Saturday, January 31, 2015

Georgia Southern postgame

When you shoot 27% from the arc and allow the opponents to shoot 42%, bad things happen. We shot a lot of 3-pointers and did not make nearly enough. We won the rebounding battle; that is a good thing, especially thanks to Josh Hagins and Maurius Hill. Hagins had another strong game, as did Mareik Isom. Outside of those, there was not much to cheer about. Without much of an inside game, our one-dimensional offense become less of a puzzle.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

NCAA Tournament play-in games: an ugly deformity

Of all the bad ideas the NCAA has had (and there have been many), the “play-in” games in the tournament have to be among the worst. In order to crowd a few more teams into the tournament (already too large), they have created a major deformity. The NCAA makes a big deal about the tournament actually starting with the play-in games, and that they are the First Round. The fans, however, generally speaking do not regard the “real” tournament as beginning until the round of 64, and the play-in games are just a culling process for teams that ought not to have been there anyway. I would imagine that 9 out of 10 fans call the round of 64 the “first round.”

So what is the result? The teams from the bottom-feeder conferences who legitimately earn the right to play in the NCAA championship tournament are now considered “culls” (although few would be so crass as to say that.) That is a slap in the face to those programs and schools. A tournament that is already too long is now too longer. All this was done undoubtedly to make more money and probably also to help save the jobs of the money conference coaches who are in jeopardy. Please, NCAA, just admit your mistake and reverse that decision.

Another guard blasting away

Southern Illinois guard Anthony Beane has taken more than twice as many 3-point shots as anyone else on the team, even though he is making only 27.5% of them. They have players making 34% and 36%, but it is Beane that is taking the lion's share of the shots. Another example of a coach letting a player shoot his team right out of ballgames. The Salukis are 9-13 on the season.

SIU serious about statistics

As a fan who diligently peruses statistics of the teams I follow, I am hugely impressed with the information Southern Illinois provides.


As you can see, all the way back to the 1947-48 season. And individual career stats back to 1951.


The hard lot of assistant coaches

More than in any other major American sport,  basketball coaches have the most direct input into the success of the team. There are no offensive or defensive coordinators to whom the buck is passed, and even in practice, they are one of four instructing the team. But in college, the lot of the assistants is largely linked to that of the head coaches. If he goes, they usually go, also, even though the fault was more his than in other sports. Tough line of work.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Enjoy each game in itself

The season is probably a disaster. The coach is likely on his way out. But, even given that, each game becomes a season unto itself, and that is about the only we can enjoy them. Forget the records, just enjoy the games. We will win a few of them.

Old style basketball gyms

Most new gyms do not have the crowd right down on the floor, and there are good reasons for that. Players cannot go crashing into the crowd as easily, risking injury to both, and if the game gets ugly, crowd control is easier. However, the new "sanitized" gyms do not and cannot have the feel of those old ones: none of the intensity and intimacy.


Arkansas State pre-game

ASU is 9-10, with one of their wins over a non-D1 team. They have good wins over Mississippi State and Marshall. They are 3-2 over their last five games, with an OT win over Texas State.

Their starting front line probably will  be 6-8, 6-6, 6-5, and they can bring 6-10 and 6-9 off the bench. They are not an outstanding shooting team (41% and 33%), but their perimeter defense is pretty good (32.2%), as is true with most Brady teams. They shoot 71.3% from the line and are -2 on the boards.

This is not an especially good team, but at this point I would not predict us to win anything on the road, being in damage control mode as we are.

Sagarin has ASU by 4 points. RealtimeRPI has ASU by 16.

As rare as hen's teeth

Watch high school teams warming up and try to find a player practicing post moves, or turn-around jumpers from ten feet out. Not very likely. All you probably will observe is a  bunch of kids lined up at the 3-point arc (including the big guys) shooting long shots. Now, how hard is it to figure out what is wrong with basketball?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

RealtimeRPI should be about right

RealtimeRPI has us winning three more games, which sounds about right. Although that may be optimistic. I figure with our group of 3-point shooters we will surprise someone along the way, but since we are at the very bottom of the conference, any wins from here on would be surprises.

Monday, January 26, 2015

I don't understand their late-game strategy

NC A&T is trailing Delaware State by two points or less from the 2:22 mark to the 32-second mark. During that stretch they take three shots - all 3-pointers. What were they thinking? They only needed two to tie or take the lead, yet they choose to take a low-percentage shot three straight times. I just don't understand their approach.

A strong measuring rod

If Steve Shields survives this season (which I doubt), it will be a real indication that he is held in much higher regard with the administration and fellow coaches than he is with the fan base right now. And if that is true, it would not surprise me at all. However, even given that situation, I still do not think Shields survives. Just a guess.

Mid-season "records watch"

Here is where our players stand relative to the all-time lists as given in the UALR media guide.

Ben Dillard is at 38.8%, which would be 9th on the all-time list.

Ben Dillard is at 82.9%, which would be 4th all-time.

Josh Hagins has 265, which is 9th all-time.

Josn Hagins has 97. He needs 101 to make the list.

James White has 80, which is 8th all-time.

Experimental games without the 3 point shot

Each year in pre-season games some teams will experiment with different possible rule changes to see what the effect would be. For example, this year some teams reduced the shot clock to "speed up the game," making the arbitrary assumption that faster is better. I would like to see games in which the 3-point line is removed. That would make as substamtial change both in strategy and tactics. Teams would have to totally amend their approaches to the game, and it would be interesting. I am guessing that it would show that the game was much more interesting without the 3-point shot.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Desire to fast forward

This team will be fun to watch for their effort, if for no other reason. Real fans will not be disappointed from that standpoint. But it will be a surprise at this point if we even make the tournament, let alone win any games there, and that will no doubt bring a very painful off-season. Somehow I get a desire just to fast forward, get it over with, and move on. But we will keep rooting, and keep hoping, but keep doubting.

Inconsistency from the arc

Circumstances have required us to depend on Roger Moore and 3-point shooting this year. Roger has been pretty consistent, but our shooting from the arc has not. None of our guys can seem to get into a groove, at least lately. One game on, one game off - or maybe two games off. Frustrating.

