Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What will the BYU game tell us?

Possibly not much. We should be pretty good this year, but BYU should be pretty good in a much better conference. Plus they have one of the best guards in the nation. So, we could be a good Belt team and still get beaten handily, especially on the road.

However, if this team turns out to be something really special, we might some indication of that if we hang with or even defeat BYU. RealtimeRPI has BYU winning by about 11 points. Add about four points for the homecourt advantage, and 15 points should be the bogey,

Monday, September 29, 2014

Here is hoping history repeats itself

Shields' teams historically have been overlooked, perhaps because of their non-flashy style, and perhaps because we typically do not get high-profile players. The consensus prognostication this year seems to be that we will finish 3rd or 4th. Let us hope that history repeats itself and we were underestimated once again.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

"Success" is relative

For all the press they get and how they are consistently numbered among the nation's elite programs, Gonzaga has never been beyond the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. Frankly, that surprised me.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Do the things you do well

Some have advanced the theory that all basketball players ought to do all basketball skills well, which is simply not a realistic opinion. A coach has to manage his game plan so that players are doing the things they do superlative well. You want your best defender on their best player. You want your rebounders down low so that they can rebound. You want your best passers and best ball handlers with the ball in their hands. And so forth.

This year one thing we need to do is to make sure our best FT shooters are getting to the line as much as possible. More so than last year. Particularly that means Josh Hagins and Gus Leeper, which means the coaches are going to have to teach them to be aggressive with the ball when the time is right to be aggressive.

Friday, September 26, 2014

If actual experience is valuable, then so is Joe

Joe Kleine played against the very best big men of his era, both in college and in the NBA. His battles against Olajuwon were one of the classic matchups of the old SWC. He knows the methods and techniques the great ones used. How good a coach he is I could not say, except that Shields has kept him around for several years. Players these days won't remember him as a player, but they can very easily be informed that he played for 15 years in the NBA, scored 4600 points and had 3900 rebounds. That ought to mean something.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

No home court advantage

One thing we have to do better this year is to defend our home court, especially in conference play. We were 7-6 at the Jack and only 4-5 in Belt play. That is not acceptable.


Better 3-point shooting

One stat that this team definitely needs to improve this year is 3-point shooting. We were at 32.5% last year, which in today's game won't get it done. We were 8th in the conference in that catogory. We have some good shooters and have brought in more, so that is not the problem. Our problem last year was that we had too many people shooting 3s who were not making them. That sounds simplistic, but what it boils down to is that Shields had too many green lights on the court (or the players were ignoring the red lights). If Mareik has indeed permanently found his stroke that will go a long way toward solving the problem. Also, Isler is gone, who was a prime offender. However, we also need Devonte either to make shots or back off some on shooting. 

We need guys shooting who are making shots. This year we cannot afford another "laboratory experiment" like Mareik was last season.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Maurius Hill

He did not play much last year - 241 minutes - but really that was more than might have been expected for a true freshman to play with established starters ahead if him. But injuries opened the door of opportunity for him and he got some valuable minutes. In the last eight games of the season he actually played a good bit.

Hill appears to be another in a long line of undersized 4s at Little Rock. We seem to have had a history of players with a 4's game and a 3's height. However, Charles Barkley was only 6-6 and he was a dominant rebounder even in the NBA, so who is to say Hill cannot be effective at our level. He is built solidly, and if he uses his size and strength effectively, he could be a bull underneath even at 6-5.

MauriusĀ HillĀ 1391237

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What coach Charles Cunningham brings to this program

He appears to be a very classy individual, but even apart from his personal characteristics, he has served as an assistant coach at South Florida, Duquesne, UNLV, Minnesota, Arkansas State, Missouri, Western Kentucky and Murray State. So, in addition to being in several programs similar to ours, he also has coached at programs at the highest level. Thus, even though Little Rock is the only D1 school at which Steve Shields has coached, he has been wise enough to keep on his bench men like Cunningham and Joe Kleine, who together bring a breadth and depth of experience to the coaching staff that I suspect is rare at our level.

