Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Instant boost from CCU

I have no idea how they do in the other sports, but in men's basketball and baseball, the SBC will get instant help from Coastal Carolina. If recent history is any indicator, they should be immediately in the upper tier of both sports.

Statistical oddities

They mean practically nothing, but I am intrigued when I encounter freakish statistical situations. For example, this past season, Southern Illinois shot 45.3% overall on 1827 attempts. Their opponents collectively shot 45.3%, except on 1687 attempts. That means nothing, except that the Salukis managed to take more shots than their opponents. But it is (very) mildly interesting.

The plain vanilla of basketball

Three-point shooting has become the vanilla ice cream of basketball. The game is so slanted toward the arc that everyone concentrates on it. Players focus on it. Most everything else is neglected in favor of it. Three-point shooters are a dime a dozen. If you don't have several gunners, then you are really in trouble, and your recruiting is really bad.

In ice cream, it is the other flavors that are distinctive, not vanilla. Vanilla is everywhere. The three-point shot took the basketball world by storm when it was introduced, but it is too easy. The game is weighted too firmly in its favor. There is no reason to concentrate on anything else, at least to any great extent. (I am overstating the case, but I hope you get my point.) It is now the other things, the things that used to be drilled into players' heads over and over and over, that are the unique factors in basketball, the things that you sadly do not find everywhere.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

How much will the habit carry over?

We won a lot of games last season. A lot of mature players from that team are returning this year. How much that winning habit carries over remains to be seen, but it definitely is worth something. This group of seniors now has something to prove. We'll see how badly they want it.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The hometown connection

You want to get good talent for your program, all up and down the line of players and staff. However, if that talent can be local talent without surrendering quality, so much the better. That is particularly important to us right now as we try to cement our position as "Little Rock's Team" in the minds of central Arkansas fans.

Because of that, I really liked the hiring of Brandon Patterson. He was a good player for us, and always impressed me as being a smart player. I do not know what he has been doing since he graduated, but it is good to have him back.

Our team.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Just get 20 wins

Twenty wins is a very nice benchmark for a program at our level, year in and year out. If a team is to the point that they expect to win 20, then the "up" years are pretty good and the "down" years usually are not horrible. And that would apply regardless of the difficulty of the schedule. Even if a team loads up its non-conference with cupcakes, that still would boost the win total to the point that it helps the confidence of the team and probably gets some fan notice. That is not my preferred method, but it would work. Twenty wins will not get an SBC team into an NCAA at-large spot, but if a team is in the habit of playing at that level, you would expect that over time you would occasionally have those special years (like we did this past season) when you at least got into the conversation for a berth. Just win 20, and the rest will take care of itself over time.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Perhaps not realistic, but it is a goal

I wish we were to a point in our program where incoming freshmen just assumed they were not going to play a great deal four a couple of years. I realize that in today's world that probably won't happen at our level, but it ought to be a goal in view. I really like recruiting true freshmen. (I would prefer to redshirt them, but with the graduate transfer rule, that may not be practical.) I also like for freshmen to have to "pay their dues" in learning the game and learning the system. Sure, we would all like to have someone come in who is good enough to immediate upgrade the average talent of the program. Even there, however, if after three years of learning, those seniors have not improved to the point that they surpass even a good freshman, then your seniors just weren't very good to start with.

I guess that is my point: how much your freshmen play ought to be a measuring rod for your program, not only in terms of talent, but also in terms of progress. If your freshmen are playing a lot, then either they are really, really good and your recruiting has taken a giant step forward in talent, or your returning players were not very good and have not gotten much better. I just think that a coach who is a good teacher and disciplinarian and motivator and who recruits players of high character and work ethic can help his players improve to a degree that puts them out of the reach of all but the very most exceptional incoming freshmen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Same situation at Mo State

See two posts below. Missouri State's Obediah Church is very similar to the situation described about the player for Maine. Both freshmen forwards. Both good rebounders. Church averaged 6 ppg and 6 rpg. Both shot extremely well (59.7% for Church). And . . . both were horrible at the FT line. Church clanged the rim at the rate of only 40.8%.

It couldn't have been something in the water: they live too apart.

Where could we improve?