The faulty mathematics of athletics

We calculate winning in an arbitrary and bogus manner. We call coaches "winners" because of the finals scores of athletics events, the outcomes of which mean absolutely nothing, when those men's lives may be of the vilest sorts. The biggest loser (and the biggest fool) was the one who said "Nice guys finish last." His calculator was broken.

The real character of a team

More than in a successful season, you see the real character of a team in those years when things are not going well. Do they throw in the towel, and just quit, or do they keep giving everything they have, game after game. We shall see, but usually Steve Shields teams play hard, regardless. I will miss that when he is gone.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Arlington postgame

Too bad. We probably were underdogs against Arlington, even at home, but we needed this one. This team is not going to win much when we don't make our threes. We didn't, and Arlington did. Plus we got hammered on the boards. Pretty much tells the story. This team now has so little room for error that if we do not play a pretty much perfect game, we are not likely to win.

Several good things happened. Solid game by Gus Leeper once again: 8 points and 6 rebounds in 27 minutes. We have to have that at this point to have a chance. Another good performance from Roger Woods. Are big guys are becoming dependable. We were 11 of 15 from the line.We had 17 assists and only 5 turnovers - outstanding!

BUT we were 9 of 29 from the arc, and that did us in. James Reid and Mareik Isom had pretty good nights, but Josh Hagins and Ben Dillard were 3 of 12 from the arc.

Oh well, pick up the pieces and move on.

Offensive linemen

Being an offensive lineman in football is sort of like playing the violin in an orchestra. Everyone hears the group, but no one ever hears you - unless you make a mistake.

Just mark it down

Your shooting percentage on those possessions where you have a turnover is always ZERO. Always.

Remembering Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks just died. Thinking about him brings back a lot of memories from back in the days when I followed major league baseball closely. They had some great Cub teams back then with several all-time greats on the rosters, but they never were quite able to get over the hump to a title.

Banks' public personna, at least, was very positive. He was an easy player to root for. Just one more connection with pleasant recollections gone forever.


The time is now

If this team is to salvage anything out of this disastrous season, they have to start now. Running out of games in which to have an impact. I realize we are wounded, but we just have to change our approach and cinch up and get it done. No excuses. No excuses.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Arlington pregame

They come in 11-7, 5-3 in conference. They had wins over Bradley and Weber State in non-conference. They are not tall, probably starting 6-8, 6-5, 6-2 on the front line. They have 6-9 and 6-10 also on the roster.

They have only one player in double figures. Johnny Hill averages 10.7 ppg. They do have very balanced scoring, though, with all the top five scorers over 7 ppg.

Their forte is their defense, holding opponents to 39.6% overall and 30.9% from the arc. That is pretty impressive. They are essentially even on the boards.

They have already won four games on the road, so do not expect them to be affected by coming to the Jack, especially with our paltry crowds.

Sagarin lists Arlington as 8-point favorites.
RealtimeRPI lists us as 1-point favorites.

Chuck Connors - dual major leager

Actor Chuck Connors is reportedly one of only twelve men to have played in the baseball major leagues and also in the NBA. Here is a LINK to his major legue baseball statistics. Here is a LINK to his NBA stats. Nothing world-beating in either, but just making it to both big leagues was an accomplishment.

Chuck Connors Brooklyn Dodgers.JPG


Troy postgame

A terrible half and a very good half translates into a badly-needed win. Someone must have given one outstanding halftime speech in the locker room!

Double-double for Roger Woods. We are going to need a lot more of those from him. Gus gave us 31 solid minutes. When was the last time he played that many minutes in a game?

Josh and Ben were making their 3's tonight; good to have the shooting eye back. (Nothing like coming home, is there?) We shot 42% from the arc and held them to 33%. That's more like it! And it was not just from the line that we were making shots. We hit 47% overall.

The bench contributed well. Nice to see Jerron Washington giving us some quality minutes, pulling down three rebounds in six minutes of playing time. We won the battle of the boards by 2, mainly because of Woods and some outstanding rebounding by the guards. Among them, Hagins, Smith and Reid had 16 boards.

Only eight turnovers. Outstanding! That is one area where this team has been really good.

Game ball to Devonte Smith. His numbers were good, and what a difference he made in the second half!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Going JJ one better

Little Rock's Rashad Jones-Jennings was known for his two-tone mouthpiece.

However, St. Mary's forward Brad Waldow has improved on his idea with a vampire mouthpiece.


Immediate infusion

This team needs an immediate injection of something to get it going. Our offensive options are down with James White out of the lineup,  but we still need something. Having our 3-point shooters to get hot again would help, but now teams are able to lay for them because of the lack of inside threat. We need a couple of players to find their strokes and start lighting up the basket. Amazingly, all of a sudden out defense has improved, but our offense has gone south. Hard to figure.

Almost always a contradiction in terms

A coach who "lets them play" is almost always not a coach who "makes them play right." By the nature of the beast the two are generally a contradiction in terms.

Are we shooting more 3's?

During the tenure of Steve Shields as coach at Little Rock, the Trojans have ranged from 13.5 attempted three-pointers per game in 2005-06 to 17.1 in 2010-11. So how many 3s are we taking this year? Through 17 games we have taken 325 long-range shots, or an average of 19.1 per game, or 11.7% more than in any other year of Shields' tenure.

A chance to show off

One reason that coaching basketball is such a challenge is that, perhaps more than any other major sport, basketball lends itself to show-boating. Players get a chance to show off, and what young person can resist that opportunity. So, coaches have two courses: one is to go with the players' inclinations and loosen the reins and hope to blow away the opposition, and the other is to keep the reins tight and teach the players discipline, self-control and teamwork instead of seeking to call attention to themselves. Since I think the latter attitude is the right one for life, I also think that is the best course for coaches.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A worrisome trend

In three of our last four games we have shot less than 39%. In all four of them we have shot 25% or less from the arc. Our shooting is headed south at a high rate of speed.

I feel for these seniors

Ben Dillard and Gus Leeper especially. Between them they have nine years in the program, and to go out on the sour note we are constructing this season would really be sad. We could hardly pick two better representatives for the program.

