Sunday, November 30, 2014

Things to fix

We are 4-1, and have some things about this team that are going very well. However, we also have some outstanding problems that are going to jump up and bite us if we do not improve them. It may sound contradictory, but that is very encouraging. We have a long way to go, and still we are 4-1. We have beaten the teams we were supposed to beat, and did it with big holes in our game. Plug those holes, and who knows how good we might be this year. Nice thought.

Maurius Hill, remembering Columbus Willis

Maurius Hill reminds me of Co Willis, one of my all-time favorite Trojans. Willis was 6-5, 215#. Hill is listed this year as 6-5, 220#. Both were undersized post players who made up for their lack of size by hard work and good fundamentals. The difference was that Hill is more versatile than Willis was, but Co was a very effective pure post player.  He was a career 53% shooter, attempting only seven 3-pointers in his career. He was a hard worker on defense, regularly defending players several inches taller than he was. The style of the two players is somewhat different, but their physical stature was almost identical, and their approach to the game appears to be the same. At least I hope that Hill rises to the mark. It is a tall order. Willis is #2, first row on the right in the picture below.

Rivalry games that we do not think about

New Hampshire is playing Dartmouth today, and it is a 2-point game with about 6 minutes to go as I write. Of course, it is not a big deal on the national scene, but as the only two D1 teams in the state, no doubt it is an intense local rivalry.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

James White and Roger Woods are impressive

I saw this year's version of the Trojans for the first time tonight. We still have some issues to fix, but James White and Roger Woods are as good as advertised. They are impressive, and I am sure the Sun Belt is going to have their problems dealing with them. And I think White is just learning how dominant he can be.

This is a UALR blog

I do not apologize for it. I have it set so that there are no replies on this blog, because its purpose is not conversation: that can be had on the message board. This board is for opinions - my opinions, however much or little they may be worth.

I do not apologize for being a Little Rock fan. I like the team; I like the program. So far, at least, the staff and team have kept their noses clean much better than those people on the hill. I do not apologize for making negative comments about The Mighty Ones on the Hill, because this is a Trojan blog. I am not obligated to root for Fayetteville. I am not obligated even to like Fayetteville.


Not enough minutes for the best players

Even with two players redshirted, there will not be enough minutes this year to get deserving players on the court as much as they are going to think they deserve. We seem to have a 10-man rotation, and the second five (whoever they are on a given night) has some pretty fair players. Still, we need to have the best five on the court as many minutes as they can play at full speed, and that is not happening. Our top players in terms of minutes are James Reid and J. T. Thomas as 26.5 per game, and that is not enough minutes for your top players. Almost every team will have a couple of players with 30 or more minutes, and this team does not play up-tempo very much.

Seeing the team for the first time

Getting to see each version of the team play for the first time in the season is a special treat. Then the statistics and speculation become tangible. Then you begin to see if you guessed wrong or right regarding particular players. That is when all the "work" as a fan in the offseason pays off. Payday for the fan.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Think there is no disparity in college basketball?

According to Sagarin, Kentucky would beat Mississippi Valley by 41 points on a neutral court - and that is probably an understatement.

Little Rock vs UCA: A rivalry?

Well, certainly not yet. We have not played in twelve years. However, several of the components for a genuine rivalry are there. These are the two teams in central Arkansas, and both of them would love to lay claim to the hearts of the fans (not to mention their money). So there are some high stakes here, because presumably, in time, there should be pretty good attendance for the games (provided they are moved to sometime other than Thanksgiving weekend).

But, in order to have a genuine rivalry you have to have a few close games. That could start tomorrow, although I do not expect it and certainly hope not. However, Russ Pennell comes with a good resume, and I assume that he will have the program moving in the right direction soon.


