Sunday, August 31, 2014

Addition can be deceiving

You cannot always tell which will be the best team by comparing player vs. player, position by position. There is such a thing as teamwork, as chemistry, as the will to win, and the little things that good players do that fans and even many TV commentators do not notice. Sometimes the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. What makes it happen? Good character and unselfishness in the players. Good coaching, of course. Players who have been together on the same team for three or four - or even five - years together so that they know each other's moves instinctively. All this is why the teams with the best players do not always win.

DeVonte Smith

The thing that immediately jumps out at you about DeVonte is that 2.9 assist/turnover ratio. By the way, that lead the league by a comfortable margin. The kid just does not turn the ball over very much. Interestingly, he does not have as many assists as Josh Hagins, but then he does not have nearly as many turnovers, either. Coaches like point guards who "value the ball," and he certainly does that.

DeVonte could stand to improve his offensive production some. He does not need to shoot a lot from the 3-point line, but when he does he needs to shoot better than he did last year. His overall shooting percentage was not good, either. If he would just make his shots, his scoring would come around to where we need it to be. But negatives aside, this young man is still a very nice point guard. We got a steal with him.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Trickle down from Fayetteville?

Does heightened interest in Fayetteville basketball have any secondary benefit to the other schools in the state? My guess is that it does not, or if it does it is negligible. For the most part Fayetteville fans root for them because they are Fayetteville fans, not because they are basketball fans. In fact, until the bowl season is over, few of them pay much attention to basketball.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gus Leeper

Gus is far from being our most athletic player, and I think some fans undervalue him because of that. He has weak points in his game, for sure, but he is intelligent, bull-strong, and a fifth year senior. Combine that with a good work ethic, and he has definite value to this team, especially being undersized as we are. He is steady and does not make a lot of mistakes. What he gives up in quickness is somewhat compensated for by experience and strength. Add to that the fact that he is an exceptional free throw shooter for a big man, and he brings a lot to the table.

Gus' liabilities are mainly on the defensive end because of the new rules and the fact that he is a little slow of foot. But experience and good coaching can help compensate for that to some extent, and his strength and experience and FT shooting on the offensive end mean that he will be of definite help in certain situations. Gus just has to learn to be more aggressive on offense, and not to take chances on defense. He presents the classic two-way match-up problem. On offense, other teams will have trouble handling his size and strength. On defense, he will have trouble handling quicker players. But he brings enough to the table that he will be a key player this year.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Juco connections

At our level, reliable juco connections are critical. You have to be tight with coaches who are good coaches and whose judgment you trust to evaluate both the player's ability and his character. You do not want a coach who will "sell" his player by sugarcoating the situation. He needs to know your program and the type players who will fit your style. If you can get several of these coaches in top-level juco programs who are working with you, that is a huge step in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Coach

We have perhaps become so frustrated at our inability to win a league championship that we undervalue Steve Shields. He is a good coach. To this point, at least, he is not a great coach.  We all lament his tendency to over-coach from the sideline, but he is far from being the only coach that suffers from that disease. He has been fairly consistent, avoiding very many awful seasons, but not having very many really good ones, either. Good, but not great.

Steve expects his players to learn and improve from season to season, and he is going to have to hold himself to the same standard. He is going to have to grow as a coach. Each coach has his system and should stick with it. Still, he must show some flexibility and adapt to the specifics of the situation each year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In order for us to win it all

someone is going to have to be considerably better than we expect. We know James White's potential, and we know our point guards will be good, and we know what Josh Hagins can do when he gets hot. So, it will not be one of those, because they are known quantities. Lots of folks are hyping Mareik Isom to be the man, and he well could be. Ben Dillard has been steady but not spectacular throughout his career, and maybe he will turn spectacular for his senior year. Maybe Gus Leeper learns to throw around his weight and strength down low. If he does so, not many in the Belt could handle him. Maybe Roger Woods will be as good at D1 as he was at juco. I am not prophet nor the son of a prophet, so I could not say; but we need someone to take that big step forward. It will be fun seeing who it is. But if no one does, it will be a long season.

