the court anymore, as this group appears to be in good shape. An example: after blocking a shot on defense, Wendell Lewis was the first player down to the other end of the court, taking a pass from Andre Applewhite and laying the ball in for two.
As for specifics, Ray had two points he focused on.
“Penetrate and kick!” was yelled a good two dozen times, as a main part of his motion offense is the guards dribbling to the paint and dishing the ball out to a [hopefully] open shooter on the perimeter.
His other big focus: turnovers. Nothing seems to bother Ray more than turnovers, and in team play he would have the whole gym stop and run when someone turned the ball over.
A few more observations:
- Freshman guard Fred Thomas showed out in his semi-debut, scoring a scrimmage-high 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting, playing with mostly backups on his team.
- Freshman point guard Craig “Chicken” Sword is the real deal. He’s more naturally a shooting guard, and I expect some growing pains as he switches to point for the season, but he’s extremely talented, natural and smart. His final stat line in 20 minutes of play was eight points on 4-of-7 shooting, with two assists, four turnovers and one steal. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and is very athletic. His one rebound came when he crashed the lane and skied over two forwards to snatch the ball out of the air.
- Junior guard Jalen Steele was lights out most of the night, and hardly missed a shot in the non-scrimmage portion of the practice. He finished 4-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-7 from three-point range, and appeared to be in good shape. Whenever Ray had the team running down-and-backs for committing turnovers, Steele was generally the first to finish.
- Freshman Andre Applewhite may be the biggest guard Ray has, as he was noticeably thicker and taller than I expected.
- Junior college transfer forward Colin Borchert is going to bring something new to the team offensively. The first time I saw him touch the ball he swished a three from the far side of the floor, something Ray had said he likes about him. Borchert finished with seven points and eight rebounds in the scrimmage.
- Gavin Ware, the freshman forward, has lost a significant amount of weight, down to the range of 265-270 pounds, and he looked pretty natural on the floor. Like any freshman, it will take time, but he’ll be on the floor for Ray’s team early and often.
- While depth is clearly and unsurprisingly an issue, Ray’s team looked like one that should win games and be very competitive in the SEC. Not saying they’ll be world-beaters, but the top six or seven players ought to be fun to watch.
- If I’m guessing now, MSU’s starting five from 1-5 will likely go Sword, Steele, Thomas, Borchert and Wendell Lewis, a very strong shooting group.