13 more strikes

We have a minimum of 13 more games this season. Seven of them are at home. Theoretically, we could still end up with a 14-6 conference record. That probably would save Steve Shields' job. The reality is that we probably will struggle to make the tournament, and Shields probably ride into the sunset. If we make the tournament and win a couple of games, who knows? In any case, we have 13 more chances. Given the depleted status of our roster, we will have a razor-thin margin for error. Effort will have to make up for numbers and height.

The downward spiral of a wounded coach

When a coach looks vulnerable, opposing recruiters can use that to try to persuade players not to sign with that team: "Their coach may not be there next year." That tack might not work, but it probably has its effect. With a new AD and a terrible season underway, Steve Shields certainly looks vulnerable. We only have one more player more to sign, but other slots might open up if players do not return. We certainly need some talent upgrades, especially inside.

Raheem Appleby - one that got away

Raheem Appleby was one in-state player that we let get away, and lived to regret it greatly. This season he is a senior at Louisiana Tech, has started every game, leads the team in scoring (17.5 ppg), and is shooting 41.4% from the 3-point line. That one hurt, because we could have used him this year.

Minus a rim protector

With the injury to James White, we lost our only real shot blocker. He had more than twice as many (25) as anyone else on the team. Roger Woods is now the leader with 11. Gus Leeper is not a leaper and is not likely to fill that role. Mareik Isom has the length and athleticism to do it, but has only six so far.

Troy pregame

They are 7-9, but only 1-6 on the road. Two of their wins were against non-D1 teams. They have wins over Arlington and Georgia Southern in conference play.

They likely will start 6-8, 6-7, 6-3 across the front line, and have three more 6-8 players on the roster. Two players in double figures scoring. Their perimeter game is pretty good, shooting 34.7% from the arc while allowing only 30.5%. They are -2 on the boards.

Their two gunners are Abdul-Aleem and Person, who shoot the three well and shoot it a lot. Kevin Thomas is their inside man, averaging 9.7 ppg and 7.5 rpg, and shooting 62%.

We need to get things turned around, and this would be a good place to start. Our roster is short, but we still need to get it done. No excuses.

LINK to Troy official site pregame.

LINK to Little Rock official site pregame.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Roger Woods was a huge signing for us

I think that is pretty evident at this point. He is carrying us on his back at this point, with James White out of the lineup. I think most of us thought he would be good from his juco stats, but that he would be this important to us, who would have thought?

Roger Woods 1875043

Our 3-point shooting is tanking

Three-point shooting had been a strength of this team in the first half of the year,  but recently it has been in free-fall (and I do not mean falling into the basket). Over the last four games we are a horrible 20.6% from the arc. It is no great surprise that we lost three of those four with that sort of number. Our stable of reliable 3-point shooters has shrunk to two: James Reid and Mareik Isom. Even Old Reliable Ben Dillard is shooting only 32.8% for the season. Sad days in Mudville!

Proud of our rebounding

When this undersized team comes out and totally whips the opposition on the boards 43 to 34, I am proud of them - big time. Especially when it was just after they had lost their leading rebounder. It shows the toughness we have come to expect from Trojan teams. It is a shame there was not the offensive firepower to pull out a win, but it obviously was not for lack of effort.

Monday, January 19, 2015

South Alabama postgame - Tough loss!

The Trojans deserved to win this one, but came up just short. Once again we were cold as ice from the 3-point line. Josh Hagins scored a lot of points, but he had to take a lot of shots to do it. More impressive than his scoring were his 7 rebounds.

Roger Woods gets the game ball: 6 of 7 from the field, 15 points, 9 rebounds.

It is pretty impressive that we dominated the boards (+9) in this game with an undersized lineup.

Very tough loss. At home we probably win this one. Don't give up, Trojans.

South Alabama pregame

We helped jump-start USA. Since they narrowly beat us the first time around, they have gone 2-2 with a nice win last time out against Louisiana. So, this is not the same team that started the season. Against the Cajuns they were 7 of 12 from the arc and shot 55% overall. They were -9 on the boards, but only turned the ball over 8 times.

We, on the other hand, are in a totally regrouping mode with the loss of James White. We are having to re-invent ourselves without much time to do it. We will no doubt be playing three or even four guards much of the time. Look for Roger Moore to play a LOT of minutes - all he can stand, probably. Gus Leeper is also going to have to stay out of foul trouble, because we will need him in there.

Mareik Isom is NOT a post player

He shoots significantly worse inside the arc (41.9%) than he does outside (45.5%). I figure we already knew that, but the numbers certainly bear it out.


With the injury to James White, our hopes of any sort of a good season probably went down the drain. On the flip side, however, it may make the season more interesting in one sense: how will Shields and the team respond? Shields is going to have to come up with some creative schemes to use the players he has. How will Big Gus handle the increased playing time. I am saying he will do just fine, thank you. Can our other undersized post players get the job done? Who knows, but now that expectations have tanked, we can just relax and see how things transpire.

I do hate it for James, though. He was having a strong season. That is the down side of contact athletics.

Postgame on the Monroe loss

It was not so very long ago that a game against Monroe could be pencilled down as a probable win even on the road. Those days are gone, it appears, and that says much about where this Monroe program is. They have lifted themselves up from the very bottom run of the Sun Belt and now are a tough out any time, any where.

The good news, once again our perimeter defense was working. That makes three in a row and that is a very good sign. Again we did not shoot the 3 very well, but our main problem in this game was that we did not shoot anything very well. when you shoot 29%, you just are not going to win many ballgames, and that is the story of this game. Josh Hagins scored double figures, but he had to take a bunch of shots to do it. We were 19 of 23 from the FT line, including 4 of 4 for Roger Woods.

We just could not make shots. How much Monroe's defense contributed to that I could not say, not being at the game, but they did not shoot any better than we did from the arc. In fact, oddly, each team was exactly the same: 3 of 15 from the arc. Shots were clanging all night from outside. Our problem was that we could not make shots inside, either. Roger Woods was 1 of 9, Mareik Isom was 1 of 5, Gus Leeper 3 of 9, and James White did not even play.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Road wins are precious

If you can win on the road in conference play, that is huge. With perhaps the exception of the ASU at  Little Rock game, home court advantage means a lot. Sagarin says it means about 4 points on any given night, and a lot of games are won by less than that. So, if you can survive at home and pick up a few on the road, then you are that much ahead. It still looks like Louisiana probably is going to be the team to beat in the Belt, but even they can be had. And Georgia State has lost two. Climbing back toward the top might be too much for this team after the hole we have dug at the start, but we might be able to claw our way into the middle of the pack. We will need to pick up a road win or two along the way to do that.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Conference race now officially wide open

With Louisiana's loss tonight, every conference team has at least one loss five or six games into the season. That probably means that there is not going to be any team head and shoulders ahead of the others this year. Which means that every trip on the road will be hazardous. Which means that the conference race will stay interesting right to the end. Good for the league. Should help attendance some.

