Tuesday, January 31, 2017

One thing Wes MUST start doing

You play my way, or you don't play. Even if that means the bottom of the bench stays on the floor.

Sanitized press release

"Little Rock goes cold in the second half." Well, natch! You generally will go cold when you start jacking up ill-advised shots. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure that one out.

"When Shoshi gets back"

The prospects for this team will improve considerably when Shoshi returns to the active roster. How much they will improve remains to be seen. But just having a 6-9 or 6-11 player in the middle at all times will help some on defense. And Shoshi was a critical part of our offense. It is obvious that not having Shoshi is only a small part of our problem, however. This team just does not play very disciplined basketball, and until we return to doing that, we will lose games we ought to win and have no chance in games where we ought to have at least a chance.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Recruiting for next season?

Point guards, point guards, point guards, and keep signing point guards until we find someone who can play point.

On the playground

Marcus Johnson reminds me of a junior high kid on a playground. Always just a half-step from out of control. Making things happen, but frequently not the right things. That is sad, because he was a fine #2 guard for us last season. But his play this season sums up what is wrong with this team.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Keep an eye on Northwestern

They are now 17-4 after beating Indiana by 13 tonight. At 6-2 they are alone in third place in the Big Ten, which alone ought to get them into the Dance. And, in case you have missed it, they have never been to the NCAA tournament, the only money conference school not to have done so.

Just imagine last year

without Hagins and Shoshi. How many games would we have won? I have no idea, obviously, but it almost certainly would not have been 30.

Black is not a strong rebounder

To be 6-9 in the Belt, and to be averaging only 3.5 rebounds/game is not a strong recommendation. Granted, Oliver Black plays only 17 minutes per game, but even if he averaged the same 25.8 minutes that Shoshi is playing, that only translates to 5.3 rebounds per game.

Go with the strength. Shore up the weakness.

Where are we good? We lead the SBC in FT% by a good bit. We need to get to the line at every opportunity.

Where are we bad? We are dead last in opponent's 3PT%. We have got to do something to at least stop the bleeding there.

Shoshi? We shall see

I think most folks realize Lis Shoshi's importance to this team. Without him we are very much vertically challenged. Losing him hurt - a lot.

The big question at this point is whether or not we will get an immediate injection when he gets back to full speed (assuming he does). How much better can this team be with him healthy? Getting him back does not give us a point guard, and that problem will remain.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Real fans

You will find a certain number of true college basketball fans even in Maine - fans who follow the sport all year round. (Not many, but a few.) The percentage increases as you move south down the eastern coast, then decreases again as you move west across the South, then increases as you move north into the Midwest. But there are certain sections of the country where the percentage of the population who are real fans is greatest - and the South is not one of them.

Preserving mediocrity

In theory, if we won out, it still would be a fairly nice season. Obviously, that is very unlikely. Realistically, at this point we are just trying to get our seed in the SBC tournament into halfway reasonable status. IF we started playing Trojan defense, we might have a shot at a decent finish, but that has been a rare commodity so far this year.

Friday, January 27, 2017

How many games would Beard have won?

Who knows? He would have faced the same talent loss and injuries that Wes has faced. And let us note that right now Texas Tech is 3-5 in the Big 12, so Beard could not have just snapped his fingers and had success here any more than he has been able to at TTech. Flanagan is 3-4, so at the moment he is a half game up from where Beard is. ("What might have been" is half the fun of being a sports fan.)

It is also worth noting that many successful coaches have not had an "in your face" style like Beard and Bobby Knight did. Wooden did not. Neither does Brad Stevens, and the list could go on a long time. Over time, sometimes the more reserved coaches do better than the intense coaches. Time will tell.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Just a game at a time

When a season has disintegrated as this one has, there remains only one way to approach it: one game at a time. Just keep trying to get better. Forget the season as a whole, and focus on the task at hand.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

NBC sums up our problem exactly

(speaking about Duke)

"Part of the reason that [Grayson Allen] is struggling is that he is being asked to play out of position. He’s not a point guard, but he’s the best point guard that Duke currently has on their roster.
There is a difference between a play maker and a point guard, which is similar to the difference between playing the point and being a point. Allen is a playmaker. He’s a better passer than he gets credit for. He can get into the paint, draw a defense and find an open man. But he’s an attack-minded player. He wants to be aggressive. That’s when he’s at his best, and that’s what his natural instinct is. He’s being asked to facilitate, and it has become clear that this is not working as well as Duke would have hoped."

