Thursday, July 31, 2014

Who is going to have to step up?

Who is going to have to take a major step up for us to have a big season? I will give three names. First is Ben Dillard. Ben is going to have to be more aggressive on offense. He may end up being the best 3-point shooter in school history, so he needs to be shooting more. Second, Gus Leeper. He has to give us solid minutes inside. He is our only true big man and we need him to be available. Third, Stetson Billings. The staff has been patient with him, and he has developed, but he needs to take a giant step now. He is an upperclassman, and his game needs to  become more than one-dimensional.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Don't let the tail wag the dog

All coaches have their individual philosophies and approaches to the game. And they should recruit to that philosophy and teach it. However, the abilities of the players will not always fit perfectly to that system. So sometimes the system will need to be tweaked, a little, at least. Coaches have to have some flexibility even as they are insisting that the players buy into the philosophy. Coaching is an art, not a science. Winning is the dog; the philosophy is a means to the end. Don't let the tail wag the dog.

Offensive board man?

Who is our best returning offensive rebounder? Frankly, I was a little surprised at the answer. Very often, smaller players make very good offensive rebounders, such as the small forward, if he is tough and aggressive. This year, however, the offensive rebounds hold pretty much the same as overall. Among our returning players, here are the number on offensive rebounds per minute played:

White .084
Leeper .081
Billings .075
Hill .064
Isom .051

The number that suprised me the most was Gus Leeper. Big, strong guys usually can get defensive rebounds (if they block out) because they eat up a lot of space, but on the offensive boards frequently quickness is more of a factor. For all Gus' good qualities, quickness is not particularly one of them, so he must be getting offensive boards by good fundamentals and hard work - what you would expect of Gus.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Playing together over time does have its advantages

Gus has been in the program four years, Ben three years, James three years. Others two years. You get to know one another, know the system, learn teammates' timing and tendencies. It helps.

Rebounding matters

Chris Jans, the new coach at Bowling Green (by way of Wichita State) said that 80% of teams that win the rebounding battle win the game.

Get the old coaches to critique the game

Find some of the great coaches from years past who are candid and have no reason to pull punches, and ask them what is broken with the game today, from the current rules to administration to players, etc. Ought to be interesting and revealing. And I would think folks ought to listen to them. The one thing that is "right" (to them) is the money ESPN makes from the game.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Point guard

This is perhaps our strongest position. We have the player (Thomas) who was the starter at the beginning of last year who presumably will be returning healthy. He was enough of a leader to be chosen one of the team captains before he had played a single season. We have the player (Smith) who replaced him and played superlatively well, comfortably leading the league in assist/turnover ratio. Then we have Hagins, who came in as a point guard and got moved to shooting guard when we got two other points, and did a great job. Although he may not be as pure a point as the other two, he certainly is capable and is perhaps more able to make things happen at crunch time because of his scoring capability. Then, for good measure, throw in Kemy Osse, who played some point before he got hurt. There might be better point guards somewhere in the conference (GSU comes to mind), but I doubt that any other team in the conference is as good as deep as we are - if everyone stays healthy.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Be tough!

Say it over and over again. Be tough! Say it on the court. Say it in your sleep. Say it until you are it. Trojan tough!


Saturday, July 26, 2014

The right kind of "Go To" guy

A lot of people praise players who are not afraid to take clutch shots, late shots, shots when the game is on the line. I remain unimpressed. I don't care about players who are not afraid to take clutch shots. I want a couple of players who can MAKE clutch shots. A championship team has to have the right kind of Go To guys.

Don't squander the opportunity

It will not be many times in the history of a program that you have the combination of maturity and talent that we have this year. We may not have the high-D1 sort of talent like GSU has on rent, but better chops than we usually have. And we have seniors. And a whole stable of juniors. Now we just need to stay healthy. And stay focused. And give maximum effort.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Waiting for the next special player

Who will be that next "special" player - one who will be remembered by Trojan fans as an all-time great? One who can put the team on his shoulders? There are a couple of candidates on this squad. Both James White and Josh Hagins have the tools to do so if they can become more consistent. White has played in the shadow of Will Neighbour, but it is his time to step up. He has to be more assertive. Hagins is great in flashes, but is spectacularly inconsistent at times. But either of them could take that giant step forward to go from good to great.

What are our weaknesses?

The most obvious is depth with size at the post. We do have some options that give us flexibility, but not with much size.

We also are going to have to come up with some rebounding. We lost our leading rebounder in Will Neighbour, and although there is no reason James White cannot get his share, someone is going to have to step up as his helper on the boards.

Last year we were a poor 3-point shooting team. Perimeter players who were not hitting were taking too many shots, so this year they are either going to have to make them, or Shields is going to have to tell them not to shoot as much, because we cannot afford to shoot 32% from the arc.