Someone is going to have to step up

Someone is going to have to become the go-to guy of this team. J. T. Thomas appeared to be the emotional leader early on, but his play has suffered lately. Josh Hagins can be counted on to score, but he can blow up in the wrong direction as easily as in the positive. We need a steadying force in the locker room, a leader, an enforcer, a no-nonsense person who keeps the team on course. It does not have to be a star, or even someone who is vocal, just someone who will put the team on his emotional back and carry them by main force and obstinance. I have no idea who that will be, but we need him to step up - badly.


Plenty of opportunity to move up

At the moment the bottom five teams within the Belt are within one game of each other. Bunched up. So, whoever of that group gets hot is going to be able to move up out of the Danger Zone of being left out of the Belt tournament. No time like to present to put together a little win streak.

Why are we not better?

We thought we would be pretty good this year. And, although it appears unlikely, we might still resurrect a decent season. But why have we been so bad? James White is averaging 12 points and 6 rebounds, which is some below what we had hoped for, but still pretty good. Roger Woods has been what we expected. We have three very good 3-point shooters, and James Reid and Mareik Isom have been what we hoped from the arc. Our rebounding has been less than stellar, but not awful. So why haven't we won more games? The answer, obviously, is on the defensive end, where we have been awful , especially from the arc, until the last couple of games. Maybe we have turned the corner. I hope so. We really, really need to finish strong.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Getting back to defensive basics

At the beginning of this season it looked like the strength of this team would be 3-point shooting. And this has been one of our stronger aspects. To date we are shooting 34.7%, which certainly is acceptable. However, in the last two games we shot 22% and 25%, respectively - our third- and fourth-worst efforts of the year. So, we were blown out, right? Well, it happens that those two games were two of our best games of the season. True, we lost to Texas State, but it was at their place in double overtimes, and we play them tough.

Here is the reason why: at the same time we had two of our worst shooting nights, we also had two of our best perimeter-defensive nights. Our opponents shot 32% and 29% from the arc in those two games - our second- and third-best numbers of the season. Strange as it seems with our stable of good 3-point shooters, in those two games we got back to what Steve Shields teams have done best in the past: hard-nosed perimeter defense and making do on offense.

All the nay-sayers and complainers who are waiting for Shields to get fired may get their way this year. He has had a long run in Little Rock - longer than most coaches could have expected - and I suspect that he has run out of time. But if this team gets back to playing his kind of ball, they may win a few more games, and for a while longer I will get to enjoy the hard-nosed, blue-collar style of basketball I enjoy.

Who was our first win?

UALR's first win was back in the 1930-31 season under Coach John A. Larson. It was over Catholic HS (I presume the one in Little Rock) by a score of 50-10. At that point we were known as Little Rock Junior College. It was our third game, as we lost the first two against Colonial Baking Co. and State Hospital.

Finishing strong

I have absolutely no inside information, obviously, but with the new AD, whether or not Shields keeps his job may come down, not to how we did this year, but how we finish this year. Will we finish strong? Who could guess that one?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Keep an eye on Coastal

If you want an early dark horse to make some post-season noise, look at Coastal Carolina. They are 14-3 (5-0 conference). Their losses were at UCLA, Chattanooga and Ole Miss (by 3). They have a win at Auburn. Their defense is very stingy and they have a plus-9 rebounding.

Why Butler is winning

Butler is 12-5, so they must be doing something right. One of them is that they hold opponents to 28% from the arc. (Compare that with our 39.8% number, and it looks REALLY good!). Another thing is their shot discipline. They do not have a bunch of good shooters: only two players average over 35% from the arc. However, those two players have taken 54% of the team's attempts from 3-point range. Putting it another way, they have shooters (not "hopers") shooting.


Surprising Belt

It is not hugely surprising that Louisiana is 4-0 at this point, but beyond that things get a little strange. I certainly did not expect the teams tied for second to be Ga Southern and Monroe. Not by a long stretch. And I did not  think the two Arkansas teams would be tied for last. Shows you how much I know, huh?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stats that would make any coach smile

Assist/turnover ratios:

DeVonte Smith 2.45
Josh Hagins 2.14
Ben Dillard 2.08
James Reid 1.90
J. T. Thomas 1.83

Whatever our problems, we are not getting beat by sloppy ball handling and not sharing the ball. And by the way, for a pure shooting guard like Ben to have a 2.14 A/TO is outstanding.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Who would have thought it?

Here we are four or five games into the conference season, and Georgia State is tied for fourth place. I doubt anyone would have predicted that.


Billy Barty - Speaking of pool and golf

The television show Peter Gunn ran from 1958 to 1961. As a private investigator, Gunn had to have reliable sources of information about the underworld. One of his favorites was a little guy named Babby, played by Billy Barty. Barty had a long career, partly because he was a good actor, and partly because he stood 3'9" tall. He was a great addition to the Gunn program, adding a touch of humor that it sometimes needed in the midst of its usually-depressing subject matter. In the first two seasons, Barty could be found in a pool room, taking on all opposition as he pulled his portable stool after him. In the third season he had changed to golf, on the premise that no one would think he could play, and he carried a high handicap.


Reliable Gus

Gus Leeper is shooting 52.4% from the field, the only player at the moment over 50%. Gus is not a spectacular player, but he fills his role and he is reliable.



None of James White, Roger Woods, Mareik Isom nor Gus Leeper is a great rebounder. But as a group, they have done fairly well. We do not usually dominate the boards, but on the year we are -3, which is not awful, and we make up that difference by being ahead of the opposition in turnovers.

