Monday, November 30, 2015

Historic start in Pine Bluff?

I do not know their history very well, but I would expect that this year is one of the Golden Lion's best starts since they  became D1. They have two non-SWAC D1 wins against Seattle and this last game against Southeastern Louisiana.

Where Jalen Jackson will help us

He only has 41 minutes so far (11th highest on the team), but he has the third-highest FT attempts (10), and has made nine of them. He gets to the line and makes the opponents pay for the foul.

Marcus Johnson for Sixth Man of the Year

He has not started a game, but he has the third-highest minutes played total on the team. He leads the team in 3-pointers made. He leads the team in FTs made. He is second in steals.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Come on down, UCA!

My youngest son-in-law and I at last year's UCA game grudge match. Unfortunately, his bunch had to return home after the long holiday weekend, so he will miss it this season.

'UALR vs UCA grudge match'

Saturday, November 28, 2015


       I like what I have seen in Coach Beard so far. The program has an enthusiasm it has lacked for a while, and it looks like Beard insists on a solid brand of basketball. It was time for a coaching change, and I have supported the change.
       However, it is ironic to me that a large portion of the enthusiasm at the announcement of the new coach appeared to be because it was assumed he would bring in a more wide-open, high-scoring offense than what had been seen under Steve Shields. I do not yet know about the wide-open part, but the high-scoring part has yet to be seen (and, of course, that is OK with me, being the reactionary curmudgeon that I am). Through five games, we are averaging 67.6 points per game, and two of those games were against non-D1 teams. In twelve seasons under Shields, the Trojans averaged at least 67.6 ppg four times, and barely missed it another. And what is more to the point, in our three games against D1 opponents so far this year, we have averaged 55.7 ppg., well below our lowest average (61.9) under Shields. Even against Tulsa, when we shot lights out, we only scored 64 points. Furthermore, the totals this year are under the new 30 second clock instead of 35 as in the Shields era, which means this team should have a few more possessions in which to score.
       There are come caveats here. The team is learning a new system and it is logical to assume that we will get better at it as we go, and our scoring will go up as a result. Second, half of the pace of a game is controlled by the opposition, and it is entirely possible that one of the reasons for the lower scoring is that the small sample of opponents so far just play at a slower pace, and that our average will come up as we go further into the season.
       We may play a more exciting offensive style now than we did under Coach Shields. We certainly are starting off winning games. Excitement about the program has taken a sharp uptick over previous years. All that is true and is reason for real optimism. However, at least so far, whatever positive vibes there are about the program this year are not because we immediately began scoring at a vastly higher rate.

The offense will come around

We have too many scorers and shooters on this team for our offense to stay off-track the way it has been. We just have to be patient. We have several guys who can be explosive and could burst out at any time. I am more concerned about our rebounding, because I think that problem may be harder to fix.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Good guards

One thing that is apparent even at this early date is that we have a strong corps of guards. Johnson, Hagins, Osse, Ruttley. Maybe not the absolute best in the Belt (time will tell), but it has to be among the top groups.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thoughts on the East Carolina game

     Just for the record, I love this kind of win. "Ugly" wins, where the team has to reach down deep, play killer defense, never say die. My kind of basketball. Blue collar basketball. Knowing that we are able to win these kinds of games is one of the most positive things we could learn about this team at this point in the season. If we only win when we are hot shooting, then we will lose a lot of games. Coach Beard has done first things first, and being able to win these type games will give the team a toughness and swagger that will serve it well down the line. "We don't care what you throw at us: we can handle it. We can win pretty; we can win ugly. We just get it done."
     Marcus Johnson, Jermaine Ruttley and Josh Hagins are going to play a LOT of minutes this season.
     It is a good thing we are keeping our turnovers low, because we are getting killed on the boards. Of course, you do not have to do everything well if you do a few things superlatively well. We shot lousy, we rebounded lousy - BUT we defended great and we took very good care of the ball. Good teams do what they have to do to win. We did, and we won. Chalk it up!
    Now the bad news. We cannot count on things coming together just right to allow us to win without any offense. Even against good defense, teams sometimes shoot well, and our opponents will sooner or later. We are going to have to find an answer to the rebounding issue. That is a formula for disaster if we do not get it fixed.
     The point is that Coach Beard is getting the first things in place first. I like that. We are winning on defense and taking care of the ball. The offense will come. I hope the rebounding gets better. The point is it will only get better from here, and even with several cylinders not yet firing, we are 4-0.
     Now to the game stats. Big tip of the hat to Mareik Isom and Jermaine Ruttley for six big rebounds each on a night when their shots were not falling. We hit our FTs, and that is huge when we are cold from the floor. Marcus Johnson 6 for 6 from the line. Lis Shoshi is still blocking shots. With a small line-up we are going to need that.
     Good win for the Trojans. The offense is going to break loose any time, and it should be something to see when it does. In the meantime, a win is a win.