Our perimeter defense is still weak. Opponents shot 34.5% against us, which, while not horrible, certainly leaves room for improvement. Also, our opponents had a positive assist/turnover ratio, which means that we are not disrupting the flow of offense much.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bill Russell's timing

Look on Youtube for some of the videos of Bill Russell playing defense. He was amazing. Obviously, he was a very agile big man, but he was not very tall for an NBA center. What he had, though, was an amazing sense of timing. A player would go in for a shot, and Russell would come soaring from out of nowhere to block it. Amazing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It is very easy to slow down the Money Grabbers

Just don't play them. Then they have to play good teams every time, and won't be able to fatten their records by slaughtering the bottom feeders.

Hunter will earn his money

GSU head coach Ron Hunter will have (at least) three players this year who will be thinking NBA (translated "huge money"). One of them is his own son. It does not take a brain surgeon to see that that scenario is fraught with perils. He will need all his personnel management skills to make it work. But he did last year with two, apparently. Perhaps he can do it with three.

Who will get the short end of the stick?

Steve Shields cannot afford to be generous this season. He cannot build for the future, because if this is not a very good year, he probably is out of futures at Little Rock. So he has to try to keep his best team on the court as much of the time as possible. The last two years we have played a lot of players a lot of minutes. Some of that was due to injuries, but a lot of it was just because Shields was playing guys who under normal circumstances would not have been getting that much time - building for the future. Everything points to the conclusion that he absolutely cannot do that this year. He has to win, and win big, so the players on the floor have to be players who are producing NOW. So . . . someone on the team is going to get the short end of the stick. Someone will not be playing as much as he might have hoped. If Shields does not keep the rotation pretty tight this season he is very foolish.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How about some dark horses this year?

It gets tiring seeing the same old names at the top of the basketball world every year. We expect it most of the time, but how about a change every once in a while? Someone who comes roaring out of the fog to take the basketball world by storm. Come on down, Dark Horse!

Muscle inside

Our post players this year will have some athleticism (White and Isom, in particular), but our overall team height will be no more than adequate. However, we have a couple of guys who appear to be pretty bulky (Maurius Hill and Roger Woods) and a guard who is an exceptional rebounder for his size (Hagins), so perhaps we can overcome any height disadvantages we might encounter.

Pine Bluff: things do not always turn out as planned

The previous had coach at Pine Bluff played a deliberate, hard-nosed style. When he was fired and the current coach was brought in, the AD specifically said it was because he would  bring an exciting style with him. Well, be that as it may, it certainly has not translated into points. This past season they were dead last in points/game.

Perception is not always reality

Many of our fans bad-mouth our team because we play "slow-down" ball. But is that really the case? Last season we were 5th in the SBC in scoring offense - in the top half of the league. Maybe not racehorse, but certainly not slowdown. And among the teams that some of our fans have pointed to as being offensive-minded were South Alabama, Western Kentucky and Troy. We finished ahead of all three of those teams in points/game.

James White needs to be causing headaches

Presumably James White will be The Man for us underneath this season, so he needs to take the bull by the horns from the get-go. He needs to be aggressive and active. I think most opponents will have a hard time handling him, and he needs to take advantage of that. He can be a real post weapon for us. I think  back to Stan Blackmon and how hard he worked underneath the basket; I hope James can imitate his effort.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Is college basketball relevant at Kentucky?

That might seem like a strange question, but are the players who go there thinking college? I doubt it. Kentucky is all about the NBA. That is where all the players are pointing, and "alma mater" is only an asterisk on their thinking.

Leaders this year - locker room and on the court

You always expect the seniors to step up and be leaders. Ben Dillard is quiet, but he needs to play a bigger role in intangibles, and maybe he is. By the every nature of their jobs, I would expect the three point guards to be out front, especially J. T., since he was a captain last year in his first season with the team. Someone has to be the enforcer, the guy who does not necessarily say much, but who has the respect of the team to get them in line when they are not pushing as hard as they need to be. No idea who that might be.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Maybe the secret is in the names


These play at  Gonzaga, and they win big. We just don't have colorful enough names.

Speaking of four-year players

Many having complained about the number of four-year players who have started here, but have not finished here. While I do not know that our record is any worse than other schools at our level, certainly it has been frustrating not to be able to see the fruits of our efforts for four years. However, this year presumably we will see two four-year players who have stuck it out and contributed materially to the program: Ben Dillard and Gus Leeper. In fact, counting his redshirt year, Gus will have been with us five seasons. That has a nice feel to it.

Whatever happens to Steve Shields

after this season, he will have the satisfaction of being the winningest coach in Little Rock history, which is worth a lot. And he ran a clean program, which is worth a lot more.

