This group has the potential to be one of the better teams Little Rock has produced. The 30-win group were mentioned in the Bubble Watch conversations (although they ended up not needing it), so they were almost good enough, at least. So what has to happen for this group to get there?
1. Schedule tough. We know we should be one of the best teams in the Belt, so we need to load up on games where we can get some notice if we should win. If we lose, we have lost nothing. Walker needs to be very aggressive this season and take whatever is offered. If we don't play them, we can't win them.
2. Markquis Nowell has to continue to improve. He is a remarkable ballplayer in his ability to make things happen. Now he has to get to where the things he makes happen are consistently the right things. He was second in the league in assists per game, so he gets the ball to the right place. But he was also second in turnovers. If he can get his assist/turnover ratio into the 2:1 range, which is what you like to see in a starting point guard, this team's offense should be running on high octane. All that means that Markquis' focus has to shift just a little away from scoring.
3. Our perimeter defense has to improve. Opponents shot 34.6% from the arc against us, which, while not awful on our part, is certainly not very good. In today's game if you can't stop the three, you will have problems. And this team, with Monyyong and Co. looming in the lane, should be one that can put lots of pressure on perimeter shooters. We can afford to gamble and not concentrate quite so much on help defense inside because we have some big erasers waiting to swat shots.
4. We need another Barky. We have several options in 3-point shooters who can get the job done. That is not our problem. What we lack is someone who strikes fear into the hearts of the opposition, who changes how they defend - whom they have to watch every minute he is on the court. Someone who shoots over 40% and who is not afraid to shoot it. Nowell is close, but I had rather have his attention on running the team. Stulic starts at the Shooting Guard spot. If he begins next season like he finished this one, he could be the man.
5. Monyyong and Johnson are as good a 5/4 combination as you are likely to find in this league. What we need (and what we probably have) is two guys good enough so that there is not any drop-off when you rotate in the second team. Year before last Maric and Bankston were close to being that good, although in different ways. If they both get back to where they were, opponents will be in a world of hurt when they have to rest their big men.
Five things. Get them done - or even most of them - and ESPN and CBS will be talking about us as teams that could make the Dance even if don't win our tournament. And that does not happen very often in Sun Belt Land.