Where Reid is really going to help

We have only two players returning who shot over 32% from the arc last year. So we need some help from the outside. Hopefully Mareik is going to keep the stroke he found late in the year, but we really need James Reid to come through in a big way for us when we need firepower from the arc.

Holding late leads

Championship teams have to win close games. You win close games, among other things, by making free throws, getting to the line yourself, and avoiding turnovers. So how do we look in those categories?

We were second in the Belt at the line behind Ga State, who were unbelievably good from the line. Hagins, Leeper, Dillard and Billings all shot at least 75% from the line, and presumably some of the incoming players can add to the mix there, so we are in good shape there. (White could really help us if he improved his shooting from the line.) Shields has said that getting to the line more was going to be one of the emphases of the team this year, and we know Dillard and Woods are very good at drawing fouls. Regarding turnovers, Smith lead the league in A/TO ratio according to the official Belt list, but this is one place we need to improve. Presumably we might be running a four-guard offense late in the game, and we could put some pretty good ball handlers out there. But as a team we need to cut down on turnovers.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The essence of defense

It is not in blocking the shot, but in disrupting and impeding the offense so that they cannot get into the position they want in order to take the shot they want.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Play to your strengths. Minimize your weaknesses.

That is how you win. We have some bona fide strengths this year, some areas in which we should be among the top in the Belt. We have to play to those strengths, and that is Steve Shields problem. If the system needs to be tweaked, then tweak it! We are not talking about totally changing his philosophy.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

An enviable position?

It appears to me that we could be playing our third-string point guard this season (whoever that turns out to be), and he would still be a pretty fair SBC point.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Supporting a particular team

Why support a particular basketball team. Lots of reasons. You are an alumnus. The team is in your local area. You have friends or relatives that are alums. You particularly like the coach at the school. The list is almost endless.

The reason I started following Little Rock was simple. I got completely disgusted with the hypocrisy at Fayetteville back during the Nolan Richardson days, and at that time Little Rock was the next-closest D1 program. (UCA was not D1 at that point.) After my first year as a fan during the Moncrief disaster, I had the advantage that Porter Moser and Steve Shields have been the coaches in the intervening years. Both played my style of basketball - hard-nosed and disciplined. They have run clean programs, at least on the surface. I have not had to hold my nose to root for the team, as some fans have to do with their programs.

And that pretty well fulfills my demands as a fan. I do not require that they win a given number of games to keep my support. My happiness is not bound up in the program. I root for them to have fun, and they have provided me with lots of fun. I think we have had a class program, which lets me hold up my head as a fan. In other words, I have had a blast being a Trojan fan. I do not take it too emotionally when they lose, because that is their problem, not mine. I do not consider that they are "obligated" to win for my sake. The bleacher ticket prices are still within my budget. They have a beautiful, fan-friendly arena. There are lots of reasons for me to be a fan of the Trojans.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

An exciting time

It is always and exciting time when you are approaching the beginning of a season in which you have a chance to be pretty good. Lots of unknowns, of course, but the pieces are there. And the motivation is there. We have some seniors who should be good leaders, some shooters, some hard-nosed players, great depth at point. Possibilities, my friends, possibilities.

Really looking forward to the point guard battle

Who will end up getting the bulk of the minutes? We have three very talented candidates. Ought to be an exciting battle, and that ought to be good for the team.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Creeping conference schedule

Am I the only who feels like the conference schedule just keeps creeping further and further forward in the year? I know that is the most important part of the schedule, but it leaves little room for maneuvering when trying to get an attractive home non-conference schedule.

Monday, August 18, 2014

2014-2015 Schedule

This is not an awful non-conference schedule. Kent State, UMKC and Tulsa are nice home games. We have a chance to make a splash at BYU. We have had better, but last year's was a whole lot worse; so this is a move in the right direction. Let the season begin!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Wishing for past players to plug the gaps

Every team has some weaknesses, and it is hard not to look back in history and wish for particular players who would be able to come in and plug whatever hold was in the current roster. For example, with our current lack of depth at the 5, wouldn't it be great to see Rashad Jones-Jennings ripping down rebounds?