Do your best with what you have

Things are relative in the sports world. The Little League World Series winners would get skunked by the regular World Series winners. UCLA lost to Houston when Alcindor had his eye injury. You cannot control some factors.

This has been a tough year. Losing our presumptive point guard from the get-go. Losing perhaps our best defender for half the season. Losing our center in the midst of conference play. Well, you can't control those things. All you can is play your best with what you have. If you do that - IF you play your best - then you can hold up your head no matter what the outcome is. But "your best" had better include defense.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The good news

We badly need Shoshi back, but in the meantime Black is getting good minutes. And to have any chance of being a decent team next season we  need to have Black at full speed.


I have by no means given up on this team. We have several weapons left, a lot of senior leadership (or at least potential leadership), and we have already won 12 games. So good things could still happen.

However, when we lose to a bottom-halfer, at home, doing badly the things we have been doing badly all along, it is pretty discouraging. I am ashamed, to be blunt. This team ought to be better than this. Injuries have hurt, but it is not the offensive end that is the problem, and the injuries ought not to have affected the defensive end as much. Sure, we lost a shot blocker with Shoshi, but it is the perimeter defense that is our most glaring shortcoming. We just cannot defend the 3-point shot. Let me amend that statement: we just will not defend the 3-point shot.

Monday, January 23, 2017

.500 look good?

I would say at this point that finishing at .500 in conference play would be a pretty good accomplishment. Ought to be better, but it probably won't be.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Free throws

One thing this team continues to do well is to shoot free throws. We currently are at 74.3%, which is first in the conference by 3.6 percentage points.

Time to make a move

Of  our next six games, five of them ought to be in the "definitely winnable" category. (Beating UL on the road will be tough.) If we are going to have a season that is successful by any standards, we are going to have to make our move NOW.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Can you believe it?!

Money factory Texas is 7-12.

Someone has to be the point guard

Someone has to give his full attention to running the offense. If it is Johnson, that is fine. If it is Burns, that is fine. Even if it is Osse, that is fine. But someone has to do it. We can't all be shooting guards.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Lost 5 of our last 7

No escaping the fact that we are on a bad downturn. The problem is that I don't see anything on the horizon that indicates the problem is being fixed.

Watch Northwestern

If you want to keep up with what could be one of the stories of the year in college basketball, stay tuned to Northwestern. They, of course, have never been to the NCAA tournament: the only money conference team not to have done so. This year they are looking to have a decent chance to make it. In fact, ESPN's Bracketology has them there at this point.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Time to make our move

If we are  going to make a statement in this confusing mess which is the SBC this season, now is the time. We have the senior leadership. We just need to get it done. Yes, we have some problems, most notably the point guard situation; but we just need to bow up, minimize our weaknesses, play to our strengths, and get it done.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Going with our strength

If we go with our strength, then we need to be trying to get to the line more. We lead the Belt in FT%, and we need to milk it for what it is worth. Of our five players who have the most total minutes played, all of them shoot at least 73% from the line except for Maurius Hill at 67.8%, which is not awful.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Accountability and desire

The main component of good defense is "want to." The main component of "want to" is accountability. The coach has to prove to the players, very quickly, that if they do not play defense they do not play.


Well, we have not done as well as we had hoped to thus far. But then, we have lots of company in that regard in the SBC. UL is 2-3. Arlington already has two conference losses. But Georgia Southern and CCU are smiling.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Burns' contribution

Deondre Burns definitely has been the find of the year from an offensive standpoint. He is shooting very well and has been a huge plus to us in that regard. However, he has not been the answer for us for our point guard problem. Over the last three games, since he has been getting increased missions, he has had 2 assists against 5 turnovers. Not the sort of stuff championship point guards are made of.

Not much of a judge

Rick Pitino thinks Grayson Allen is a "terrific young man." Big deal! Whether he is or not, I would say that Pitino is not much of a judge on such a subject, given his history.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Big Three

As of this writing, there is a definite Big Three in the Belt, according to Sagarin. Arlington, UL and Ark State are at the top, then a gap, and the rest of the teams, who are spaced pretty evenly.