This team is good enough

that we ought to win most of our remaining conference games. We ought to finish above .500 if we play like we have in the last two games. If we revert back to the porous defense, we are not likely to beat many. Hopefully the team is learning from what has worked for them.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

One very good stat

Through 15 games we have had 34 less turnovers than our opponents.

App State postgame - Finally!

Well, we finally put it all together and got a W. It feels good!!!!

All the elements were there. Maybe the most complete game this team has played this year. The defense has had two good games in a row now. Maybe we have turned the corner. Holding App State to under 30% from the arc is huge! That is Shields defense.

We won the battle of the boards. Our starting front line were all on their games. We did not shoot the three well, but we did not need to because we were making our shots inside. And 10 of 10 from the line, led by Ben Dillard's 5 for 5.

Game ball to Big Gus Leeper. 6 of 10 with 5 rebounds and a block in only 18 minutes, and only one foul. If we can start getting those kinds of minutes from Gus, all kinds of good things can happen.

I like how that Shields kept his starting five in the game for more minutes. All of them had at least 24 minutes and two of them had 30. And the bench still provided 22 points.

Right now I am very proud of this team. They could have got there dobbers down after the tough loss against Texas State, but they came back with a vengeance. Go Trojans!

Scoring droughts

One of the most interesting things to me is when everyone on a good-shooting team seems to go cold at the same time. Do not ask me what causes this, but it is a fairly common phenomenon. It occurs to me that teams with a solid inside game are less likely to go cold than those who live on the outside, simply because the inside players are taking higher-percentage shots and also have a greater chance of shooting free throws. Few people seem to pay much attention to the inside game these days, but it would seem to me that it would tend to fill in the valleys that come from cold shooting nights.

I am watching the thread on the Pittsburgh at Clemson game, and Pitt has gone six minutes without a basket. Those stretches are frustrating and sometimes ruinous. Would a post game help shrink that problem? I wonder.

The time for a run is now

At the moment, Troy, App State and Ark State are the teams with only one conference win - one game ahead of us on the win side of the ledger. All are easily within reach, but we cannot piddle around and get ourselves any further into the ditch. We need to make a move now. More efforts like we had against Texas State will get us some wins.

Not that far from success

We got manhandled by Georgia State, but our other three conference losses were by a total of ten points, two of them in overtime. So with a few key breaks, we could have been in a considerably different situation (tied for the conference lead) and feeling much better about ourselves. Sometimes in sports inches can turn into miles.

The price for big men

When any team below the money conference level gets a dominant big man, they have a huge leg up on the competition, naturally. That is why they are willing to invest time in "project" types. He may really only help you one year, but one year with a good man is worth at least two of a guard, since good big men are so rare at lower levels.

So often we see either the staff or the player give up on the project before it can come to fruition. The player wants to play, and he probably could be playing a lot more at a lower level. The staff, usually under pressure, needs results now instead of later, and so they want someone who will contribute sooner. Neither is willing to pay the price, because the price for big men is high at this level.

Will Josh be good to his word?

He has tweeted, "I will not blow another game for these seniors." I am sure he means it. Let's hope he keeps his cool under fire, because you know the other teams are going to be working on him to get him to lose his temper. If he controls his emotions and keeps his focus on the game, Josh can be the engine that makes this team go. He has that kind of talent.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The aura is gone

Georgia State may yet win the regular season conference title; it would not surprise me at all. But no one could dispute that their aura of invincibility has been shattered by two straight losses. No longer are they the giant that no one can touch. It ought to make for a much more interesting conference season.

App State preview

They are 4-8. They have wins at Virginia Tech and Arkansas State. Also a "good" loss by one at Alabama. So, on a given night they can be competitive.

They probably will start 6-8, 6-7, 6-3, so size-wise they are in our class. They have a slew of 6-8 to 6-9 guys on the roster.

They have two players in double figures. Frank Eaves (6-2) is their main scoring threat at 16.3 ppg. They do not shoot well at all (41.2% overall and 30% from the arc).They are essentially even on rebounding. Tommy Spagnolo (6-7) is their main board man at 7.6 rpg. Their starting center (Michael Obacha) at 6-8 does not score much, but he makes his shots when he does shoot (72.7%).

Logically, this is a game we should win, but we said that against South Alabama, and look what happened. We will have to bounce back very quickly from the killer at Texas State. We need short memories.

RealtimeRPI has us by 13 points (fancy that!). Sagarin has us by a more realistic 3 points.

THIS looks like one of the the main App State message boards.

HERE is the App State official site preview.

HERE is our official site preview.

Texas State postgame - this one really hurt

Finally our guys did what they are supposed to do. They dominated the boards; they held TSU to 32% from the arc; they made their free throws. And still they fell just short. Ouch!

Our inside players did their job, with 15 rebounds and 20 points between them, plus a couple of blocks. Mareik Isom got a start and had a nice game. The bench did their part.

It is hard to fault anything - EXCEPT Josh Hagins' lack of self control. We had the game in hand, and he gets a technical at a critical spot and lets TSU climb back into the game immediately. He is killing us!

Now I worry about our kids just getting down and giving up. It is going to be tough.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The offensive bias

You could be the best defensive player in the nation, and you would get relatively little press because of that, unless your offensive stats were also pretty good. If your offense was negligible, you would get virtually no recognition. If the opposite is true, and you are the best offensive player in the nation, but your defense is awful, you still would be hailed from all quarters as one of the great ones.

Fighting off pessimism

               At this point in the season, we still have time to get things straightened out (if things are straightenable) and finish strong in the conference season. But time is ticking. And with every loss there is a risk that the team will get discouraged and effort may begin to lag. Whatever our record, you want the team to play hard, but if their hearts are not in it, that is difficult. It falls to the coaching staff to keep them motivated, and if the feeling persists that the staff is on its way out the door, it could be impossible.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Texas State preview

This looks like one of the old-style Steve Shields teams: defense is king. And I have no doubt at all that after their gusty win at Georgia State the players have bought into his system. if they had any doubts before.

They are 8-4, with two of their wins being over on-D1 teams. They got pounded by Texas, but a lot of teams can say that this year.

They probably will start a front line of 6-8, 6-7, 6-4, and have 6-11 and 6-8 on the bench. Emani Gant is their main scorer (13.7) and the only player in double figures. However, they have four more in the 7-9 point range, so they are balanced. They are essentially even in rebounding.