Vaughn Williams

We have learned that Vaughn Williams is to be inducted into the UALR Hall of Fame. That certainly is appropriate, and I am amazed that it has taken this long. Given that he is our career leader in assists and steals and scored 1237 points, he certainly is deserving from a statistical standpoint. I never had the privilege of seeing him play, but I wish I had.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The gap from can be to will be

This team could be pretty good. They might win the conference. I think it is a long shot, but it could happen if everything comes together. That is not the case with all teams, but I think this one has the horses to do it if everything fell out just right. The gap between "could be" and "will be" can sometimes be a big one, however. Health, desire, coaching. off-court issues. A lot goes into it, and that is what makes predicting so difficult.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The 5 spot

The 5 spot (call it “center” if you like – I do) is easily our weakest position. We do not have much height, and our only true big man, Gus Leeper, has difficulty staying out of foul trouble. It is likely we will  be playing small ball a lot. It is not like the Sun Belt has a lot of big men running around, but there are a few. Are problem is that after you get past Leeper and James White, we are out of options completely. So, the staff will have to be creative in their lineups. It is just a fact we will have to deal with this season. South Alabama did pretty well in the post the last few seasons with a small lineup.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hagins' place in Little Rock history

We tend to think of Josh Hagins in terms of scoring in assessing his value to the team, but the two categories in which he might make the all-time list this season are assists and steal. No doubt he will finish among the leaders in other stats, also, but this just shows that he is an all-round player.

Irritated, but not concerned

I am irritated about our attendance, because it could be so much better. We have a wonderful product, but we are such poor salesmen. We do not promote to amount to anything. With only a little imagination, we could improve attendance significantly, IF we were willing to do what it takes.

However, though irritated, I am not concerned about our attendance. Of the teams returning to the Belt from last season, we will have had the second-highest home number, behind only ULL. (WKU was more, but they left the league.) That says that we have lots of company in our attendance misery who are in worse shape than we are.

Matthews Arena

This is where Northeastern plays their homes games. According to USA Today, it is the nation's oldest acive men's basketball arena.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

If you care about college athletics, root for the little guys.

With the Money Conferences and the courts doing everything they possibly can to squeeze the smaller schools out of relevance in college athletics, next season is a time to be rooting for the little guys. So . . . Come on, Big East and Atlantic 10. Not just them, of course, but they are the two non-money conferences that beat out money conferences in the final conference RPI standings last season.

The eventual casualty from all this maneuvering in meeting rooms in the off-season and in the courtrooms is that the NCAA tournament is in grave danger – at least as we know it. They all SAY that the big conferences will never kill the goose that laid the golden egg – but to them that egg is not the Big Dance or anything related to basketball, but football on TV. Nothing else matters, not even their sanctimonious declarations that they are trying to get "appropriate compensation" for the athletes and become a de facto professional league. We all know what they REALLY want is to do is to get the ceiling raised so they can compete for the top athletes no holds barred without having that pesky NCAA saying, "Naughty, naughty."

The bottom line for those of us who love college basketball is that we need for the little guys to beat the money-mongers this year to the point that when the NCAA does get rid of the pesky little guys by creating a new Super Division, they will look like the hypocrites they are in trying to avoid teams that really can beat them – in basketball, at least.

So . . . Go Sun Belt! Go Big East! Go Atlantic 10! For that matter, Go SWAC!

How did Troy beat GSU?

ULL had the talent to go toe-to-toe with GSU least season, but Troy did not. So how did Troy beat them 85-81? Their shooting percentages from the field were about the same, and their percentage from the line was not as good as GSU's. But they shot seven more FT's than GSU, which is unusual. Plus they made 3 more 3-pointers than GSU. Plus they did what you have to do against them: win on the boards by a bunch (7).

The stat that stands out, though, is the fact that Troy attempted ten more free throws than GSU. On the year GSU shot 87 more times from the stripe than did their opponents.

