Friday, October 24, 2014

Where the volleyball spotlight shines

Volleyball is like other sports in that the spotlight usually shines, not where the greatest worth is, but upon that which pleases the fans most. The spectacular play in volleyball is the kill: the big players up front slamming the ball home for the points. To me, however, the much more impressive aspect of the game are the digs, which require amazing reflexes, and making really skillful sets for the striker. But, as usual, the home run hitters get the press, and the shortstops only get the appreciation of teammates.

Maximize your strengths

A really good coach puts the strengths of his team to the best advantage. Our, no doubt, is our depth on the perimeter. I am not smart enough to know how to put this to use, but Steve Shields should know. Georgia State, for example, will substitute very little for their guards. With all the media timeouts these days, that will be less of a disadvantage than it would otherwise be, but even at that we ought to be able to use it well.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We lack a superstar

We were picked to be third in the Belt in the official preseason polls. That shows that the voters have a lot of respect for our team this were, but we do not have any superstars like Georgia State and ULL do. But that is OK. We have always emphasized team play, anyway. It is the sum of the parts that counts.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Proud to be a Trojan!

Under the best of circumstances this program would have to fight against the stream. This is a football state, and folks' attention is not going to be turned to basketball until the first of the year; so really, we really only get a half-season in the average public's mind.

But the bigger problem is in our outlook. We suffer from the "At" University Syndrome. The University of Arkansas AT Little Rock. Kind of an ugly step-sister. (The main reason I wish we would banish "Arkansas" from all our uniforms and logos and just let it be "Little Rock.) As long as that "at" is there we are being reminded by the Powers That Be to keep in our place. One reason older fans love Mike Newell so much was that he had a little "in your face" swagger, which is what it will take from those in the entire department for our program to be successful in terms of establishing its own identity in this State That Oinks.

I like what the Interim AD is doing relative to student involvement. We need to get the entire student body away from that old walk-on campus mentality. "This is MY university, and I am proud of it," is what the we need to get the students thinking.

We need to do as much as we can to get T-Shirts, bumper stickers, license plates, etc. into the hands of students and local fans. (Preferably these would emphasize the Little Rock instead of the Arkansas.) Whether a particular team is winning or not, we need to get the student body as a whole and that portion of them that are sports fans in particular thinking positively. Proud to be a Trojan!


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

When good players sign with slow teams

I love it when top tier players sign with teams that play at a slower pace. ESPN's #39 recruit just committed to Virginia, who are stigmatized for their deliberate pace.

Balance does not naturally occur

Water flows downhill, even if only gently. Even in Kansas there are rivers. So, purely for the sake of illustration let us suppose that Mareik is the real deal and our starters turned out to be Josh, Ben, Roger, Mareik and James. Good lineup. All of those would be scorers. But still they probably will not all score double figures, because the scoring load is going to drift toward certain players. Some of it will be how opponents react: they are going to put their best defenders on what they perceive to be our biggest threats. Second will be just the chemistry of the team, which will in itself force some players to the forefront. James is not a passer, and he is going to have to be a rebounder. If Josh were to be our main point guard (very unlikely), he would have to be worrying about those duties, not just scoring. The ebb and flow of team play is constantly changing, and because of that it will not and cannot stay perfectly flat.

Some teams have lots of double-figure scorers because they play at a fast pace and there are lots of points to go around. That will not be our case. I think we will have three players in double figures, and possibly even four, depending on the mix. But not five.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Moser/Shields era has not produced a lot of big numbers

Big individual totals have been the exception rather than the rule since the year 2000. There have been a few. Laverne Smith scored 36 points in 2000, and Brandon Freeman had 37 in 2004 and 38 in 2005. In rebounding, we had the privilege of watching Rashad Jones-Jennings, who had four efforts of 20-plus, including the all-time record of 30.


Good schedule this year to peg the team

Last year we had had too many games that we either couldn't win or couldn't lose. This year's non-conference slate looks a lot more like the Sun Belt will be. The only team that might be beyond the Belt is BYU, but we shall see how that goes. The rest of them should at least be in the ballpark of SBC teams somewhere along the ladder. The advantage, of course, is that we will know a lot better how good we really are before we hit conference play.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

We should be good in tight games

As of the beginning of this season, we will have the #5 and #10 career FT% shooters in school history - Ben Dillard and Josh Hagins, respectively. That makes me feel pretty confident about close games, especially when we can throw in Gus Leeper, who is a very good FT shooter for a big man. In fact, the lowest percentage by a player who will be returning this season was .609 by Maurius Hill, which, while it is not particular good, is far from some of the awful percentages we have had in the past.

The familiarity advantage

Leeper 4 yrs
Dillard 3 yrs
White 3 yrs
Osse 2 yrs
Hagins 2 yrs
Billings 2 yrs

These are the players who have had multiple years in the program. We talk about the experience factor and the maturity factor, and those are very important; and we have a lot of both of them this year. However, there is one other factor, and that is the number of years that players have played together on the same team under the same coach. Each year playing together in the same system lets players get to know each other, know their habits, know how they react, coordinate their timing. If they mesh well enough, they soon begin to function like the wheels in a watch. Maturity and experience can help this process along, but it will not finally happen until players actually have played together over a period of time.