Think we might have trouble scheduling next season?

We have nine scholarship juniors this season. If all of them stay and do not redshirt, or even if a couple of them fall out, that will be a TON of seniors, and no opposing coach likes those odds.

Chauncey Orr - rides for the brand

Orr is back on the Bowling Green roster this season, even though the school fired his father, Louis Orr,  this spring. That is school loyalty. Word is that Coach Orr is a class act, so that may have had something to do with it.

Chauncey Orr

Mareik Isom

Mareik is one of the more intriguing players we have had come to campus lately. Because he was in the same incoming class as Josh Hagins and he redshirted a year and was very slow starting last season, he tended to be sort of an asterisk on the roster. However, because the staff kept playing him and kept telling him to go ahead and shoot, even though he was not making anything, you got the idea that the staff knew something we did not, and that good things were on the way.

Then - finally - Mareik broke out in the last six games last season and we got to see what the coaches had been seeing in practice, and a collective sigh of relief went out from Trojanland. What makes Mareik so special is not that he is another good shooter, but that he is a shooter with size. He is listed at 6-7 and rumors are flying that he is now actually 6-9.

One of the biggest factors as to whether this team will be really good instead of pretty good this season will be whether or not Mareik continues to improve. Having a dead-eye shooter his size is an advantage even Georgia State may not have.


Monday, September 22, 2014

We need to pick up the pace - a little

This year's version of the Trojans could and needs to play at a slightly faster tempo. I am not talking about getting silly about it - a little faster. We have a veteran guard crew this year and lots of depth on the perimeter. That should allow us to run when the opportunities dictate and to apply more pressure both full court and half court. One thing that might hinder our running is that it is not clear that this will be a very good rebounding team, and you need to dominate the defensive boards in order to turn those into fast breaks. But we might be better than I think.

Coaches who will not coach defense

Just recruit a bunch of high-powered talent, let them run up and down the court and jack up a bunch of 3-pointers. Score lots of points. Draw big crowds because your team is "entertaining and exciting." Get lots of plugs from the media. But is that really coaching? You do not have to teach a great deal because all you are doing is letting the kids do what they would do on a playground if they had no coach.

Coaches who will not coach defense do not have to do much coaching.

When basketball becomes H-O-R-S-E

"That leaves the [Santa Clara] Broncos to hope some undersized types . . . can produce an occasional layup in between heaves by Brownidge and Clark." [from Lindy's magazine]


Control what you can

Players are not going to make every shot, so we say they cannot absolutely "control" that factor (even though theoretically they do control the shot). What they can control much more directly is taking good shots - when they are open, with the right technique - all the things good coaches teach. If they control the attempts, the shots are much more likely to fall. My observation from watching high school players is that teaching them what is and is not a good shot, and to take one and pass up the other, is one of the toughest tasks coaches have.

Weight training for basketball

As long as it does not interfere with flexibility and mobility, strength in basketball is a good thing. However, it always puzzles me why athletes apparently spend so much time on their biceps. Because bulging biceps look impressive, no doubt. But how much do they help in basketball? Some, no doubt, but my meager knowledge of anatomy suggests that there are other muscles that are used constantly, the development of which would be much more important to a basketball player - or most other sports, for that matter. I wonder how sport-specific weight training is. Do they analyze the specific motions of the game and develop the muscles that control those movements, or do they just go through the normal weight lifting regimen? I do not know.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Stetson Billings

I like Stetson. I have from the start. I like his attitude and his willingness to do what is asked of him. I like his defense. I even like his name. He is a nice plus for this program, and because of his attitude and work ethic I expect he will continue to get better and his role on the team will continue to increase. However, now that Roger Woods has been thrown into the equation, it is not clear what Stetson's role will be. Probably he will be our Designated Defender, but how much more probably depends on how much his offense comes along.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

It is just a gut feel, but . . .