Depth does not help much by itself, since it usually will not play. But quality depth does help. It appears we have 12 of 14 players on the roster not redshirted. Of the 12, ten are playing on a regular basis. Counting Josh Hagins, we go three deep at the point with good quality. Likewise at the SG spot. Among Roger Woods, Maurius Hill and Mareik Isom, we can mix and match at the 3 and the 4. At the 4 we have James White, and all of the above if we need them there, plus Gus Leeper. At the 5 we have Leeper and White, and after that the size drops off. So the traditional center spot is where we are thinnest. Everywhere else we are as deep as we have been.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

When players hit the road

There can be several reasons, of course: family or personal issues that have nothing to do with the school, grades, the player just not being good enough to make the grade, etc. However, if I had to guess, a majority of the cases involve an inability of the coach and the player to get along. Maybe the coach is unreasonable: that does happen. However, right or wrong he is the coach, and he is going to win. Sometimes the player may be uncoachable, however talented he may be. He will not listen, will not follow instructions, he thinks he knows how to play and is going to do it his way no matter what the coach says. We see that a lot in life in general, and I see no reason why it is not the case on the basketball court as well.

Measuring rod: tough stretch coming up

We ought to beat UCA, but then after that we have the final portion of the non-conference slate. Those five games will tell us where we stand going into the conference season. All the teams are solid squads at our level. Each of them is someone we have a realistic chance to beat. As of this writing only one of them (Bradley) has a Sagarin rating lower than ours, and we might not play Bradley if Irvine beats them in the South Point Classic.

I do not know how good we are yet. We were not nearly good enough to play with BYU, but all these teams are somewhere below them. At the moment our Sagarin is right in the middle of the Sun Belt, so if we can play with these teams, we ought to be able to compete with the better teams in the SBC.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


Google it. I am not the only one using that name for him.

Dropoff at the point

Our point guards may not be as good as Georgia State's, but I am guessing that we have less drop-off in performance going from the starter to the back-up than most teams. Two good ones.

J.T. Thomas 1559137
J. T. Thomas

DeVonte Smith 1391238
DeVonte Smith

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

This team will hit a groove sometime this season

That is to be expected when you have a veteran and mature team. They learn each other, react like they should, and the team begins to function as a well-oiled machine. When that happen the sum of the parts becomes greater than the whole. When the happens, it is a lot of fun to watch.

The Reliability Factor

On message boards, arguments continually rage about who should be starting and who should be getting more or less minutes. One aspect that I seldom hear in these discussions is The Reliability Factor. Coaches, like any managers, need to know what they have. Sure, a player might play like Lew Alcindor one game, but if he played like Shrimp Shuffelmeyer the next, he could create a disaster. Coaches have to project; they have to put together game plans and strategies if they hope to win. They have to give their players the best chance to succeed, and if they are to do that, they have to know what they are going to get when they put a player on the court. If a player wants to play, he has to provide the coach with some sort of constant that he can plug into the equation of the moment. Coaches do not like a lot of "maybe's" on the court. Maybe the player will take good shots. Maybe he will play good defense. But the player that is more likely to get on the floor, especially at crunch time, is the player who will bring a reliable (predictable) level of play.

ULL off to a rough start

The Cajuns have been a disappointment so far. They were supposed to challenge Georgia State for the league title, and have the talent to get a few big wins for the conference. But their only win so far is non-D1, and they have loses to Tulsa and Auburn, which might have been some nice Ws for the Belt. Particularly Shawn Long seems to be off his oats. From a double/double machine his first two years, he is averaging 9.7 ppg and an enemic 4.0 rpg. The Sun Belt needs the Cajuns to pick up the pace!

Ray "Stump" Asbury

In 1970, Booneville went 9-2, won the district championship, and lost to Alma in the first round of the playoffs. We ran the Wishbone offense that year, and our fullback was a very intereresting player named Ray Asbury. He was about 5'6" tall, and weighed about 190 pounds, thus his nickname "Stump." He was not going to outrun anyone, but he was always good for a few yards up the middle. He made the middle of the defense stay home, and that is the first step in making the Wishbone work. He could thump you.

We played the game against Alma in water standing on the field. It was awful, and it took away pretty much all of our offense except for Asbury. We were a good passing team for a Wishbone offense, having three reliable receivers in the regular starting lineup. After the game, Marvin Daily, Alma's fullback/linebacker who signed with the Razorbacks, made a special trip to our dressing room to meet Ray. "He really hits hard," he said.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Biggest surprise so far?

