Tuesday, February 28, 2017

You think defense doesn't matter?

Virginia beat NC last night. The 43 points that NC scored is the least they have had under Roy Williams. The Cavs won, by the way.

Monday, February 27, 2017

It is a modest goal, but

We need to finish the season on a positive note. We are at 14-15 with two regular season games left, and at least one in the Belt tournament. So we have the opportunity to finish at .500. That is not a very high mark, but we need to do it for the sake of the program.

Glad we haven't stopped recruiting

Verbal Commits shows two new offers that we have made, one to a  shooting guard and one to a point guard. Both are juco sophomores. Particularly in the case of Michael Miller, the point, I am very pleased so see that we are pressing forward and not giving up on recruiting. Obviously, we are going to need some help at point guard. Watkins may be the real deal, but you can't have too many points, as this year has shown. Miller also has offers from six other schools, including Kent State, Arkansas State, and South Florida.

Thursday, February 23, 2017


To this point, Wes Flanigan's initial season as a head coach has not been an utter washout, but certainly not a resounding success by any measurement. (I believe that is a fair statement.) He had the disadvantage of being directly compared to the most successful season in program history, and that certainly has not helped the perception of this year.

Assuming he has the modesty and integrity to admit his failings, how does this coach improve? The AD can give numeric goals he wants the coach to reach, but not having been a coach himself, he cannot give much advice on how to get there. Al Flanigan is a legendary coach who might give some help, but he works in high school, not college. Maybe Wes has colleagues who are close enough to the program to know what did not work who can offer advice. Maybe he and the assistants need to do some brutal self-examination of the program from top to bottom. "Why didn't we win more games than we did? What went wrong?"

Is it a problem of Xs and Os? I certainly could not answer that. It is a lack of talent? Well, we did not quite have the talent we thought we had, but we could have done more with what we had. Was it personnel management, how we handled the players in practices and in games? Maybe there is the key. I don't have the answers, but we definitely need to be asking the right questions, and of the right people.

We need some answers. The AD needs to push Wes to find those answers. Barring unusual circumstances, I think any coach should have three years to get his program going strongly in the right direction. However, it is not unreasonable for the Boss to demand some definite answers as to what went wrong and how the problems are going to be fixed.

Where has our shooting gone?

Earlier in the year, our 3-point shooting was at least acceptable, but it has started a disturbing downward trajectory of late. We currently shoot 34.7% as a team, which is not awful. However, in five of the last six games we have shot considerably below that number. Here is how our 3PT% has tracked (along with the season average for each team's opponents):
Monroe 26.3% (35.7%)
CCU 31.8% (34.2%)
App St 41.5% (37.4%)
TSU 31.3% (31.0%)
Arlington 24.0% (31.3%)
Ark St 31.3% (30.3%)

In the last three cases, our shooting might be attributed to the other team's outstanding defense, and, of course, we did get hot against App State. But any way you look at it, this is not a good trend. Usually, when you don't shoot well, it is because you are not getting or not taking good shots. I suspect our dilemma is a combination of both.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Caleb Swanigan is impressive!

Caleb Swanigan is the most impressive big man I have seen in a good while, and that includes Sleezipari's one-and-doners. He is just a handful. He shoots very well, including from the arc and the line. And if he is not enough, his front line running-mates, Vince Edwards and Isaac Haas, are a load to deal with themselves. Be ready to play old-fashioned powerball when you go against the Boilermakers.

What good point guards do

A good, true point guard makes the sum of the parts greater than the whole. He just makes the whole team work better. A good point will deliver the ball the right player at the right time at the right spot on the court in order for the shot to happen. Players who get the ball under those circumstances ought to shoot a lot better than those who do not. I wonder how much better a team's overall shooting percentage improves with the presence of a good, true point guard.

An interesting mental exercise

In your mind, using the logic God gave you, go back over last season, but imagine that Josh Hagins was not available for any of the games. Where do you come out? It is impossible to know, but my logic tells me that we would not have won as many games, certainly would not have beaten Purdue, and very likely would not have won the conference. Furthermore, imagine if Hagins is hurt, but UTA's Hervey is not hurt. Then what is the outcome?

Sometimes there is a thin margin between success and failure.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Scott Cross might be one that stays

We occasionally will mention that rare coach below the money conference level who stays put. He likes where he is and is making all the money he has time to spend, and does not want to leave. I have no way of knowing, of course, but Arlington's Scott Cross might just be one of those. He is a UTA alumnus, and has already had enough success there that if he really wanted to leave he probably could have wrangled a job at a higher level. If he does stay, that would be huge for the Sun Belt, because he is a good one.