Friday, January 13, 2017

It doesn't matter: it won't be good enough for some folks

Everyone knows John Wooden's unbelievable record at UCLA. Can anyone name the man who followed him? A few could. It was Gene Bartow. He coached two season at the school and compiled a 52-9 (.852) record, which actually was better than Wooden's (.808). But he won no national championships.

I have no idea why Bartow left UCLA after two seasons that would be termed very successful by any reasonable person. But when you follow a legend, fans are not always reasonable. I have no way of knowing, but I think it is reasonable to assume that the unreasonable expectations of UCLA fans played at least some part in his departure. Thus they lost an outstanding coach, who went on to UAB, and took them to an Elite 8, a Sweet 16, and seven straight NCAA appearances. Is there anyone who could guarantee that Wooden would have done that well at Birmingham? After all, he did not win any national championships at Indiana State before he left for UCLA.

There always will be some fans who just won't be satisfied, no matter how well you do.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Getting the breaks

Dayshawn Watkins is out for the season from a team that badly needs a true point guard. Stetson Billings was out for the first half of a season from a team that badly needs help on perimeter defense. Now Lis Shoshi's status is questionable as we head into the teeth of the conference season with an already depleted roster. 

Some years you get the breaks; some years you don't. It looks like this will have been one of those "don't" years.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Solidly mid-major

As I write, RealtimeRPI has the SBC ranked #13 among the conferences. That is toward the top of the middle tier of conferences, the "mid" majors. That is significant, since in the non-too-distant past the conference was struggling to stay in the top 20 and was dangerously close to having "mid" slip down to "low."

Where is Fowler when you need him?

John Fowler was one of my all-time favorite Trojans. I love good defense, and his was the best. He was a lock-down defender, no nonsense, take no prisoners. I loved to watch him play. I wonder where he is now, but I wish he were still in Little Rock. We could really use him this year.

Image result for john fowler ualr

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How Wes was advertised

This team has a lot of offensive weapons, and when we are clicking, we can score well enough. Plus, we just found another scorer in Deondre Burns. That is all positive.

But, if I remember correctly, Wes Flanagan came advertised as a tough-minded defensive coach. We certainly have not seen that yet. Maybe that was just the PR spin. And our lack of ability (willingness?) to play defense is doubly surprising since the returning players all had a culture last season of lock-down defense,

Monday, January 9, 2017

Not impressed

I am not particularly impressed when teams come roaring back to make a game close late in the contest. I am much more impressed when they come out of the gate with focus and intensity and take control of the game from the get-go. This team is a very experienced team, with a lot of upperclassmen, but their approach to games is not especially revealing a great deal of maturity in some respects.

The right button

Flanagan finally pushed some buttons in the App State game, and it worked. Long term, it may not be the ultimate button that needs to be pushed, but hats off to Wes for at least trying something different. Actually, given the fact that Johnson is our leading scorer and Stetson is just coming back from an injury, it was a fairly daring move. But it worked, at least this time. Johnson and Burns had a big night, and Stetson gave a solid, all-round performance. Good coaching, Wes!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Stetson's value

Yesterday Stetson Billings started the game, but did not end up with starter's minutes. Marcus Johnson had more minutes than he did. Johnson had 20 points and his best effort in quite a while. Stetson meanwhile had only 6 points, but tied for the lead in rebounds (6) and assists (4), had zero turnovers, and threw in a block and a steal for good measure. In short, Stetson did a lot of things right. Little things. The things that games. We did win the game, by the way. Johnson got the headlines because of his scoring, but I wonder if we would have won if he had started at point guard.

Glue guys win games but don't get headlines.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Turning point

We have to adjust some things if this season is going to be more than moderately successful. There is no better time than a road trip to two programs that are not picked to be among the dominant ones in our conference. In other words, we need to start NOW. Just do it!

Friday, January 6, 2017


We did not expect Dayshawn Watkins to get hurt. We thought we had addressed the problem of replacing the departing Josh Hagins. Watkins was a high-D1 prospect, and we had several other players who could fill in for him during the ten minutes per game when he was not in the lineup. Then came the hiccup. Losing our presumed starting point guard is not something Wes or anyone else caused, but it did happen. Injuries do happen.