To me, probably  James Reid, simply because I did not figure he would be starting at this point. But he is, and has been shooting very well. Someone else will have to evaluate his overall game, but his shooting is excellent.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Shooting more, enjoying it more

Last season 27.4% of our field goal attempts were from the 3-point line. We made 32.5% of them. Through three games this year, 31.5% of our attempts have been from the arc, and we are making 34.6% of them. Shooting more, making more. We are going with our strength, and that is a good formula.


I like Maurius Hill's game

He does several things well. He hits the boards, has several assists, he can score. Versatile player that can fill several roles for us. Good man to have on the roster.

Maurius Hill 1391237

Reviewing 3-1

Outside of the manner in which we lost to BYU, I have been satisfied so far. This is where I had hoped we would be. We still have some kinks to get worked out (like 3-point defense), but our performance at crunch time late in the last two games has been outstanding.

James White at 13 points/game and 9 rebounds/game, and 9 total blocks, is where we wanted him. Roger Woods at 12 points and 8 rebounds has been a nice plus, especially in the rebounding. We thought rebounding was going to be a problem for us this year, but we are only one board total behind the opposition.

What is most encouraging is that the three players with 12 or more 3-point attempts are all shooting at least 35%.

The rest of the non-conference schedule has a nice mix of mid-range teams from across the country. We need to get it done.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Outstanding comeback win against UMKC

We did not look very good early on in the UMKC game, but finally we got it together and came roaring back to pull the win out of the fire. James Reid has been an amazing shooter so far. You have to wonder when he will cool off. Maurius Hill had an outstanding all-round game. For an undersized post player he is putting up some nice stats.

Historically, Shields teams have had a history of slow starts. We need to get out of that habit. It did appear that Roger Woods absence made it hard for us to get started. We need him in the game, for sure.

Is the Sun Belt improving?

The SBC has not had many notable wins thus far in the season, so making a case that the league is better this season might be hard. However, we are seeing teams that in the past would have been complete patsies for body bag games making surprisingly good games. Monroe's overtime loss to #8 Florida last night is an example. Is it a trend? Time will tell, but I am encouraged.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Pick out an underdog

Every fan ought to have an underdog to root for. A little guy. A hard case. Someone who just never seems to get the breaks. Pick one out and wave its flag. It is lots of fun. You do not get to pat yourself on the back and say you are a "winner" just because you link your name to someone on top of the heap, but you can have a great deal of enjoyment from it.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Is it a requirement for citizenship in Arkansas

that you have to root for Fayetteville? Surely not! But some (most) of their fans act like they think it ought to be. I guess that is the single biggest factor that keeps me from rooting for Fayetteville - the attitude of their fans. They think it is their birthright that everyone in the state has to root for their team.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Shields needs a Plan B on offense

We are just in a rut offensively. Steve needs to come up with a few new wrinkles. We just do the same thing over and over, even if it isn't working, against D2 teams and teams hugely taller than we are. Sure teams get hot and cold, but the coach has to be ready to adjust.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

UMKC had to have helped their recruiting

Kansas City sits on the border of two states where basketball does matter. They are mainly an asterisk on the basketball landscape, however, because they are not in a money conference and they are an "at" school. However, a multitude of youngsters follow Missouri and Kansas State basketball. And every one of them now knows that UMKC beat Missouri and was leading KSU at the half, and stayed close. They made a statement of legitimacy. So kids who are not good enough for a money confererence scholarship now might think of staying close to home instead of moving off. Plus, those two games almost have to help attendance in Kansas City when they get to their home schedule.

This year we may have the equalizers

Much as I dislike the 3-point shot, it does give lower-level schools an outside chance against better teams if they happen to get hot on a given night. This year, we may have enough outside shooters in order to pull off a few upsets. That would be sweet. And, James White is good enough underneath that he could make them pay if they forget to pay attention.

Monday, November 17, 2014

James White will be a handful

for the Belt to handle. Watching the clips from the UAM game would have convinced me of that, if I weren't already.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The win over Monticello

The main thing we learned from the game is that we can shoot the 3, but we cannot defend it. Jamal Peterson lit us up for 27 points including 8 threes. That was not critically important this time, because we had a talent advantage - but what about against BYU? That is a problem that has to be fixed NOW.

