Ray, named Bulldog head coach last March, is familiar with the opponent after his tenure as an assistant at Clemson. The programs last met in a post-season tournament, playing in the second round of the 2011 NIT with the Tarheels hitting a last-second shot to win 76-74 in Starkville.
State shares the half-bracket with Butler and Marquette and will play one of those in either the winners or losers bracket on the 20th. The final rounds, for consolation or champions, is the 21st. In the other bracket Texas plays Chaminade while Southern California plays Illinois.
The tournament actually opens a week earlier and far from sunny shores. Mississippi State gets to warm up for their trip by hosting Florida Atlantic in Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs are guaranteed their berth in Hawaii regardless of outcome.
For a few Bulldogs this will be a return to the Islands, as MSU participated in the December 2011 Diamondhead Classic. That team went 1-2 in the tournament, but few recall the results. What is still sorely remembered around Starkville was the between-games scuffle of two MSU players in the stands, witnessed and replayed by television, that resulted in dismissal of one and suspension of the other.
Senior center Wendell Lewis and junior guards Jalen Steele and Shaun Smith each played in the three games. State also made trips to Hawaii in December 1998 and 1987, and has a 3-6 record playing in the 50th state.
Ray's first Bulldog team is also booked for another pair of high-profile basketball events in the fall semester. As part of the annual SEC/Big East Challenge, the Bulldogs travel to Providence on December 1. This is a first-ever meeting of the programs. Both won their Challenge games last season with State knocking off West Virginia in Starkville while the Friars edged South Carolina. The Big East took the event 8-4.
Last week, Mississippi State and Loyola University-Chicago confirmed they will commemorate their historic 1963 NCAA Tournament meeting a half-century ago with a regular season game this fall. The teams will play on December 15, at Gentile Arena in Chicago, game time to be set.
The 1963 game, won 61-51 by the eventual national champion Ramblers, was played on the Michigan State campus. It was not only the first-ever NCAA game for MSU basketball, it made national roundball history. The SEC champs Bulldogs had to defy state government policy and sneak out of town to play the first-round NCAA game against Loyola. It was named one of the '25 defining moments' in the first century of the NCAA.
The programs will rematch in Humphrey Coliseum next season.
With these special games and events now scheduled, the rest of the pre-SEC slate is practically finished. Mississippi State only awaits finalization of the conference games before announcing the complete 2012-13 schedule.
Meanwhile Ray has to be wondering what will be the roster available for those games after two unexpected setbacks this week. Freshman guard Jacoby Davis suffered a torn knee ligament Monday during an individual workout at the Mize Pavilion. The surgery will likely sideline him the entire rookie season. Davis, a prep school product and North Carolina native, was expected to challenge for the point guard job immediately.
Another true freshman guard, Craig Sword, ran afoul of authorities this week for having a BB gun in his dorm room. As of now no official punishment for violating campus policy had been announced.