Well, Watkins is hurt. That has created considerable difficulty for us, and no doubt has cost us some games. We have not been as good as we possibly might have been, but that does not mean that we cannot still be pretty good. Maybe someone else could step up to the role. Maybe point by committee could work well enough to get by. The problem is that we need to get Johnson playing in the 2 spot, whatever has to happen to cause that to come to pass. There may not be any options available better than Johnson at point. I don't know; I am not a coach plus I do not see the practices. Kemy Osse certainly has done a good job at the 2 spot, but the problem is that Johnson plays much better at the 2 than he does at the point.

I don't know the answer, but we need to regroup and see if there is a button we can push to point this ship in the right direction. I still think this is a pretty good team, but I also think it can be better than it has been in the last few games.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The statistical difference

Basketball is quantifiable to a large extent. The box score must capture the results of each possession, and when possessions, turnovers, fouls, shooting percentages, etc., are factored in, the result must be the final score. So what are the differences between this year and last?

This year's team is scoring more, by about 2 points per game. We are allowing about 8 points more per game. We had three players who averaged double figures last year, and we have five this year.

The overall shooting percentage both years is virtually the same. Last year we shot about 3 percentage points higher from the arc, and we shot about 2 more three-pointers per game than this year. The FT% is virtually the same.

Defensively, we are allowing opponents to shoot more than 4 points better this year overall, and also more than 4 points better from the arc.

Our rebounding is significantly better this year. We are plus-4 this year, whereas we were even last year. Most of that can be accounted for in the improvement of Shoshi, who has gone from 5.5 rpg last season to 8.0 this year.

We have decreased in assists/game from 13.0 to 12.5. Assists per game by the primary point guard decreased from 4.8 with Hagins to 2.6 with Johnson. Our turnovers have increased from 10.5 per game to 12.7. (However, Johnson's turnovers per game are slightly less than Hagins'.) We have slightly more blocks and slightly fewer steals this year.

So, what are the differences that jump out? 1. Our defense is much weaker this year than last. 2. Last year's team was a better 3-point shooting team. 3. This year we are significantly better on the boards. 4. We get less baskets through assists this year, particularly from the point guard. 5. We are turning over the ball more this year.

So, two of those differences (2 and 4) are directly or indirectly attributable to the absence of Hagins (and perhaps this year of Watkins). The other two may be the result of coaching emphases in the schemes that each uses. Flanagan may put more emphasis on rebounding, and less on defense than did Beard.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What has gone right

The fan base is down right now. I am down. This season has not gone as expected, and expectations have dropped precipitously. We just got embarrassed by Louisiana and are out of the championship speculation. Right now it feels like everything is going wrong.

So what has gone right? Well, the season is not quite half over and we already have won ten games. The schedule has not been very tough, but a win is a win. At the moment all five starting seniors are averaging double figures. We have a lot of offensive weapons. Also, we have been a better rebounding team than last season. Shoshi has regained his juco form on the boards, and Hill is chipping in, along with Jackson. We are shooting the ball well. Stetson Billings is back, and already is making a difference, especially on the boards, to go along with his defensive presence.

We have some positives. This won't be a headliner season like the one we had last year, but we have suffered some injuries, and it has made a difference. It is not over yet, and there is still time to resurrect a respectable season.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


I don't mind losing: sometimes you play a team that is better than you are. There is no shame in getting beaten by a better team. It is a different matter when you get humiliated in a manner that has nothing to do with the particular ability of the opponent. You did it to yourself.

We don't have a point guard - and it is killing us

Marcus Johnson is not a point guard. Yes, he played it at juco and put up some gaudy numbers, but that is not too hard to do at juco with the style normally played there. A point guard makes the sum of the parts be greater than the whole; in other words, he makes the team better. Johnson can be a spectacular player, but he is not making us a spectacular team.

The problem is that there is not a better option on the horizon. Osse has played a little point in the past, but he certainly is not the answer. Ditto for Deondre Burns. Watkins might or might not solve the problem, but he is not available yet. For the time being we are stuck with Johnson, who was very good at the 2 spot last year, but who is not getting it done at point. In this particular instance, the injury to Watkins probably will prove to have been devastating. Imagine this year's team with Zack Graber at point, or D'Andre Williams.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Biggest game of the year so far

Louisiana has turned out to be surprisingly good, given what they lost from last season. They are predicted to beat us, even in Little Rock. If we have any hope of making an impact this season, we have to beat the good teams at home. Right now I am not very confident, but I am eager for this team to prove me wrong.