Why coaches get migraines

Colorado's Tory Miller was kicked out of their game with Air Force for biting another player. And, of course, now it is spread over all the major websites. Great advertising for your program, huh?

Who is our Glue Guy?

Every team needs that player who will not lead the team in scoring, or any other stat, but who shows up all over the box score doing the little things: a steal here, a block there, an assist at the right moment. And further, he makes the hustle plays that do not show up in the stats at all. Who is our Glue Guy? Those that most fit the description are probably Maurius Hill and Stetson Billings. But that is just a guess.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Everybody says it, but few define it

"We are going to the next level." Meaning what, exactly. Few say specifically what they mean. That is convenient, of course, because you can put a definition on it later that fits wherever you happen to be at the time.

The mystery of walk-ons

I understand that if a walk-on is a Physical Education major or is planning on becoming a coach there is a direct relationship between the experience of being on a team and his career path. However, absent those two scenarios, a kid must really love the game to do everything necessary to be a walk-on in college basketball. It takes a tremendous amount of time - time that could be spent studying or working at a paying job. There is not even a realistic expectation of actually getting onto the floor during a game for a significant amount of time. So, why the expenditure of time and effort on something that would appear to yield very little reward? If it is just playing the game that is involved, then the kids could play pick-up games, or get involved in some sort of community league. A mystery to me.

Georgia Southern will grow up in a hurry

Their top eight scorers are freshmen or sophomores, and only two upperclassmen have played three games into the season. Youth movement big time.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A long season for App State?

From their numbers after four games, things are not looking too rosy for Appalachian State this year. They are 1-3. Their defense is bad; their shooting is even worse. They are getting beaten on the boards, and they do not even shoot free throws well. They do actually have a couple of pretty good guards, but their bench is pretty sad. The non-starters are shooting an abysmal 30% overall.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Marquette over LSU - a satisfying result

Marquette, from the Big East (where basketball matters and where they do not have television football dollars) edged out LSU, who roll in SEC football money, and their one-and-done star Ben Simmons. Very satisfying!

The numbers I like best so far

I realize we are only three games into the season, and two of those were of the "gimme" variety, but I still like a couple of the numbers I see. First off, we have held opponents to 33.1% shooting overall. That is outstanding, even if the opposition is sub-par. Second, we have a 1.16 team A/TO ratio, which is very good. If we hold those two numbers, we will win a lot of games this season.

What has impressed me most about Beard so far

He has not put up with whatever nonsense is going on with Jalen Jackson. Jackson fits into a range where we are very thin (only two players between 6-5 and 6-10), and losing his services hurts; but Coach did not hesitate to set him down.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Early returns on FTs

Only three games into the season, but it looks like this is going to be a good FT shooting team. We are at 73.5% at the moment, which is pretty fair. And that is a solid number, because the quality of the competition would having nothing to do with it.