Many of our numbers from last season were so outstanding that it is difficult to see where we might improve. Still, any team has weaker points, even if no glaring ones. We were not a great rebounding team, especially on the offensive end, where we got beat 353 to 324. Our offensive scheme did not seem to lend itself to being strong on the boards, and that may change to some extent this season. Also, we did not have a prototypical rebounder. Shoshi got his share, but he needs a good bit of muscle to be really great on the boards. Maybe Corbyn Jackson will fit that bill for us.

Also, for a team that was as efficient as we were, we did not get to the line very much. Our opponents attempted 61 more FTs than we did. Again, this may have had something to do with our offensive style. But we were a good free throw-shooting team, and we did not fully take advantage of that strength.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

A point of emphasis, perhaps?

Maine had a very nice freshman forward this past year named Devine Eke (6-7). He averaged 9.5 ppg, 6-8 rpg, shot an excellent 61.2% from the field, and by far led the team in blocks with 50. The downside? He hit only 36.7% of his free throws, and he led the team in attempts from the stripe. If he were to improve his percentage to an only-average 64%, he would have contributed a point per game to his team; and sometimes a single point can be awfully big.

The Bogan record

We tend to forget the accomplishments of the past.

In 1943, the Trojans (then LRJC), coached by Herman Bogan, went 22-10. This was a 13-game improvement from their previous best win total.

That record stood for 40 years! It was not until the Kestenbaum team of 1983 won 23 games that it was eclipsed. It was during World War II, and players likely were hard to come by (since most of them were doing their shooting somewhere else with a more lethal weapon). Most of their opponents we would consider to be very strange - corporate teams mainly. Most Trojans do not know about that year, but for several reasons it has to be ranked as one of the more remarkable seasons in Trojan history.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lots of talent returning in the Belt

We always miss the departing seniors, but there will be some high-powered talent coming back in the SBC next season.

Marcus Johnson, LR, 12.5 ppg, 46.6% 3PT%
Devin Carter, Ark St, 17.3 ppg, 41.7% 3PT%
Tookie Brown, Ga So, 17.8 ppg, 81.2% FT%
Jeremy Hollowell, Ga St, 14.8 ppg, 81.0% FT%
Nick Coppola, Monroe, 10.9 ppg, 2.50 A/TO
Ken Williams, USA 15.5 ppg, 80% FT%
Kevin Hervey, Arlington, 18.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg
Jalen Jones, Arlington 12.7 ppg, 80.8% FT%
Wesley Person, Troy, 16.8 ppg,

To name only a few.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Might be time for an adjustment in strategy

Duquesne's overall defensive was very good. Opponents shot only 41.7% against them, which is very good. However, their 3PT defense was atrocious. Opponents shot 40.1% against them from the arc. Maybe they need to loosen up just a little inside and pay some attention to the perimeter. Hmm?

Sticking out my neck, but not much

If Black and Watkins are the real deal, we will be as good as anyone in the Belt, and should be co-favorites going into the season.

Coastal Carolina - another defensive-minded club

When you think of defense in the SBC, you think of Texas State, Arlington, and probably our own Little Rock Trojans. It looks like we will have to add Coastal Carolina to that list. They were pretty salty on the defensive end this past season. They held opponents to 39.4% overall and 30.4% from the arc, both of which are outstanding numbers. The season before those numbers were 39.6% and 32.5%, so that is nothing new to them.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Arlington is here to stay

Expect Arlington to stay near the top of the Belt for several years. Next year they should return all five starters from a 24-win team, plus leading scorer and rebounder Kevin Hervey, who was injured for much of the season. Plus, three of those six players are only sophomores, so they will be around for two more seasons.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Frustrating year for Louisiana

This past season had to have been a frustrating one for Bob Marlin, head coach of the Cajuns. He had Shawn Long, one of the best big men in the history of the SBC, a bona fide double/double machine. He just did not have enough to go with him. The team shot only 31% from the arc and allowed opponents to shoot 36%. That differential was too much to make up. They had a good season (19-15), but it could have been and probably should have been so much better with a player like Long on board.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Navy was good pre-Robinson

The Middies went to the Elite Eight with the Admiral on board, but that was not the peak of their achievement in basketball. Way back in 1913, the Helms Foundation named them the National Champions of college basketball.