Roger Woods can rebound: 13 is a nice total even against a D2 team. But he is two inches shorter than Monticello's tallest player. That will not be the case at BYU. He will get his real test there.

One of the best things we saw was validation of our hopes that we would have several three-point threats. We shot 45%, and had four players who made multiple 3s.

The point guards took up where they left off last season, with 8 assists against only one turnover.

The bottom line? There were several things that were encouraging, but we let a poor team stay in the game when we should have put them away. And that perimeter defense issue has to be fixed or it will kill us.

How is this for an unusual name?

Monticello (in the Univ of Ark system) has a player with the given name Xkeem Jones.

Wisconsin over Chattanooga

When your starting center and starting small forward are 5 of 9 from the arc, that is hard to overcome, especially when your starting power forward pulls down 13 rebounds. Granted that Chattanooga is not a real test for Wisconsin, but that is a pretty impressive start. Their front line did pretty much as it wanted.

Game Day!

Finally it is here. The season begins momentarily. Will our Trojans be fairly good, very good, outstanding? We will not know for a while, but at least the answer starts percolating today.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Shields' (last) chance to shine

Steve Shields has taken a lot of flack because of his mediocre record: not great, but not bad. (Personally, I think much of the griping has more to do with style of play than with his record, but that is just a guess.) This year is a chance for him to prove that he can really coach. He has a good team, probably not the best in the league, but good. Now he needs to get it done. He has to mold the character of the team, get them to play together, and be a good game coach. We shall see how he does. If he does not get it done, he probably is not going to get many more chances.

A tough job

It is hard to root against ALL the teams in the SEC, especially when they are playing each other. (Actually, there are a couple of them I like.)

Difference maker

What will be the difference for us this year? I am guessing it will be James White. Most teams do not have a post natural talent like him, and he is just beginning to come into his own. He should be requiring double coverage this year, and that gives us an advantage if we can take it.

James White 770165

Career win for UMKC

We in Little Rock dream of beating Fayetteville - in anything. We are the little brother "at" school that (so far, at least) is not allowed to have its own identity by being "Little Rock," but has to tack on that "UA" so that Fayetteville gets their due. Add to that the high-handed monopolistic practices of the Fayetteville administration and the arrogant attitudes of Fayetteville fans, and it is just hard to take.

But UMKC scored a big one for all the little guys last night, for all the "at" teams that are forced to play second fiddle. They beat Missouri. That means they beat all that money, an army of fans, a mountain of media support and years of discouragement. They did it! Don't ask me how, because I did not see the game, but I watched the score as it progressed. Missouri made a run late, but the Kangaroos fought them off and took off what probably will be the biggest win in the history of the program.


Friday, November 14, 2014

Why I don't think it is bad to schedule D2 teams

All else being equal, of course we had rather have D1 opponents. But some D1 teams are really bad, and if you are buying a win, D2 costs a lot less.

For instance, right now North Texas is up on D2 Monticello by 12 with 3 minutes in the half. With almost exactly the same time left on the clock, Duke is up over D1 Presbyterian by 33. Granted that NTU is no Duke, but they could have found a bad D1 team to beat up if they had wanted to. But instead they beat up on Monticello for a lot less cost, and they are actually giving NTU a fairly good game so far, at least so far.

Finally! the season has started

Not our season; we are still a couple of days off. But the college basketball season is here. Now we can start watching scores, analyzing box scores, criticizing coaches, griping about officials, etc.

Come on little guys! Beat those big money conferences!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tyson Batiste signing

His numbers look OK, especially for a junior. It is always hard to tell about point guards because their job has to do with so many things that do not show up in stats. But I do like that we signed a high school point. My theory is that you must have three point guards on the roster at all times, and DeVonte Smith is a senior. So this was a must signing to my way of thinking.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Signing day is special

The opening days of the two signing periods are some of the special times in college basketball. It is sort of like opening presents: you have some idea what may be there, but you are not entirely sure. The future of your program is in the balance, and all the diehard fans are holding their collective breath. Lots of suspense, and because of the suspense, lots of fun.