I think we may very well see an uptick in attendance this season. There are a lot of good vibes out there right now about the men's basketball team and the whole department in general. Even without much support from the media, those things have a way of seeping out. If nothing else, the athletes will be optimistic and will be talking to their friends and family. Combine that with some common-sense marketing - even a little - and good things could be about to happen.

Here is an interesting sport switch

Portland 's Phillip Hartwich was a German team handball player before he took up basketball. One would assume that his agility and reflexes are good.


Who do we go after in recruiting?

After this season we will be losing a 1 (Smith), a 2 (Dillard), and a 4/5 (Leeper). We already have what looks like a combo guard committed.  We need immediate help with a big man, so I would probably go after a juco there. Our only sophomores are 3/4 types so we are fixed there short term, and we have a wad of juniors at the 2, so I would probably get a freshman 2. Unless we can find another quality big man.

Friday, September 19, 2014

This year's prize-winning name

San Diego State's Parker U'u

Parker U'u

Josh Hagins

Josh is one of the most intriguing players on the team because he is one of the most talented and because he is a legit combo guard. Because of those two facts he will spend a lot of time on the floor even though this season he may not start games. However, also because of those two facts, even though he might not start, he will almost certainly have starter's minutes.

If J. T. is healthy this year, I expect Josh will spend more of his time at the 2 spot; but of course when he is at that spot we will have two point guards on the floor, which can be a real advantage.

Josh's game is good, but it is far from complete. He can be a lot better. First off, he needs to cut down on turvovers. (He led the team in them last year.) That probably comes from trying to do too much. True, he makes things happen, but they are not always the right things. Second, he needs to get to the line more. He was an 81% FT shooter last year and is a "make things happen" player, yet Ben Dillard shot half again as many FTs with considerably less minutes. Third, his shot selection needs to be better. Many fans laud him as "not afraid to take shots," but maybe a little healthy fear would do him some good. He shot 34% from the arc last season, but he can improve on that, and he needs to if he is going to play mainly at the 2.

Thursday, September 18, 2014


This roster is to the point that it ought to be confident. We have as much talent as we have had in a decade, senior leadership, experience: the pieces are there.

There are two kinds of confidence. There is that "no fear" swagger that is not afraid to take the big shot, i.e., is not afraid to fail. Then there is that quiet confidence that says, "I know I can do this, because I have done it before." We have all been impressed with Josh Hagins' willingness to take the big shot. He is not afraid to fail - but he has failed notably in some situations. That is confidence of the first sort; it is good as far as it goes, but I am not talking about confidence that is not afraid to make the attempt, but the confidence that knows (within reason) that it will succeed.

We are down five points with two minutes left, but we are confident, because we know what we have to do, and we know we can do it because we have done it before. I have a two-shot foul with one second on the clock and down by a point, but I step to the line with confidence because I have done it before. Those are the kind of confidence I mean. "It is not a problem; we can do it."

No eraser

Different coaches have different philosophies, but I really think that the lack of a shot blocker inside hinders your ability to defend the arc. Having one allows you to take risks you otherwise are reluctant to take, especially with the rules emphases started last season designed to help offenses. James White may yet turn out to be an inside defensive presence, but nothing yet that would cause offensive players to hesitate.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This team cannot be hesitant

One of the signs of a good basketball team is that they have enough confidence in one another to be in the right place at the right time that they do not have hitches and hesitation in the flow of their game. We have two seniors who have been playing together their whole careers. Ten of the 14 players on the roster have had at least one year in the system. So the synergy ought to be there. Of course, Shields is going to have to overcome his tendency to over-coach from the bench. If he can improve even a little there, this ought to be a team that clicks well on all cylinders.

How to beat Georgia State

Well, it will be tough this year in any case. Assuming that Ware's injury has not altered his game, they will have three of that caliber on the floor. Now, their roster is good, not just the Big Three. They are very good. However, common sense tells you that there is a big drop-off from legit money conference talent to even good Sun Belt talent. So, as long as the Three are in the game, they are trouble, and the last couple of years have shown that Coach Hunter is going to keep them in the game every minute he can.