Their main claim to fame, however, is their defense. They hold opponents to 39.9% overall and 30.5% from the arc. They held Georgia State’s R. J. Hunter to 3 of 16 shooting and 0-10 from the arc. GSU as a team shot 13% from the arc. So, it looks like they are prepared to go head-to-head with our 3-point shooters without any fear. Plus, they forced GSU into an uncharacteristic 17 turnovers.

Danny Kaspar came in as a highly-recommended coach, and the Belt is beginning to find out why. Playing them at their place I don’t hold out much hope for the 0-3 Trojans. But, who knows?

RealtimeRPI has Texas State by 13.
Sagarin has them by 12.

Guess who is alone in last place?

That right. Your Trojans. 0-3. Ugly. Embarrassing. Inexcusable. The good news is that we have games to go that we could win, and even if we don't, we haven't lost them yet, so they don't hurt yet, and they aren't embarrassing yet. See, lots of good news.

Turnover at Georgia State

After last season, five underclassmen listed on Georgia State's roster did not return (LaRon Smith, Kevin Shaw, Jaylen Hinton, Darius Sharpe, Rashaad Richardson). I know absolutely nothing about the circumstances of their departures, but that is quite a few to lose.

This year, their starting five is playing over 75% of the available minutes. And the first two players off the bench are seniors. To this point in the season, non-starting non-seniors have played only 317 minutes, and 172 of those are by one player. Reckon they will have similar turnover again? Hmmmm?

Georgia State's Achilles heel?

As of today, R. J. Hunter (the coach's son) has shot 117 three-point shots. That is 50.4% of all the attempts from the arc that the team has made. (It is 15.1% of ALL the attempts the team has made.) Preference like that is usually reserved for someone who shoots about 45%, or something in that order of magnitude. Yet he is shooting only 28.2%. It is not as though they do not have any other 3-point shooters, because Ryan Harrow is at 40.4% , Ryann Green is at 35.3% and Kevin Ware is at 38.1%. Yet Daddy allows Junior to blast away. I mean, for their opponents, if he is not going to shoot any better than 28.2%, then let him shoot!

No equalizer

Defense is the great equalizer. It lets offensively-challenged teams stay in games and even win some. It lets teams stay in games when they have off shooting nights. Take away defense and either of those situations too often turn into routs.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Dillard needs to call a team meeting NOW

Of the three seniors, Ben Dillard has had the most playing time and is the person whose legacy is most on the line. It would be a crying shame for his senior year to dissolve into more of what has been going on lately. This whole situation has the feel of one that is perilously close to spinning out of control.

Gary Parrish misses the point.

What I found interesting about this informal poll is how the most common answer from casual fans -- that the SEC simply "doesn't care about basketball" -- literally never came up when the question was presented to people who have more than a surface-level understanding of the sport and this league. And for what it's worth, the men's basketball budgets in the SEC expose that explanation -- that the SEC simply "doesn't care about basketball" -- as little more than an oft-repeated phrase that holds no merit. - from Gary Parrish of CBS Sportsline.

Parrish totally misses the point. With the exception of three or maybe four schools, NO ONE in the SEC cares about basketball. (Oh, they will say they care, but they do not really.) In the first place, the average SEC sports fan does not even think about basketball until the NCAA tournament: he is too busy keeping up with football recruiting. The schools spend lots of money (after all, they have it to spend), but if basketball is bad, the average fan will not even notice. Let the football team be bad, and they will RIOT. Mr. Parrish, it is not about the schools' budgets; it is about a fan base that simply does not care about anything except football.

Revising my previous statement

At this point, .500 in conference is looking entirely wishful thinking. Yuck!

South Alabama game - bad times are here again!

"Is your program in the doldrums. Are you unable to beat even the Sunnyvale Nursing Home? Are your players shooting like they were blind? Come on down to Little Rock! Get your team back on track. Enjoy the wonderful hospitality of our patented Non-Defense. We want our visitors to feel at home."

Let's get the good news out of the way first. Roger Woods had a solid 14-12 double/double. James Reid and Ben Dillard both had very good nights on offense. Mareik Isom undoubtedly earned himself more playing time with a wonderful 19 minutes in which he did not miss a shot and pulled down 5 rebounds. We had 14 assists against 8 turnovers.

After that, it stinks! James White just disappeared. J. T. Thomas and Josh Hagins couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. We got hammered 35 to 28 on the boards. And, in what has become a nauseatingly consistent statistic, USA hit 41.2% of their three-point shots, and 47.8% overall.

I guess we have just passed a team resolution that we are not going to play defense any more. Well, that ought to please a lot of our fans. They have been complaining for years that Shields' teams played a boring, defense-first game. We have solved that problem. Defense is totally irrelevant now. EVERYBODY SCORES. Come to the Jack Stephens Center for the circus. Run down the court and shoot. There won't be anybody on the Trojan end of the court that gives you any problems.

One question, though: how does Gus Leeper play 12 minutes without getting a single statistic other than minutes played?

Monday, January 5, 2015

It did not take Danny Kaspar long

With their gutsy double overtime win at current glamour program Georgia State, Danny Kaspar's Texas State Bobcats have established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Sun Belt. Kaspar came in with a strong reputation for building a program on a deliberate style that emphasizes good basketball.

I figured that Kaspar would have TSU in the mix eventually, but he has them on a little faster track than I had reckoned. Hats off to the Bobcats.


.500 in conference looking likely

We are not looking like a team that is going to go on the road and beat very many people. I expect we will do reasonably well at home, but to win on the road it helps to have an inside game that shoots a high percentage and controls the boards, and tough defense. We have not much of one and zero of the other.

Life Behind the Mike


Four seasons ago my son-in-law, Josh Jones, was in what was to be his final year as head football coach at J. D. Leftwich High School in Magazine. Magazine is a town of just less than 1000 people in west-central Arkansas. The school had just constructed a new basketball arena to replace the outdated gym they had had. The new facility had a public address system, and evidently someone had asked Josh to find someone to do the PA duties, so he asked me if I would be interested. It seemed like it might be fun, so I accepted, and have been doing it since.