Thoughts on the San Diego State game

This will be one of our toughest opponents all year - maybe the toughest. What really impressed me is that we beat them with Plan B, and that is encouraging. A lot of teams really do not have a second option. Some teams that play perimeter-oriented offenses cannot win when the game turns into a slugfest, low scoring, with shooting percentages low; but we did. A lot of 3-point shooting teams just do not know to play blue collar (or are not willing to), but we did, and we did it well enough to win. That showed me a lot.

Our rebounding needs work, obviously. Point of emphasis in the weeks ahead. But with the size disadvantage we had, that was to be expected. The point is that we rolled with that punch and gave back one of our own by avoiding turnovers, which SDS did not do. We will win most games when we only turn the ball over six times.

Still a lot of things to work on. This is still a work in progress. But we showed something of our toughness Saturday, and that goes a LONG way toward a winning season.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Izzo in November

According to ESPN, Tom Izzo of Michigan State is 56-0 at home in November. That is not quite as impressive as it sounds, because an awful lot of home games for teams at that level are buy-a-win sorts. Still, he hasn't lost one, and they have not all been cupcakes.

Ruttley appears to be the real deal

Small sampling so far, but Jermaine Ruttley appears to be a legit talent. He is versatile and ought to complement Josh Hagins very well.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The highs and lows of Josh Hagins

Josh is one of the most versatile players you will ever see. He is a stat sheet stuffer - big time. Even if he is not scoring, look over on his line in the box score and you will see rebounds (lots of them for a guard), assists, steals, blocks - all the little things that help win ballgames. He does lots of things to help his team. The downside to Josh's game is that sometimes it appears that he forces a lot of shots. It looks like he feels like he ought to be doing more offensively, and so his shooting percentage is sometimes lower than it could be. Of course, the next game he may break out with a huge game, so you just never know about him on the shooting part of the game. But in everything else he will be right in there, making things work for the team.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Marcus Johnson Show

Sure, it was against a D-3 team, but Marcus Johnson put on a show tonight. How long has it been since anyone scored 30 points for us? He came in advertised as a high-quality point guard distributor, but he was shooting like a 2 guard tonight. Coach Beard will have to be re-evaluating his playing time decisions, I predict.

It's all relative

Vanderbilt won their first two games over Austin Peay and Gardner-Webb by 39 and 36 points respectively, playing everyone but the waterboy. We played two non-D1 teams. Same difference, except that they can afford to bring in D1 teams to beat up, and we cannot.

All the bad news

Between news about players being hurt and players and coaches getting into trouble, there is not much room left on the national basketball sites for any good news.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Getting a feel for the team

The first three games this year will tell us virtually nothing about this team. However, the stretch from East Carolina through Northern Arizona ought to be somewhat comparable to what we will be facing in the Sun Belt this year, so we should get a pretty fair read on how the team ought to do in conference play.

The temptation of depth

When a roster is deep, there always exists the temptation for the coach to play too many players. A college kid who is in game shape can play 30 minutes a game, or maybe 25 if he is a big man. The  balance is all the rest he needs. By skillful rotation, the coach can keep his best players fresh, and at least three or four of them on the floor at any given time. The rest of the time gets divided among the rest of the players - and that isn't much time.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Talk about a killer start!

Siena's first two games this year happened to be Duke (defending national champ) and Wisconsin (national runner-up), the first time that has happened since 1985, according to Rivals.

Coach Beard's first win as D1 coach

Congratulations on the start of what I am sure will be a sterling career.

Obviously, this Trojan team is a work in progress. That is to be expected when Coach was putting together so many diverse parts into a new system. Logically, we ought to have won by as many points as we wanted to, but I will take any win.

Our scorers scored and we shot good percentages. We controlled the boards, once we got going. Our overall defense was good, holding them to only 37.3%. So some good things are happening.

The two most glaringly bad stats from the game were CBC's percentage from the arc and our turnovers. We will not win many games when we have 18 turnovers and allow the other team to shoot 53.3% from the 3-point line. Thankfully, we did other things well enough to make up for those lapses.

All in all, a nice win. It showed us some places we need to work, and got that all-important first big W in the books for Coach Beard.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Good start for the Belt

Troy wins over South Florida from the American. Good start for the Sun Belt non-conference season; now the rest of us have to keep it going.