So, you have to get them out of the game. You have to get them in foul trouble, which means you have to be very aggressive on offense from the get-go. Push the issue. Go really strong to the basket. And keep doing it. And keep doing it.

The problem is that they are very good at protecting their stars. Their game is to win the turnover battle, and they are good at it. Last year Hunter and Harrow fouled out once between them. But you are not likely to beat them with the Three on the floor and not in foul trouble, so you have to go at them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

La Salle's scheduling strategy

They play strong teams from small conferences (e.g., defending Patriot champ American, Colonial foes Drexel, Hofstra and Towson).

Kemy Osse

I have heard so little about him in the off-season that I honestly do not know where things stand with him. If we get him available he will be depth with some experience, always a good thing to have.

Monday, September 15, 2014

What makes a good rebounder?

Effort, will, strength and fundamentals. From Lindy's description of St. Louis' Milik Yarbrough in picking him as the A-10's best rebounder.

No smallball at Florida State

They can trot out 7-3, 7-1, 7-0, 6-9.


The value of in-state recruiting

Any time you get kids to stay home and play for you it has significant value."
(Head Coach Donnie Jones of UCF)


Other offers our current players had

Josh Hagins - La Tech
DeVonte Smith - Idaho
Gus Leeper - Northern Colo
J. T. Thomas - Toledo
James White - Wichita St, Tenn St, Ga Southern, WKU
Andre Brown - Austin Peay
Roger Woods - Southeastern La

(According to VerbalCommits.com)

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Shot clock violations forced

This is the category I want to lead the league in. Shut-down half court defense.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

You know you have something good going

when you have a point guard who lead the league in assist/turnover ratio - by a good margin - and he may not even start for you this year.

James Reid

This kid can shoot the ball. That much we know from his stats. And his juco coach said he has a well-rounded game aside from just shooting. But that is at a juco level where evidently the defense is not exactly sterling. We shall see. In any case, he comes in behind Ben and Josh, two proven veterans, so PT may be hard to get this year.

Friday, September 12, 2014

We need a pleasant surprise this year

Someone who is really good that we did not expect to be nearly that good. Like DeVonte last year. He was a huge plus. I think we will be pretty good this year regardless, but we need another plus to help us be really good.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The complete fallacy of style increasing attendance

Pitt plays in the Peterson Events Center, entering its 10th season there. All 161 games played there in its history have been sold out, and there is a waiting list of 9000 names for tickets.

So . . . Pitt plays hurry-up basketball, right? No, they do not. In fact, they are noted for defense. (Sound like anyone else you know?) Last season they averaged 71.8 points/game. Guess what we averaged? 71.5 points/game. Not much difference. Not enough to explain the difference in attendance numbers. (But surely that must be a mistake, right? Fans will only come to see up-tempo basketball, right?)

But Pitt wins big, right? Yes, they have won a lot. But they have been to only one Final Four - back in the 1950's, and at their level that is the definition of "winning big." So they have won, but they have not won "really big" as defined in money conference basketball.

So they have not been to Final Fours, and they play at almost the same pace as we do. So we cannot explain the attendance difference in those terms, can we? Fans who like up-tempo ball like to blame attendance problems on the style. That is easy to say. It is a lot harder to prove.

Jerron Washington

Nothing against this young man, but there just is not enough information to be gained through his stats to know what he brings to the table. He seems to be a player for depth - versatile enough to play at least a couple of positions. It may be that he is a defensive specialist, and those are always good to have. Time will tell.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Is our attendance crumbling?

If we were the only school whose attendance was not doing great, then that would be cause for real concern, and our administration would really be to blame. But if college basketball in general is suffering from the same malady, then our attendance is not in crisis mode, but is a part of an overall problem for the sport. But the average team in 2013 pulled 1.4% less fans than the year before. The NCAA says 2012's average attendance was 5190, compared with 5524 in 2008. Everyone is suffering.