This year's recruiting class

I doubt this class could be called an exceptionally strong one, but I think it filled our immediate need exceptionally well. We needed a couple of players who could come off the bench and provide immediate offense (assuming they do not start), and we got that. And, if they pan out as they might, we got at least a couple of players who could be major factors for us when they learn the system (Reid and Woods). What we did not get that we needed badly was size at the post for depth, and that could hurt us. I assume there was no one that we could get that we wanted, so we did not just sign someone big to be signing someone, and that probably was smart.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I wish I could be a fly on the wall

I wish I knew how and why a lot of our team decisions are made - not that I want to be critical, but just to understand more about the process. For example, Andrew Poulter's departure from the team. Was it his decision to get playing time at a lower level, or did his injury change his prospects, or was there something wrong with his work ethic, or did our staff just over-estimate his potential? Who knows? I certainly do not, and would not speculate about it. I am not on the "need to know" list, but just to learn something about the ins and outs of the game, I wish I could get that sort of information.

4 spot

Maurius Hill, Roger Woods, Andre Brown, Mareik Isom, James White. We have a lot of potential players at this spot. Except when he is thrust into the 5 spot, I figure it will belong to James White, but the others should get lots of chances. And all the names listed are good prospects. Hill and Isom had some good moments last season, and Brown and Woods had strong credentials coming out of Juco. Because of the lack of depth at the 5, we are probably going to be playing small ball a good bit of the time, and that will open up time at the power forward position. We should be OK.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


I like to see walk-ons on a roster. Oh, they will not get to play much and usually are not much of a factor one way or the other; but they show an interest from the student body in the program. Kids who want to be on the team even if they do not have a scholarship.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Instant offense - again

I have said it before and will repeat it here: one advantage it appears we will have this year that we have not had in some years past is strong offensive players off the bench. I assume Reid will not start with Ben and Josh ahead of him, but he appears to be a lights-out shooter who can come in when everyone else has hit a cold spell. Likewise with Roger Woods, although I would say there is a better chance of his starting at the 3 than of Reid starting at the 2. In any case, we have a better offensive mix to come off the bench than we have sometimes had.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Who will be The Man?

Who will be The Man for us this year, the one who comes through when we need big plays? The first name that pops to mind is Josh Hagins, because he doesn't mind taking big shots. But it could be James White. Or Ben Dillard. Or maybe one of the new guys. It will be interesting to find out.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The beginning of the end

The NCAA's vote today to allow autonomy to the Money Five conferences signalled the beginning of the end of college athletics as we know it. Basically, the big boys told everybody else that they are going to do what they want to do and the rest of the schools can pick up the scraps as long as the big boys are not irritated by their doing it. The pallbearer at the funeral is ESPN.

Protecting our big men

We have only four players on the roster over 6-5, which is a very short lineup even for our level. Even for any level in D1. What that means is that Shields is going to have to be very crafty about his substitution patterns and combinations since he has less options to work with.

Playing tall

This will be a "vertically challenged" team this year (in politically-correct terminology). We will not have much height. But the heights on the roster are only a general indication of how "tall" the team is. The roster does not show reach, nor muscle, nor vertical leap, all of which are factors in how "tall" a player plays. It does not show heart and effort, which play a huge part. This team is short, but maybe we will play taller than we are. We need to.

Maturity, experience, leadership

They make a huge difference at our level. We are not going to get talent like the money conferences, but the things that go to make a good team can be pieced together.

Maturity. That we have, at least chronologically. We have one second-year player on the roster, and everyone else is in at least his third year of college basketball, so this is not a bunch of raw kids in the usual sense of the term in college basketball.

Experience. There are 18 years of D1 experience on the team (19 if you count J. T.'s partial year that he got back). Granted, eight of the players one or zero years at D1, but because Shields played so many people the last couple of years, the ones who played got more minutes than they might have in another situation. And even though juco is not D1, it is still college basketball, and sometimes those guys play against players who are headed to D1, so it is worth something in terms of experience.

Leadership. This is where we have to wait and see. J. T. has already shown his leadership, even though he has only played four games. Expect that to continue. Josh also seems to be a vocal leader. Gus and Ben, two of our seniors, are more low-key, but often the quieter guys exert a lot of leadership by example and just a few words. We need them to do that.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Two things we have to do this season

Shields' teams historically have been slow starters, frequently digging holes for themselves early. I am not sure why, but his coaching style may have something to do with it. He needs to find an answer to that, for sure. Another problem we seemed to have last year was letting teams on on extended runs that took us out of games in the middle. Hopefully our defense will be good enough to prevent that most of the time. On the other side of the ledger, we have a couple of new jucos who appear to be pretty good offensively (Reid and Woods), who may be able to come into games and get our offense going again.