The sum of the parts has to be more than the whole

Our talent this year probably matches with anyone in the league except Georgia State and possibly ULL, but it still is better than we have most seasons. But as always, what we have to do to win big is to make the sum of the parts equal more than the whole. In other words, the chemistry and teamwork among the players has to make them better. That is Steve Shields job to teach, and the players' job to learn. Let us hope that everyone does his job.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Not completely equal

Title IX notwithstanding, ALL things are not equal in college athletics. The men's roster lists the players' weight. Evidently that statistic was inadvertently left off the womens' roster.

Expect next year's recruiting to go back to freshmen

If Shields is still here, it will be because he won enough to buy himself so more time, so he will have the luxury of getting freshmen. If he is not, the incoming coach is going to want to even up the roster, which will be very much out of balance next season.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Our post players need to be more aggressive

Whether because of strength or athleticism, our post players need to be more aggressive this season. We are not deep in the post, and we can help offset that some by keeping the foul pressure on the other team. So, go hard for the basket!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

In-state recruiting strategy

Go hard after all the best players in the state, whether or not we think we have a chance with them (provided they are the type of individual we want). Build a relationship with them. Show them we would like to have them. Then, if anything happens and their first choice does not work out, we might catch them on the bounce-back, and then that bounce-back would not be a complete negative to them, but they are going someplace they know they are wanted.

Monday, July 14, 2014

How is this for a foreign recruit?

St. Francis Brooklyn will have Gunnar Olafsson on their roster this season. He played for SC Keflavik in Iceland the past two seasons. Wonder which coach made the trip there to watch him play?

The dilemma that may face me

The SEC has served notice that they are going to push the issue basically to force the NCAA to let them do anything they want to do, or else they are going to take their ball and go home, and form their own governing structure ("Division 4"). Naturally, it is a play for more money, as it always is. Since this is all about football, if the NCAA survives, the NCAA tournament might also survive. However, there is at least a good chance that the entire structure of college athletics as we know it may come crashing down. If that happens, UALR would no longer be in the highest division of college basketball. At that point, I am faced with the decision of whether or not I want to closely follow and support a program at a distance that is no longer in the highest division of basketball. I can do the same with UAFS here close at hand and save a lot of money and go to a lot more games.

I always get fired up this time of year

And when it looks like there is a pretty good chance of a better-than-normal team, why not? It costs nothing and increases the fun of being a fan.

Switch back to juco recruiting

I wonder if Shields' switch from recruiting largely high school players back to heavy on jucos is something that would have happened anyway or if he did it because he is feeling pressure for immediate results. Hmm?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

This team has to believe

After last season, and with another high-major player coming in, the "official line" is to hand the regular season championship to Georgia State before the fact. They are and deserve to be the prohibitive favorites, but the season has to be played on the court. We have a veteran and deep team, especially on the perimeter, and we have to believe that we can win it. You never accomplish much if you do not believe.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Depth inside

We look to have loads of talent and depth on the perimeter, but I am a little concerned about depth in the post. Assuming Isom is now 6-9 as has been reported, we will have adequate height at the top end, at least by Sun Belt standards (6-10, 6-9, 6-8). At that point, however, it drops off. We will have four players 6-5 or 6-6, and a couple of them look to be pretty husky, so maybe what they give up in height they can make up in muscle. Given Leeper's proneness to foul trouble, if Isom or White were also to be in foul trouble or injured, those 6-6 and 6-5 players could be playing the 4 and 5 positions. That can work at times, but it leaves you vulnerable against certain match-ups.

Don't beat yourself

The first challenge for any team is not to beat yourself. You beat yourself with unforced turnovers, lack of effort, being out of position, lack of focus, etc. All these things are strictly under your control, and you have no one to blame but yourself. Before you worry about beating the other team, make sure you do not beat yourself.

Friday, July 11, 2014

We MUST improve - where?

Every team is different and every season is different, but where are the places where this team has to improve to be at the top of the conference?

First and most obviously, we have to have more consistent non-Neighbour big man production. James White is ready to step into the lead role, and he will do fine, but someone else is going to have to provide solid post play.

Second, this team will be guard-heavy, and we have to have better 3-point shooting than 32.2%. That just will not get it done in today's world. We have some good shooters, and those guys are going to have to take the shots, and the ones who aren't making them back off. We had 210 shots taken from the arc last season by players who shot 31.3% or worse. Not good. That will get you killed.

Third, we have to get to the line more. This was a good FT shooting team last year and there is every reason to expect it will continue to be good. We have to get more aggressive.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

It is not just a matter of finding the best players.