How much do first game D2 opponents show?

I suppose that if your team has a glaring weakness that gets exposed, that is a good thing. And if a D2 team shows it, then you need to fix it - quickly. Outside of that, it is largely a tune-up game, letting your players  get the feel of playing in a "real" game, getting into the rhythm of things before the D1  games. Honestly, not much to be gained.

Of course, I have already seen a couple of D1 teams who have lost exhibition games . . .

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Slap fouls and the press

Teams like VCU that live off the press have to hope that the officials are not calling slap fouls. You do not have to slap to press, but players inevitably do that; and if the refs are calling them, they can eat into your depth in a hurry. And most teams who press have to go deep into their bench to be able to do it.

What makes this team special?

Assuming that it is indeed special, that is. I think it probably will be the breadth of offensive weapons we have. I do not recall a roster that was this deep in players who can put up points. I hope this does not mean that we are going to neglect defense, but we have more options on the offensive end than we have ever had.

Michael Javes - what a pity!

It is a shame that Michael Javes' could not get over whatever hump caused him to leave the program. He was a prodigious talent. He could have been as good as he wanted to be, at least from the standpoint of natural tools. I do not know for sure why he left, but we had a lot invested in him.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The "other" military academies

Sports fans are generally familiar with the Army, Navy and Air Force as Division competitors. There are two other military academies, however, that are at a lower level and generally escape the notice of the sports public. The Merchant Marine Academy and Coast Guard Academy both field a full slate of athletic teams.

The "mighty" SEC

CBS this year projects the SEC to have four (4) NCAA berths. That is the same as the American, Atlantic 10 and Big East conferences, none of which have those truckloads of football money rolling in. For the record, they project the Big Ten to have 8, ACC to have 7, and  Big 12 to have 6.

How much risk does Shields carry?

We will have a new AD at the first of the year. That means he will get to watch Shields as coach for one conference season, plus he will have the data from his previous seasons. I feel sure that no AD is going to want to come in and start firing people right off the bat, but then he may also want to make a statement. So how much risk does Shields have? Does a Top Three finish keep him on the job? He has a veteran roster, so I am guessing that anything much below that will put him in jeopardy. A Sun Belt coach could recruit his entire career and not get the talent that Georgia State has, so I am guessing that he does not have to beat them to keep his job. My gut feel is that Steve will have a little bit of slack since the AD is new - but not much.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

HS Track and field: where friendship are formed

In a small school, athletic opponents come to know one another very well after a while, especially the ones who play multiple sports. For three-sport athletes, they will be seeing the same faces throughout perhaps five full years of school. It is in track and field, however, where the friendships are most likely to be formed. In contrast to other sports, in track there is a certain amount of "loafing time" between events, and whether on the infield or in the stands, it is a good chance to visit with the athletes from the other schools, swap stories (true or otherwise), talk about the football and basketball seasons, and get to know one another in general. It is a much more social than the other high school sports. Furthermore, in the other sports you will play each other once or twice during the year, but in track you will see the other teams at several meets throughout the season.

This social factor is an aspect that the other major sports do not afford. In them you are either on a sideline or a bench or in a dugout. In track, you generally can sit anywhere you like as long as your coach approves. Furthermore, although the competition in track can be very intense, it is usually not acrimonious as it can be in the other sports. You try to beat the other fellow, but your effort is entirely on offense; there is no "defense" in track. You try to achieve, but not to keep the other fellow from achieving. It was a unique and very pleasant experience for me in my high school career that I look back on with considerable fondness.


Fant could rebound.

WKU's George Fant has been a good rebounder for them, even though he is listed as only 6-6, and I think that is stretching it. Of course, he is also listed at 250#, and he knows how to use his bulk. So, that ought to be encouraging to our rebounders.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Loads of firepower

Have we ever had this much shooting potential at the shooting guard spot? Ben Dillard, Josh Hagins, James Reid, and if needed, Mareik Isom could perhaps even play that spot if we wanted to go big. Bombs away!