Consider if you were the AD at Georgia State, the regular season winner Belt winner last season. Your home attendance was 2059 last season, compared with 3141 for us, or roughly half again as much as the #1 team. Do you think he is wondering, "How can I get our attendance to be like Little Rock's?" Same for Arkansas State, averaging 2541.

Sure, we need to do better, and we can do better, and there really has been no excuse that things have not been better, and someone ought to bear the blame for that. But let us not stigmatize the administration as though our attendance is in free fall and no one else's is. That, at least, is not true.

How much is depth worth?

This should be a deep team, at least on the perimeter. Of course, it is always better to depth than not to have it, but in all likelihood it is your first five or six that will games for you. I hope Shields can resist the temptation to keep players 6-10 on the floor more than necessary.

Roger Woods

Woods is an interesting piece on this roster. His size is for a 3, or maybe an undersized 4 in spots. His variety of skills appear to fit him for a 3. Because of his bulk and penetrating ability and outside shooting, he may be a matchup problem for defenses.  He will have to buy into the defensive philosophy, but it looks like it will be hard to keep him off the floor because of his offensive skills.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

J. T. Thomas

We really do not know what to expect from him. He appears to be a vocal leader and impressed the coaches enough to start last year before his injury. He is 24 years old, so he brings maturity to the team, and he has D1 experience with another program. Where he will stack up in the pecking order at point this year with so much traffic at the guard spots I could not say. But it appears that with his personality, experience and maturity, he will be a contributor to the team regardless.

Monday, September 8, 2014

We cannot lose the toughness edge

          I think most observers, even the sympathetic ones such as I am, recognize the fact that Steve Shields' offensive schemes could use some work. We might not all necessarily agree on why they do not work, but we agree we need some help. This year's team looks to be a very good 3-point team, and I expect we will milk that for what it is worth, which is good, because that will be our strength, and you need to play to your strength. Hopefully Steve will recognize that.
          For several years I have followed teams that ran the Princeton offense because I admired how they milked the clock to look for good shots, and how they relied on precision and teamwork rather than raw athleticism: the "thinking man's offense," you might say. However, I have in the last couple of years become less thrilled with it for this reason: Princeton teams generally are "soft" teams. Perhaps because their offense is so cerebral, they tend to be "white collar" teams that do not want to get their hands dirty doing the tough things it takes to win, like hard-nosed defense and rebounding, for example.
          I hate it, but three-point shooting is the protected princess of college basketball. You do not have to bang inside, you do not have to get your hands dirty, just bomb away from the perimeter. The announcer even rewards you for taking a low-percentage shot with a drawn-out THREEEEEE POINTS. The shot even has extra free throw protection so that no one will interfere with it. After all, we would not want to get any dirt on our glamor shooters, right? (Sort of like the ridiculous protection the rules give clean-uniform shotgun quarterbacks these days.) But like it or not, that is the game these days, and it will be what we are good at this year, so we need to do it. We ought to be really strong from the arc.
          But three-point teams do not have to get their uniforms dirty, so to speak, so they sometimes tend to become soft. We cannot let that happen to us. Shields' stamp on this team, more than anything else, is tough half-court defense. That is the fiber of his teams. That is Trojan basketball. No matter how many three-pointers we attempt this year, we MUST preserve the defensive toughness the program has become known for. We cannot let the softness on the offensive end carry over to the defensive side - and sadly, that happens far too often.


Why I like Trojan basketball

1. We are not Fayetteville
2. We do not have football, so basketball is #1 here
3. We have a nice arena that is easy to get to from the freeway
4. The program has been relatively free of off-court issues
5. The coaches during my tenure as a fan have been very approachable
6. The last two coaches have emphasized defense

Georgia State's real strength

GaState does a lot of things well these days, but one of their real strengths is turnover margin. They gave up the ball only 8.1 times per game, while their opponents coughed up the ball 13.3 times per game. Of course, having a money conference point guard does not hurt that process any, and he seems to run Coach Hunter's system superlatively well.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

James White

More than any other single player, we need James to step up his game a notch this year is we are to be successful. Without a real inside presence, as small as we are, we would have a very one-dimensional game. And there is no reason that James cannot get the job done. His physical ability is there, and he shot well enough last year. He just needs to take charge, be more aggressive, get to the line more and make his FTs when he gets there. And he has to rebound. In other words, he has to become The Man inside. He has to draw opponents' attention (meaning frequent double-teams), and then he has to be a good passer when teammates get open.