It is also finding the best combinations of players. Sometimes the chemistry and timing among a particular group makes them work unusually well.

Depth is for injuries

Any basketball needs depth. That is always a plus; but you need depth for foul trouble and injuries, not for fatigue. If you have the right combination of players, with all the timeouts that are in college basketball these days, players should be able to stay fresh with a minimum of substitution. The best players need to be on the floor the biggest part of the time, and they can be - unless they get hurt or get into foul trouble - and then you need depth.

"His best basketball is ahead of him."

Coachspeak for, "He is a project."

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The UCA series

This was a real coup by our staff. We have been wanting this for a long time. There is every reason why fan interest ought to be very good, and the travel costs will be minimal. It brings another good non-Fayetteville (potential) rivalry to the forefront, and if the new UCA coach can get them to the top tier of the Southland, they would be a solid opponent. Well done!

Good defensive teams need good defensive fans

Teams that play good defense need to be appreciated by their fans, not just overall, but also on the court. One of the things that can get a team pumped to play tough defense is when the crowd gets into defense. For example, any time the opposing team has not been able to get off a shot and the shot clock gets down into single digits, the crowd needs to repond - loudly.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Team strengths

What will be this team's strong points this season? Given the average age and experience, you would hope that they would be cool under pressure and tough in close games. We should  be outstanding at the point and shooting guard positions. And we should be a better-than-average free throw shooting team.

Monday, July 7, 2014

In the rotation

Does a coach tell a player, "You are in the rotation," or does it just happen. I wonder how they handle that.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Talent is there. What about the toughness?

This team has the talent to win a lot of games this year. We are deep on the perimeter and at least adequate elsewhere. But Shields' system thrives on toughness. Even probably the most talented team in recent years (the 23-win group) had that John Fowler look. They were tough. No fear. How will this team be?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Off season circles

There is lots to keep me busy during the off season: recruiting, stats, etc. But at some point I start going in circles. You can only mull over the same thoughts so many times before they become really stale.

Friday, July 4, 2014

3 and 5 will be keys

We know we are pretty well set at 1, 2 and 4 positions. What develops at the 3 and the 5 will be a key. How many minutes can we get from Gus? Can James be a true force there when he slides over? Can Stetson be a force rebounding, and give us some timely points? What will the new guys bring to the table? Lots of questions.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Don't watch the ball!

Because they are called basketball and football, those of us who are not experts at the games tend to focus almost exclusively on the ball - where it is and who is holding it. But the people who know the games watch other things, because the ball is only one small facet of the game. Blocking, in football. Off the ball cuts, in basketball. Etc., etc. I wish my sophistication in the game could improve, but it would take some instruction from people who know.

Why change the rules to help the offense?

That is not logical. The offense already has a huge advantage because they know what they are going to try to do, and the defense does not. The defense has to react. Granted, defenses can be pro-active, such as pressing, but the unfolding of the play is in the hands of the offense. The defense has to identify and react to the offense. It is sort of like saying that the bad-guy gunfighter that draws first has the advantage because he will draw first, while the good-guy gunfighter has to react when he begins his draw. The NCAA's recent reactions are like saying that the good-guy has to count to three after he sees the other guy begin his draw. Let's make sure the good guy gets killed.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Maturity and experience

Often maturity and experience can make the difference between a fair team and a good team. This year we will have two redshirt seniors, two seniors, one redshirt junior and three juniors, all of whom have experience within the program - not to mention several juco juniors coming in. Probably the most mature team we have had in a while. Maybe the difference?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Human reaction from the AD?

Will the embarrassment from the baseball coach fiasco translate into more pressure from the AD toward all the coaches? Not necessarily, but if it did happen, it would be a normal human reaction from Mr. Peterson.

Depth will not win it all for us

One of the strengths of Shields' teams in the last three or four years has been our depth. He has played a lot of players and gone deep into the roster. The results is that even the players in the bottom third of the roster had a lot of experience. But what does that gain you? Sure, if you get someone hurt it can pay off, but outside of that, it seems to me that it has limited returns.

Presumably your best players is considerably better than your sixth player. Your top three players are much better than your 7th, 8th and 9th players. So, you do not want to have playes 7-9 on the floor any more than necessary. Sometimes they are necessary, and when you need them you may need them badly, but you do not need them most of the time.

With the multitude of timeouts that are in college basketball today, fatigue should not be very much of a factor, regardless of the pace at which a team plays. If a coach substitutes judiciously, the starters should be able to stay reasonably fresh and still play the lion's share of the minutes.

Going deep into the bench certainly will help morale and helps prepare for the future, but it does NOT do much to win championships right now. All else being equal, the best players to be on the floor as much as they can, as long as they can be kept rested enough to go full speed.