One of the real advantages of the PA man is that he is where the action is. He hears the coaches muttering to their assistants and their complaints to the officials. He gets to hear the exchanges between the coaches and the refs – things the typical fan often cannot hear. (Some of the coaches are quite creative in their complaints.) After a few years he even gets casually acquainted with the visiting coaches and the regular officials, at least enough for cordial exchanges with them before games. (He even gets invited to be the announcer for special events like homecoming and senior night.) In all honesty, it has been great fun, even though at times it can be a little stressful.

Sometimes the opposing coaches have a printed lineup, but most of the time the announcer has to spend a few hurried minutes jotting down the numbers and names of the opposing teams on a sheet of paper. If he happened to be a little late arriving, he may have to hustle. Then he has to try to get the pronunciations correct. In my youth, if you could pronounce Smith and Jones you usually were home free; but even rural schools abound with ethnic names these days, and since I do want to try to say them right, I have to spend a minute or two quizzing someone from the other team so I can jot down a phonetic pronunciation. Then there are the variant spellings of given names. It seems to be the trend these days to change a letter or two in your child’s name to make it unique. That may be fun for the family, but it can make life quite “interesting” for the PA guy. (Do you have any idea how many ways there are to spell Katelyn?) A couple of years ago Magazine had an exchange student who was a senior, and so I had to announce his parents on Senior Night. My eyes got wide when he told me his mother’s name. I gave it my best shot, but I doubt I got it right. Fortunately she was not there to hear it.

I have learned that there is a rhythm to announcing the games, and it is a game or two into the season before I get back into the swing of things. Look at the play, look down at the sheet to get the name, make the call, watch to see who the foul is called on, wait for your colleague running the clock to put up how many fouls there have been on that player and how many team fouls – then TRY to squeeze in all that before the free throw is shot, because you obviously do not want to make any noise to disturb the shooter. If the basket is by the home team, you want to put a little pizzazz on the name, but often the nearside ref will be standing between you and the play, so it is several seconds before you can inquire of the others at the scorer’s table to find out who it was, and by then the teams are headed toward the other end of the court. One thing I have learned is that it is better to say nothing than to get it wrong. Nothing the announcer does is official: you are just window dressing, and the crowd is better off wondering than mislead. Even at that I make mistakes. At one game this year I was announcing the starting lineup for the opposing team and looked too far down on the list for the last player – past the players to the coach. I had their coach twenty years younger and back on the court before he knew it. Thankfully, he had a sense of humor. And obviously, the announcer has to be very careful that he does not inadvertently comment on anything that could be picked up by the mike. The crowd is not interested in your opinion of the officiating or the play.

The schools with new facilities in the district and region are usually given “first dibs” on hosting the year-end tournament, and we handled both of them in the same year. For the uninitiated, that means 16 games in four nights – and they do not piddle around between games. The advantage is that the rosters are all pre-printed, which saves the announcer some time. The disadvantage is that the breaks between games are shorter and you have only a limited amount of time to take care of whatever has to be done. Also, the announcer cannot show favoritism in the tournaments, so the names of the players have to be called with equal emphasis, and it is a little hard to remember not to put extra zip on the home team names.

I have to say that Athletic Director Randy Loyd and the other coaches and staff at Magazine have been exceptionally helpful and patient. It had been a good many years since I had been an active part of a school system, even in an unofficial auxiliary capacity, and it has been enjoyable to be a part of the team again.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

South Alabama pregame

They are 2-10 so far. Both wins were over non-D1 teams. However, they lost in OT to Middle Tennessee, IUPUI and Ark State, so with a few breaks their record could have been somewhat better. Their front line goes 6-9, 6-6, 6-3. They have three 6-8 players on the roster.

This is a team that suffers from myopia (they can't find the basket). They shoot 39.5% overall and 31.3% from the arc. On the flip side, their perimeter defense is very good as they hold opponents 30.2% from the three-point circle. They rebound basically even. They have two players who average in double figures.

Sagarin picks us by 8.
RealtimeRPI picks us by 16.

The first two games did not prove much, except that we are not as good as the teams we assumed were better than we were. If we do not win this one fairly easily at home, it is time to be worried.

He played with Nate Thurmond

In the late 1980's I worked for just over a year in the office of a small furniture manufacturer in Greenwood, Arkansas. The gentleman who was the scheduler shared my office. He was tall (probably 6-3 or 6-4), reserved in personality and easy to get along with. I enjoyed working with him.

One day we were visiting about things in general and the conversation somehow drifted to sports. He revealed that in his youth he played basketball, and evidently was pretty good. He said he played frequently in pick-up games in which one of the players was Nate Thurmond. For those of you who are younger, Thurmond was one of the all-time great post players in NBA history. Over a 15-year NBA career he averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds per game. In 1967-68 he averaged 20.5 ppg and 22.0 rpg. He was the first player in NBA history to record a quadruple-double and was recognized as one of the 50 greatest players in the first 50 years of the NBA. LINK You might notice that the video clip shows, among other things, Thurmond blocking the sky hook by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Needless to say, I was impressed with our scheduler if that was the company he kept on the court.


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Do not judge anything by Georgia State

They have one player who was at Kentucky (#1), one who was at Louisville (#5), and one who could have played anywhere in the country he wanted to. Throw in a couple of role players who would be much more than role players on other teams, and that is a line-up that no one in the Sun Belt is going to be able to match up with on any regular basis. They may lose occasionally, but those will be flukes. At the moment their talent is in a class by itself in the Belt. Even they will not be able to maintain this level of play forever because they will not maintain this level of talent.

Georgia State post-game

We did well what we do well. We shot a ton of 3's, and we shot them well, and we had a positive A/TO ratio. James White protected the rim with four blocks. So far, so good. But after that, it gets ugly.

We got beat on the boards by 4 by at team that is not a strong rebounding group. We sent GaState to the line 30 times. We let them shoot 42% from the arc. When you play a team like GSU, you can't have any glaring holes in your game if you expect to win. We did. We got beat.