The net effect of losing Isom

We lost an excellent shooter, and that always hurts. We also lost a unique shooter in that he is 6-9, so that hurts doubly, because his size had to have caused opposing teams problems. His absence on defense will hurt, especially if he is not replaced by someone with size and experience. So, we will feel Mareik's absence.

The practical effect of his leaving will be more minutes for some of the other players, especially those who play the 3 and 4 positions. So, look for Stetson, Maurius and Jalen to pick up a few minutes per game. Possibly Kemy as a shooter. The good news is that we are fairly deep and experienced at the positions Mareik would have played, so that should allow us to adapt. It hurts, but it should not be fatal.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Less with more

It is entirely possible that we could have more talent on this year's team than last, but end up with significantly fewer wins. Everything broke right last year. It was just one of those seasons that coaches and players dream of having. The team "clicks," the coach looks like a genius, and the wins pile up. The same coach and the same players could play the same schedule ten times and might not ever do that well again - but that one season they do. We had a special season.

But I really like the players we having transferring in, and we have a lot of talent coming back, who will be more mature and ready to step into the limelight with the departure of Roger Woods and Josh Hagins. I also like the fact that there should be a significantly shorter learning curve this season than last given the fact that the players are already accustomed to the new coach. I look for this team to do well, but "well" might be several wins short of last year's total.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Typical Pitino logic

[Minnesota Coach] Pitino said there has been extra communication between him and his players recently with regard to off-the-court behavior. He said his staff has been making arrangements to advise the team in that area.
"That's priority number one, making sure our guys are educated properly and understand what's at stake and what's expected of them," Pitino said.
This is not brain surgery. "You guys behave yourself, of you are off the team." Pretty simple. But then, this is a Pitino, and staying on the strait and narrow has not been their strong point.

Friday, May 13, 2016

How will Coastal Carolina do next season in the Belt?

This is a hard question to answer. They will be moving up eight slots in conference RPI, so the competition will be harder than what they have been accustomed to. On the other hand, gauged by RPI, they were a better team than all but three of the Belt teams. That would indicate that they ought to be immediately competitive in the Belt. They were 21-12 last season, and 12-6 in their conference.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Will Stallings make Pitt "soft" ?

I like Kevin Stallings as a coach. I have followed Vanderbilt closely for quite a few years, and I think he is a good coach. However, he has  been a frustrating coach, because, like many (most?) teams that rely heavily on the 3-point shot, his teams tended to be "soft." They did not have that hard-nosed, blue-collar, dirty hands quality that I like. Pitt, on the other hand, has been just the opposite. The team from the Steel City is tough, and that has been the way they play. Stylistically, it would not appear that Stallings is a good fit for Pitt. Will he inflict upon them the same softness that he left at Vandy? Time will tell, but I hope not. I like Stallings, and I like Pitt, but I hope it is Stallings that changes, and not the Panthers.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Anthony Livingston is double dangerous

Arkansas State's Anthony Livingston would be a handful inside under any circumstances. But he is doubly so because of his free throw shooting. He hit 85.9% from the stripe last season, which is great for anyone, and especially for a big man. That makes him really tough to guard, because he will get his points one way or the other.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Proof that the big boys are not invulnerable

I really dislike the revolving door transfer process going on now in college basketball. However, it does provide vivid proof that the money schools don't know everything. They are more than willing to welcome with open arms a player moving up from a lower-level school. Thus, they admit that there was a player who slipped through their recruiting network. They didn't like him then, bu they like him now. Plus, it demonstrates that a lot of the lower-level schools are at least as good as they are a developing talent.

Denver - Also-ran and powerhouse

People do not usually think of Denver as an athletics powerhouse. They were fair at best in a mid-level conference in basketball. However, in a couple of the less-familiar sports (to us, at least) they are a powerhouse. They were ranked #5 in the nation in men's ice hockey and are a seven-time NCAA champion. They are currently ranked #1 in men's lacrosse and are the defending champion. Interesting, how limited our perspective is sometimes.