If and when this condition occurs, when players know each other and are functioned like a well-oiled machine, it can sometimes overcome superior talent. There is no way to know if this year's Trojans will have that sort of instinctive timing and teamwork, but the elements are there. For instance, suppose this lineup is in the game: 1-Hagins, 2-Dillard, 3-Billings, 4-White, 5-Leeper. Those guys have been playing together for at least two years, and three of them have played together for three years, at least in practice. They know each other, and that goes a long way.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A nice mixture

If we need muscle, we have Gus and Maurius and Woods, and maybe Kemy if he gets healthy. If we need lightweight agility, we have several options. Nice mix. We don't have much height on the team, but we do have several players who are sturdy-looking.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Back to the rebounding question

Josh Hagins is a very good-rebounding guard. He will get lots of minutes; it would not at all surprise me to see him lead the team in minutes played. And on what Shields has described as a weak-rebounding team (at least pre-season), a guard who helps solve that problem will only make himself even more valuable.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lou Costello played basketball?

According to Wikipedia:

He attended School 15 in Paterson, NJ, and was considered a gifted athlete. He excelled in basketball and reportedly was once the New Jersey state free throw champion (his singular basketball prowess can be seen in Here Come The Co-Eds (1945), in which he performs all his own tricky hoop shots without special effects). He also fought as a boxer under the name "Lou King".



Patrick Ewing played four years

This man played four years of college basketball?! Can you imagine that today? How good was he? Well, over his career he averaged 15.3 ppg, 9.2 rpg, shot an unbelievable 63.5% from the field, and averaged 3.4 blocks per game.


One thing has to change

These days it is hard to win much if you cannot defend the 3-point line. Last season we allowed opponents to shoot 35% and lost 17 games. (We only shot 32.5%.) That ratio needs at least to flip-flop. My personal goal is always to hold the opposition to under 33%.

Leeper - an overlooked key?

Particularly with the new guidelines implemented on defense last year, Gus Leeper may suffer from a lack of quickness. Thus there may be times when he will not be the player to have in the game.

However, even if a little slower afoot, Gus brings a lot to the table. He is obviously very intelligent, is our most experienced player, is bull-strong, and he makes free throws. Those are all good qualities to have in a post player.

Gus is quiet, but do not overlook him, because he will get his minutes in his spots.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Lack of info dampens expectations, increases hope

When a team has several recruits, especially if any of them need to fill important roles, it is always a little difficult for fans to get too confident simply because we do not really know anything about them. Oh, we have stats at a lower level, and we have the gushy optimism of coachspeak, but we are not sure how good they will be. So we temper our optimism with mental asterisks: "IF he is as good as we think he might be." Lack of information dampens expectations.

On the other hand, ignorance is bliss. "He may be a bust, but WHAT IF he turns out to be something special. What if he plays over his head and is one of those kids who significantly over-achieve?" That does not happen very often, but it does happen. A Jones-Jennings leads the nation in rebounding. A Matt Mouzy turns walking on into a solid career. A lightly-recruited Derek Fisher becomes an all-time great. I does happen. It has happened. Sometimes the surprise player has little to go with him, as was the sad case with JJ, but every once in a while he is that final piece to an exceptional team. Who could have predicted that the 1986 Trojans would vault from a 4-9 start to their classic victory over Notre Dame at least partially because a guard named Paul Springer was inserted into the starting line-up? It does happen. We not know for sure how good the recruits are, but that lack if info allows us to hope.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Great Ricky Davison Mystery

In the 2009-2010 season, guard Ricky Davison had the single hottest 3-point shooting season in Little Rock history. He was a sizzling 36 of 70 (51.4%) from the arc. (The closest anyone else has come was Nick Zachery in 2000-01 at 46.6%.) Davison only started seven games that year, averaging 14.8 minutes per game. While he was in there, however, he made his shots at a torid rate.

What is curious is that the next year Davison did not return. That seems strange: the best shooting in school history, and there was not a curtain call. He played for North Alabama the next season, where he was First Team All-Conference and averaged 16.5 points per game. Probably we will never know why he did not return, but those of us who were fans during that season will not soon forget it.

Ricky Davison 668006

No fear

I am scared of Georgia State, but I surely do hope that our team is not. NO FEAR! was a decal you used to see on car windows. That is the attitude we need. You cannot win with doubt in your mind. I look at GaState and I see all those glamor recruits, all those money conference players, and I ask myself, "How can we possibly beat them?" But if the team thinks that, we have lost already.

No fear, Pappy, no fear! Trust your Trojans.


Monday, October 13, 2014


Shields says we are not a good rebounding team at this point, which is not surprising given our lack of team size. Last year we were 6th of ten in offensive rebounding and 2nd in defensive rebounds. So, we were a better-than-average rebounding team. However, we lost our leading rebounder in Will Neighbour (#5 in the conference), so that will hurt. And we are replacing Will with players not nearly his size and without his experience. However, James White was #11 in the conference, and will be one of the leading returning board men. As has been pointed out many times, rebounding is less about height and more about positioning, timing and rebounding. We just have to instill a culture of getting it done.