Defense or offense

Steve Shields is going to have more mix-and-match opportunities with this year's roster than he perhaps has ever had before. No better example is at the small forward position, where he has an excellent defender in Stetson Billings, and a potent offensive force in Roger Woods. All that presents some problems for the coach, but it is a lot better than not having those problems to solve.

Friday, November 7, 2014

I am tired of massaging stats. Time for some games!

I study recruiting and statistics all through the long off-season. It keeps me entertained, but this time of year there is nothing much left to look at. We creep - slowly - toward the start of the season. It cannot come too quickly for me.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Relaxed, but intense

That is what I want to see us be this year. Focused and confident. Smoldering, pent-up aggression.

Stars have to twinkle first

We have no "star" players with the glamor of Georgia State's three or the big man at ULL. We do have two or three that could be close to breaking out into that league. However, when a player is already playing well, it is difficult to take another giant step forward. Usually by that point the increases are incremental. However, if indeed one of our better players has the stuff to move into that class of player, that would make a huge difference on this team. A "monster year" always helps.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

We will stake our claim to what?

Geogia State has big time guards. ULL has a big-time post man. What will we be staking our claim to this year? It has to be something, or we are out of the hunt. Three-point shooters? Possibly. James White inside? Possibly. Killer defense? A good chance of that. In any case, we have to do something well enough to be a blood pressure factor to the opposing coaches.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Sufficient warm-up

I would have liked one more game other than Monticello to get into sync before we travel to BYU, but it is what it is. We have it to do.

Woody Hayes was a loser

Oh, he won lots of games as a coach, but who cares?! As a person he was a complete cull - the very definition of the word "loser" to any thinking person. He had no self-control at all, and a trail of ugly incidents followed him all his career until finally it ended with the infamous punching of an opposing player. Good riddance!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Belt teams on the national scene

The only SBC teams that you figure could possibly make a noise on the national scene are Georgia State and ULL, because of their high-powered talent. Beyond that, not so much. Outside of BYU, which would not be a major upset, we really do not have any opportunities to make noise, unless we were undefeated going into conference play - not likely. The conference hopefully will pick up a few notable upsets. We need to, because they were scarce last year.

Who will win SOY?

That is, Surprise of the Year? Someone will. Obviously, it will not be anyone that we expect to do well, unless that player just skyrockets beyond all reason. So, that pretty well eliminates James White, Roger Woods and Josh Hagins from the list. Anyone else might be on it. The other newcomers might take hold and become major factors in spite of being on a veteran team. Stetson's offense might suddenly ignite. Even Ben Dillard might win it if he finally shoots like we all figure he can, and shoots often enough. But someone will surprise us. Maybe more than one someones.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Sounds like Andre Brown's role has been defined

From the official site:
A 6-6 left-hander, Brown can put the ball on the floor and shoot, but won’t look to do either as often as Woods. He proved himself as an excellent rebounder last season at Southwest Tennessee Community College, averaging 6.9 rebounds in 21.1 minutes per game. 

Sounds like he may be our designated rebounder. That's OK. We need one.

Andre Brown 1875247

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Come on, Arlington!

I hope we beat them, but I hope they do really well in the Belt since they are a non-football school. I despise that arrogant, condescending "football is the only thing that matters" attitude that so many so-called "sports fans" have in the South. Because of that, I love it when non-football schools win over football schools.

"Unappreciated" chip

Here is an idea: Shields needs to get 16 small pieces of wood, write "UNAPPRECIATED" on each of them, and lay them on the shoulder of each player. The symbolism? No one ever thinks highly of Little Rock. They always go for the glamor teams. So we need to get a chip on our shoulders because we are only picked third, and then do something about it.



When you have depth you can afford to be aggressive. It sounds like that is what we are going to be on offense, at least more so than usual. We know that Josh Hagins has always been that way a times, and Ben Dillard is much more so that appears on the surface, as exhibited in the number of free throws he shoots. Now that he is The Man in the middle, you have to think that James White is going to assert his leadership. Throw into the mix Roger Woods, who comes advertised as a player who is relentless in going to the basket on offense, and that is a nice combination, especially since at least three of those players should be on the court together a good bit of the time.