Monday, May 9, 2016

I hope we get an inside presence

For all the good that happened, we really did not have much of an inside game last season. Shoshi is a typical European big man, whose strength is not banging underneath, and, of course, Isom is completely a perimeter player. I have not seen Black play, nor the new juco recruit, but hopefully they will provide some muscle down low. We need it.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Paralleling Iowa State

A year ago, The Mayor (Fred Hoiberg) resigned after a very successful revitalization of Iowa State basketball to take a professional gig. Steve Prohm succeeded him, inheriting a roster loaded with talent and experience. I saw a quote by Prohm saying that he had instituted perhaps 25% of the systems that he had used successfully at Murray State. They had a good season, winning 23 games, including two in the NCAA tournament.

My point is that Prohm realized he was set up for success and had enough sense not to mess too much with the system that had brought the players to that point. He put his stamp on it to a certain degree, but he did not institute a complete overhaul. Hopefully that is what Wes Flanigan will do. The Trojans had their best season ever, they know the system, and he does not want to risk destroying the chemistry by dumping everything and starting fresh. He can do that season after next, when he will have a houseful of new recruits.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Slippery Rock's season

Why Slippery Rock? Everyone knows about Slippery Rock. The very name is synonymous with anonymity. In any case, the Rock was 15-13 this past season, and 10-12 in conference. They did have a win over California University (which happens to be in Pennsylvania).

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Looking back at Arkansas State's year

About the best thing that could be said about the Wolves' season is that it is over. What a confusing mess! First, their coach announces at the first of the season that he is leaving after the season, which basically turn things chaotic in most any situation. Then there was the fact that they played with a very short roster most of the season. However, despite all their problems, they had a very good stretch in the middle of the season, winning six of seven. After that, things pretty well deteriorated, and they finished with a nine-game losing streak. But that is all behind them. They have a new coach, and right now they are undefeated. Things already look brighter.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Looking back at Pine Bluff's season

A team from the SWAC can lose a lot of games and still have a successful season because of their killer non-conference schedule. Even considering that, however, the Golden Lions of Pine Bluff had a rough year. They finished 8-25 and 6-12 in conference. However, since virtually all their non-conference games are road money games, any wins they pick up there are really nice. The Lions beat Seattle and Southeastern Louisiana, so at least they had those wins to salve their feelings about what otherwise was a dismal performance.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Looking back at UCA's year

The Bears have been down - WAY down. Year before last they won two games. They did make some progress this past season - all the way up to seven wins. Looking at it one way, improving five wins doesn't sound like much, but if we say that they more than tripled their win total, that sounds a little better. When he took over, Coach Russ Pennell had to totally rebuild their roster, and the results have not been outstanding so far. But, as we said, progress is being made, and they are only losing two seniors this year. Of course, that means that the returning players are going to have to get a lot better for the program to improve, so that is a "good news, bad news" situation. I still think that Pennell will get things turned around in time. I hope so, for the good of basketball in central Arkansas.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Big man school

Redshirt big men relentlessly, and it will pay off big time. Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky served his time getting schooled by Jared Berggren, who signed with the Orlando Magic. Kaminsky, by the way, went on to become a Player of the Year in the NCAA. Year before last, Ethan Happ redshirted, and was going up against Kaminsky every day in practice. So, this past year he only averages 11 points and 7 rebounds as a freshman. Patience with big men is a good thing.

Corn-fed basketball

For years I have made the comment that a lot of players from  Big Ten and other mid-western schools look like they walked out of the cornfield and onto the basketball court. I meant that as a compliment to them as big, broad-shouldered kids that did not appear to be particularly athletic, but who just got the job done through hard work and perseverance. Most of them probably were raised in cities and never saw a farm, but that is what they looked like.

Well, new Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard honest-to-goodness fits the bill. His parents operated a hog farm at Cobb, Wisconsin (pop. 458), and he grew up with the values that generally accompany such an up-bringing. I like it!

The rule changes I would like to see

In recent years, it seems that every change there has been in the rules or in the emphases of officiating has been to make basketball more "exciting." The fathers of the NCAA have decided that "fast" and "offense" equal "exciting." What I would like to see are changes in the rules that reward good basketball, because to me that is what is exciting. Good ball handling, good defense, taking good shots, team play - all the things that our coaches used to teach us when we were kids. Maybe those things will not help to sell more tickets to the public at large, but they certainly would help to maintain the integrity of the game.