While I am on non-conference wins, Alabama A&M got things going for the lowly SWAC with a win over Tulane.

Friday, November 13, 2015

More evidence - quality does not matter

CBS' Gary Parrish's column, "68 things to get excited about for the 2015-17 college hoops season"

The Keydets are the team least likely to even notice the shot clock change because they play so fast anyway and are rarely bothered by it. They ranked first in tempo last season and have been in the top 10 every season since 2006. They often don't win as much as they lose. But they're always going.

And "always going" is good. Whether or not you win. Whether or not you limit turnovers. Whether or not you play good basketball. Just run and gun. Already we are hearing the clamor to reduce the shot clock to 24 seconds, and I feel sure that will happen. Because good does not matter. Fast is the only thing that matters. Because the concern is not the good of the sport, but the entertainment value of the sport.

I think I will go throw up.

The excitement of the signing periods

We get a glimpse of the future of the program, for better or for worse. It sets in motion rampant speculation, and that is a  good bit of the fun of being a fan.

A T-shirt I would buy

(We don't oink)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What I want to see

               When we enter a new season, it is natural to ask yourself, “What do I want to see from this team this season?” Here are a few items on my wish list.

1.      Coach Beard’s optimism will infect the team – genuinely, and not just superficially.

2.      Defense and rebounding – always, perpetually, intensely, no prisoners. Be a team opponents dread playing.

3.      No big egos on the team, even if there are a few players scoring the most points. Team first. We have a new name this year, and that name needs to be foremost, not the players’ names.

4.      A genuine maturity stemming from the large number of upper-classmen on the roster. Bounce  back quickly from defeats. Keep the valleys from being too low. Focus on the task at hand. Listen to the coaches, and always get better.

5.      Stay on the sports page, not on the front page.

You won't keep Hill off the floor

I am predicting that Maurius Hill will be in the rotation, and may even have starter's minutes when the season is over. The reason is that he does a lot of those little things that help a team win. He is undersized for a 4, and not built for a 3, but he just gets the job done. He rebounds exceptionally well for a player his size, shoots the 3 well enough to get by, and evidently brings a lot of energy to his role. He won't be a star because he is not the flashy type and won't be a primary ball-handler, but if you want to see Ws on the schedule, keep your eye on Hill.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Belt might make some noise and get a little press this year

Shawn Long is getting mentioned a good bit on various websites as one of the best non-money conference players in the nation. Likewise Georgia State about all their high-powered transfers. Monroe is coming off the CBI finals last season. Any of those teams could pull some nice upsets in the non-conference season. Likewise our Trojans, we certainly hope. The top tier of the Belt is pretty salty this year.

Can Josh equal Fish?

What kind of a year will Josh Hagins have to have to equal the career numbers of Derek Fisher?

Fish played in 112 games. Josh already has 93, so he ought to beat that number.

Fish shot 41.3% overall for his career. Josh currently is at 41.9%, so all he has to do is hold his own.

Fish shot 38.0% from the arc. Josh currently stands at 33.9%, so he would have to have a monster year to equal that.

Fish shot 74.7% from the FT line. Josh stands at 80.8%, so he just has to hold his own.

Fish had 488 rebounds (4.4 per game). Josh has 344, or 3.7/game. His best season was his sophomore year, when he had 138 boards. He would need 144 to match Fish's total, and probably does not have a chance to match his average.

Fish had 472 assists. Josh has 303. Even if he matches his best year, he would still be well short of Fish.

Fish had 184 steals. Josh has 127. Last season was his best (52), so he will have to beat that a little bit to match Fish's total.

Fish had 1393 points (12.4 per game). Josh has 1012 (10.9 per game), or 381 short. His best season was 385 points his sophomore year, so if he matches that, he would pass Fish's total points,  but his average is likely out of reach.