To put things in a nutshell, we need James White to be First Team All-Belt this year.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ben Dillard

It is time for Ben to take hold. He has been a good, steady, unspectacular team player; and that was good because that was what we needed. But he is a senior now and he needs to become a Go To type of player. He is one of the best shooters in school history and is amazingly good at getting to the line for a non-flashy type player. Ben will be a leader this year just by virtue of his experience and maturity, but we need him to be more than that: we need him to be an every-game scoring threat. He does not need to score 20 points a game, but we do need him to be aggressive enough that he is in other teams' minds as a threat.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The irony of the Peterson episode

Folks in the entertainment business will tell you that any kind of publicity is better than no publicity. Even if it is negative, you make money by being in the public eye, and publicity keeps you there. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Peterson firing actually increased interest and attendance in the program, just simply because it makes people think about us? Stranger things have happened.

I do not envy the coaches right now

On top of everything else coaches have to face, having a turmoil broiling in the administrative office that is not of their doing and that must be very distracting to everyone concerned has to be a tough situation. The answer is easy: forget about it and concentrate on basketball - but saying it is easier than doing it.

Off-court issues

The tragedy off any off-court issues, of course, is that they distract from the game itself and from the legitimate athletes who are working hard to do things the right way. Players who get arrested, coaches involved in scandal, and shenanigans in the administration all serve to take the focus off the players who play by the book. Oh, the bloggers and experts on the national websites love it because it gives them something to talk about, especially in the dog days of the off-season; but it does a real disservice to the guys who are just going about their jobs. Sadly, we are mesmerized by the sensational and tend to ignore the ordinary, even if the ordinary is vastly more deserving of our attention. And, as scandal becomes more and more commonplace, just like a drug, it takes a bigger dose of sensationalism to stay in the headlines.

Babe Ruth's life was much more colorful and he got a lot more press than Lou Gehrig (booze and women sell lots of papers) - at least until the very end when Gehrig's quiet greatness came out.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

AD's and coaches come and go

but I still have my UALR coffee cup.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

We will be the sleeper

I think we can justly lay claim to the "sleeper" title in the Belt this year. Few are looking past the two big names (Ga State and ULL). James White's talent is not fully recognized, and if Mareik Isom develops like we hope he will, he will be a total surprise to the league. The upside of this team is considerable. We just need to develop a chip on our shoulder and a little underdog's swagger, and then get it done.

How was our defense?

I generally put little emphasis on scoring defense, since that is affected so much by the pace of the offenses. However, opponents' shooting percentages is a very important stat that I watch closely. Defense has been one of the hallmarks of Shields teams. How did we do last year? Overall, very good. We were second in overall shooting percentage defense with 42.8% behind Georgia State. However, there is a lot of room for improvement because our perimeter defense was not nearly as good. We were 7th in the league at 35.0%. That has to get  better, because in today's game, if you cannot defend the arc, you are D-E-A-D. (Interestingly, Georgia State's situation mirrored ours, because they were only 6th in 3-point defense.)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Play to this strength

Steve Shields already has commented on how he wants the team to focus more on getting to the basket instead of settling so much for jump shots. If you look at our stats, that is very smart. We were second in the league last year behind Georgia State in free throw shooting at 73.8%. If you shoot well, then you shoot more. You cannot shoot more FTs unless you are aggressive on offense, and we have the guys to be aggressive this year, whether through strength or quickness, or just good basketball smarts. We averaged 2.6 points/game less than our opponents last season. Three extra FTs per game would close that gap.