We did shoot the three well. You have to give us that. J. T. Thomas 3 of 9. James Reid 4 of 7. Ben Dillard 3 of 7. Mareik Isom 2 of 4. That kind of multi-barrelled shooting will win most games in the Sun Belt - but most games are not against Georgia State. Our shooting is strong enough and diverse enough that we will beat some folks with it. But we are going to get clobbered on the boards most of the time with a 6-8, 6-5, 6-3 front line. And even though we did have 19 assists (impressive), we also had 17 turnovers, and forcing turnovers is how GSU wins games. They won this one.

Give the game ball to Ben Dillard. 5 of 9 from the field. 3 of 7 from the arc. 4 rebounds. 5 assists, 2 steals. One turnover.

Proud to be a Trojan fan

Think about it: what if you were a fan of Kentucky or Louisville or West Virginia and had to root for a team coached by those guys? Whatever are our failings as a program, at least we have had a team that you did not have to blush when you wore a Trojan T-shirt. We have not had the success we ought to have had, but at least if we make a coaching change it will be because of a lack of performance on the court, not because of off-court drama - and that is a fact of which I am very proud.

Who would have been the face of the program?

Without doubt Derek Fisher is the face of Little Rock Trojans basketball. He is by far the best-known player to have played here and has given us a good bit of national publicity just by his connection with the school. We love Fish in Little Rock.

However, if Fish had only had modest success in the NBA and his career there had been short-lived for whatever reason, one wonders who might have been our most identifiable player. Larry Johnson dominates the record book for post players. James Scott is our all-time leading scorer. Myron Jackson was the top scorer on the team that beat Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament. Vaughn Williams was one of the great guards in UALR history and hold the career records in both steals and assists. And, Fisher himself had a wonderful career at Little Rock, even apart from his professional efforts. In short, there are a lot of candidates for the "Mr. Trojan Award" had Fish not had a headliner NBA career. So, it makes an interesting question about which to speculate.


Nice TV spot on J. T. Thomas


J.T. Thomas 1559137

Friday, January 2, 2015

NJIT: will they find a conference?

Jersey Tech made everyone's day by beating Michigan this year. They have five other wins to go with that one so far. The question at this point is whether or not the Highlanders will be able to leverage their season into a slot in one of the conferences, since they are the only remaining Independent in D1 basketball. Assuming they would like a conference home, I doubt they will be in a better position than they are now.


Conference play - when things get serious

The Top 25 teams are testing themselves against one another to see if they qualify for a  Final Four run. The best of the non-money-conference teams are working hard to make sure they are in position to get an at-large bid if they need one.

For the rest of us, non-conference is just a warm-up, getting out the kinks before conference play begins. Then we will be playing against our own kind - teams we know we ought to be able to match up with. I love the non-conference season because it gives scope to the basketball world and lets me know how things stand comparatively among the conferences. But to us at Little Rock, who are unlikely ever to get an at-large bid, the serious work begins when Belt teams start coming in.


I HATE to see "Arkansas-Little Rock"

If I were the new AD I would start an immediate campaign with the media to get that forevermore expunged from the public's mind. Using that name is sort of like saying "Ugly Step-sister of Fayetteville at Little Rock."

Flops and bumps

To me it seems logical that a player does not want to do anything that would make him less able to play basketball the right way. Enter flops and bumping other players to get fouls.

If you flop and the ref does not call a foul, then you are on the floor - not able to defend or do anything more than crawl. A good ref will call the foul if it was a foul. You are only taking yourself out of play when you flop.

Same with jumping into other players to get fouls. That particular movement is going to take a player out of the normal posture and rhythm for the best shot, so why do it? It is better to shoot right and probably make the shot than to change your shot trying to get a "maybe." At least it seems that way to me. Do what you are supposed to be doing and the rest will take care of itself.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another dubious distinction for UCA

They are the only winless team in D1. None even in the SWAC. Has to be tough.

James White improving at the line

Last year James White shot 61.3% from the free throw line - not horrible but certainly not great. This year he is shooting 70.2%, and since he is second on the team in FT attempts, that is a very significant improvement.

Shields still is not making the hard personnel decisions

We have ten players averaging between 11.2 and 28.2 minutes per game. The low number is too high and the high number is too low. Furthermore, we have seven players averaging at least 21.3 minutes per game. There has to be some differentiation in ability among the top ten and the top seven. Some of the players have to be significantly better than others, and so they should be playing significantly more minutes. I do not care at all who starts; that is purely ceremonial. What I care about is our most effective five being on the floor the most possible minutes, and with the minutes/game pattern we have that cannot be happening.

How we might beat Georgia State

There probably is not one chance in ten that we can do it, but if we do, here is how it might be done.

1. Win big time on the boards. They are rebounding better this year than last, but in two of their losses they got hammered in their rebounding deficit. This will be tough to do for an undersized team that has had its own rebounding problems.

2. Win the turnover margin battle. This season this accomplishment might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Ryan Harrow will play practically the whole game, and his A/TO ratio is an excellent 2.79. But our point guards have done very well with that stat themselves, so if Harrow is off a little, we might do it.

3. Get their Big Two in foul trouble. Harrow has fouled out once this year, but the two of them average less than 3 fouls per game each, so it is not likely. Since both of them are in the game together almost all the time, if either of them is not in the game, obviously it changes their game plan significantly.

Georgia State pregame

If we cannot handle Louisiana at home, there is not much chance we can handle Georgia State on the road, but you actually have to play the games to have an outcome. The Panthers are 8-4. Their losses were to Iowa State, Colorado State, Old Domnion and Green Bay. Their best win was probably over Green Bay.

They probably will start 6-10, 6-6, 6-6 across the front line, with no one taller than 6-8 to bring off the bench.

They will keep Hunter and Harrow in the game every minute they can (35-plus, probably). They play what looks like an 8-man rotation, but obviously it is the other three guys who are rotating. Their overall defense is outstanding (39.6%) and their perimeter defense is solid (33.2%). Their rebounding is much improved this year (only minus 2) and it is a group effort, because no one averages as many as 6 per game. They shoot the ball well.

Their big strength is in the turnover battle. They have turned the ball over 125 times, but opponents have coughed it up 195 teams. Our having two point guards on the floor much of the time should be an asset for us.

In the losses to Old Dominion and Colorado State, they got pounded on the boards, and against Green Bay they had a few more turnovers than usual.

Sagarin has Georgia State by 17. RealtimeRPI has them by 16. I hope we stay that close.