Hope for the big guys

I liked what I saw in the stats from the exhibition game in that Shoshi and Green both had some good numbers. Maybe the inside game will be a factor for us this year. We certainly have the size. Maybe we are going to use it after all. Hope so.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Revisiting one-and-done once again

I realize that with all the transfers going on - at all levels - school spirit is somewhat a thing of the past. But I trust it is not obliterated entirely just yet. Except among the one-and-done crowd. They certainly do not go to a school because of school spirit, since they do not intend to stay there. What minor connection they might have with the school is merely with the head coach personally. No "win one for the maroon and silver" for them.

Easy living on the perimeter

               I have commented on this before, but I’ll say it again. I have absolutely no statistical proof, but it just seems to me that teams that lean on the 3-point shot seem to be “soft.” Offense from the arc is so protected (3 free throws per foul), that there is little risk of having to get your hands dirty when you are bombing away from the arc. And, since you are scoring at a 3:2 ratio, there is little incentive (so most think) to venture into the trenches. The trouble is that that mental softness seems to carry over into other parts of the game, notably defense and rebounding. It takes a bulldog to do those well. The PA guy never yells “THREEEEEEEEEEE” for the blue collar guys doing the dirty work.

It does not have to be that way. Three-point teams are not forced to be white-collar, “soft” teams, but it just seems like far too often that is the case. I firmly believe it is a mental attitude fostered by the “easy  pickings” of the 3-point arc.

Hagins and Ruttley

I am curious to see how this pair works together when they are on the floor at the same time. Both are versatile, well-rounded players who do a lot of things well. Ought to be fun.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Junk Man Supreme

I really liked what I saw in Maurius Hill's numbers in the exhibition game. Typical performance from him - doing it all, and doing it well. Maurius is a stat-stuffer type. He rebounds exceptionally well for his size, shoots the three well enough to get by, makes lots of hustle-type plays. The type of player coaches love, guys who do the little things that win games.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

UAFS exhibition game

Hard to tell much from this type of game. But it does look like Shoshi and Green are the real deal, assuming they can maintain the pace against D1 competition. Maurius Hill pulled down 12 boards, plus a block and three steals, which confirmed his toughness from last season. Ruttley gave more evidence that he is a good all-round player. Unexpectedly, Kemy Osse was our best 3-point shooter. A few nice things from the game. Our perimeter shooting was not very good. Take away Osse and we were 1 out of 10, but that will improve, especially when Isom gets healthy.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

One and done just leaves me cold

The "One and Done" phenomenon is college basketball at its worst. It demeans the game into being merely a minor league for the NBA. It relieves coaches of having to do much teaching over time, since they do not have the players for very much time and are basically renting their talent as it is for a year. It penalizes coaches and programs who do things the right way. There is just nothing good about it.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Belt needs some wins

For several seasons the Sun Belt has been slogging around in the lower half of the middle third (mid-majors, strictly speaking) of the RPI/Sagarin rankings. Holding our own at best. Now that realignment seems to be finished for the time being, we need to begin to claw our way up the basketball food chain, and the ONLY way to do that is to get some wins against teams from higher-ranked conferences. This is the year to get it done.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Get set for a special season

It is not often that we get to watch a really special player in the final year of a four-year career at Little Rock. That is the opportunity we will have this season as Josh Hagins closes out one of the great careers in Trojan history. Every game will see him moving up in multiple categories on the all-time lists.

And remember: Little Rock was where he wanted to play.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Looking forward to Ruttley

First off, Jermaine Ruttley is a senior, so he has been to the wars. Second, he is accustomed to being a Go-to guy. He averaged 17.4 ppg last year, but that probably was because he was the best player on a horrible team. He is not a bad shooter overall for a guard (45.1%), but was a terrible shooter last year from the arc (29.5%). I suspect a good bit of that was because no shooting discipline at all was imposed upon him, since even that poor number was second-best on the team. He probably had a green light and just kept blasting away regardless of the outcome. I doubt that will be the case with Coach Beard. He may have a green light, but he will be expected to make shots, since we do have several other very good options.