3 spot

This is perhaps the most wide-open position on the roster. Presumably Stetson Billings will have the inside track because of his two years’ experience in the system, virtually all of which was at this position. However, Mareik Isom began to find his shot late last season, and if the staff wants him at the 3 instead of the 4, he could be a major factor here - maybe the starter. Jerron Washington, Maurius Hill and Andre Brown could be in the mix as well, although they may get looks at other positions. On paper, the most likely person to challenge the returning players at small forward is Roger Woods, who put up some impressive offensive numbers in junior college. He is a strong, physical player who is good at getting to the free throw line and could be a big offensive threat for us. If Stetson is to be the starter here, he has his work cut out for him.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Team play

How sad that so few people value team play. "Size and athleticism," that is all that seems to matter. Get the gunners and the dunkers; if you have those you will be good, they say. Add up the ability of the names on the backs of the jerseys, and that is all that counts. They forget that sometimes the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, and the name on the front of the jersey is what counts most to some.

The Ferguson brothers of Charleston, Ark.

When I was in school, there was a group of brothers who lived in Charleston who were amazing athletes. They were black, and lived in a mostly-white town, and in those days Booneville was in the same conference with them. Jesse, Mark, John and Melvin were the ones I knew. I got to see Mark and John play ball and run track. Mark was short and muscular, with amazingly large thigh muscles. John was a tremendous all-round athlete who was in the same class as I was, so I got to know him best. He just did everything well. I have heard some say that Melvin was the most talented of them all, but his personality was a little more easy-going. In any case, one of them was on the athletic court for the Tigers for a number of years, and you knew you faced a chore when you played Charleston with a Ferguson on the team.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Getting back to transfers

Bozeman, Smith and Patterson all came home to Arkansas and proved to be good players for us via the transfer route. We had  good success with it: I wonder why we don't go back to that well. Of course, there have to be fish in it to catch, but we definitely need to have hooks in the water.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

I still worry about our lack of height

Maybe we will overcome it in other ways, but we only have four players over 6-5. That is a short D1 basketball team. Hard work and blocking out could make up the difference on the boards, but I worry about defending. I still remember back in the days when Co Willis was guarding some 6-9 kid in the high post. He usually got it done, but it was tough.

Starting to get pumped

This has the making of a really nice season, and I am starting to get pumped up. This could be a special team. Hard to tell yet, but it has the potential to be one of Shields' better groups. I see no reason why we do not win 20 if we stay healthy, and 20-win seasons have been fairly rare in the history of the program, except for one brief stretch during the glory days.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Who will be the other scorer?

James White and Josh Hagins averaged double figures last season, and we expect them to this year. But we need (at least) one other player who can score like that. Who will it be? Ben Dillard is the most obvious candidate, if he will start shooting more. Mareik Isom could be if he keeps the shooting touch he found last year. But we need someone to step up.

Will this be a lucky year?

To be really good you need to be lucky as well as good. No injuries. No off-the-court distractions. No locker room issues. Will this be that kind of year for us? If it is, then all we have to do it get it done.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Will we be good enough?

I expect us to have a really good season this year. Honestly (depending on the schedule), I think we will win 20 games and be in the hunt for at least 2nd place in the conference. (We probably do not have the horses to run with Georgia State.)

Yes, we will be good, but I do not know if we will be good enough to save Steve Shields’ job. If the “have to” he has been given includes a conference championship, then it probably will not happen. Since none of us was in on the conversation between Steve and the AD when the ultimatum was handed down, we do not know what it was.

We will be good, but will we be good enough?

Shooting guard

If point guard is our strongest position, this one is a close second. Ben Dillard is on a pace to be the most accurate 3-point shooter in school history. Josh Hagins is a great mixture of 2-guard shooting and point guard ball handling skills. Kemy Osse is rugged and versatile. James Reid appears to be a good pure shooter. And throw in Jerron Washington, who may not be a pure 2, but whom the recruiting services list there, and you have quality and depth. Assume that Ben and Josh will get the lion's share of the minutes, but we are in good shape should they get in foul trouble or if injuries pop up.