Recruiting success?

Reedus, Gilmore, Corcoran, Tut, Bankston, Hadzic. Six players at four different positions (according to Verbal Commits). Two from juco, four from high school. We will lose six seniors, so those presumably are all the signees we will have, unless there are late casualties.

Only Burns, Black, Jones and Marcus will have any appreciable amount of experience from this season. Then throw in Watkins. That is probably not an awful starting lineup. We haven't seen Watkins at point, but he was good enough to attract money conference schools and will have had a year to learn our system. Burns is shooting pretty well this year. Black continues to improve, and I still think he can be a dominant SBC big man by the time he leaves Little Rock. Marcus has not played a lot,  but he is shooting 60% overall. Jones' numbers are not very good, but he remains an imposing physical talent. Plug the holes with any of the six  newcomers who pan out, and we might have a team that can make a little noise next season. How much remains to be seen.

One thing about it: Wes signed all six of his players in the early season. He got who he wanted. IF his evaluation was good, then that bodes well for the future - maybe not next season, but at some point down the road.

Empty possessions

One of the things that must really frustrate coaches are empty possessions, those in which nothing at all happens, when you do not even get off a shot. Nothing happens. Nothing can happen, because you never even get to that point./Zero shooting percentage.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The 3-point shot in high school

If the 3-point line in college ball is too close (and I think it is), then the Arkansas high school line is ridiculous. Right or not, the result is that any high school school team is going to have trouble being successful without a couple of gunners. And that is hard to teach. You  can teach players certain things, but there is just a certain amount of eye-hand coordination that is necessary to be a good shooter. Practice will improve the situation, but probably only to a certain extent.

Last night I watched Lavaca trounce Magazine in the finals of the 2A-4 West district tournament. Lavaca starts shooting 3-pointers (and making them) as soon as they walk through the doors of the gym. Magazine has a senior-laden team with a very athletic front line, but they do not have a single reliable 3-point shooter. Thus Lavaca was able to pack the inside and pretty much shut down Magazine's offense. It was a little painful to watch. Magazine has a pretty good team, and they have a  pretty good offense as far as it goes, but it doesn't go to the 3-point line, and thus they are always going to be in a mis-match against some teams. In basketball today, the 3-point line rules.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Holding players accountable

I am not talking about off-court behavior, because it should be a given that they should be held accountable for that. I am talking about on-court behavior. "You play the way I  tell you to play, or you don't play." I wonder how Flanigan wants the players to play. I wonder if he insists that they play that way - or else.

Johnson's shooting

In the last six games, Marcus Johnson was 7 of 31 from the arc, or 22.6%. Overall he was 19 of 69 for 27.5%. That in itself would not be ruinous except for the fact that for the season he has taken half again as many shots as anyone on the team except for Jalen Jackson, and 40% more even than Jackson. There is just no way you are going to win many ballgames on that kind of shooting. The reason for it is beside the point; the bottom line is that that is just not smart basketball.

To Johnson's credit, he is getting to the line a lot, and he is making his shots there, so that is a plus; but I seriously doubt that you can win many games by one man's free throw shooting, especially if his other numbers are so bad.

This is a problem only Wes Flanigan can fix, but he obviously is not going to address it. If you let a player keep blasting away when he is not making shots, then as a coach you have no one to blame but yourself.

I don't apologize

I do not apologize for not being a Razorback fan. I do not feel badly when I root against them. I do not in the least feel guilty about it. Do Auburn fans apologize for rooting against Alabama? Do Michigan State fans apologize for rooting against Michigan?

The arrogance of Razorback fans is revealed in the fact that many would reply that I am not comparing apples with apples. "After all, the other universities in Arkansas are not really to be considered in the national sports scene. They are just afterthoughts. We are the only team worthy of serious consideration."

Even my own 88-year-old mother has unwittingly contracted the Swine disease. We were riding together in the car a while back, listening to a ballgame on the radio, and I commented that I hoped the Porkers lost, and she seemed to be offended. "That unpatriotic," she said. I told her that that very attitude is the reason I no longer root for Fayetteville. I used to. I used to enjoy it. But I just got sick of the sneering, condescending, monopolistic attitude of Razorback fans. So now I root against them. And I do not apologize for it.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Back to baselines

According to our official record book, through last season we have had 645 Division 1 wins over 38 seasons in the TAAC, SBC, and one independent season. That comes out right at 17 wins per season. So, that is an "average" season. Anything more than that is above average. Anything less is below average.

Since we have been in the SBC, our average wins per season is 16.4.

Salvaging respectability

It is always painful when you get to the point in a particular season when your main goal is to minimize the embarrassment, but that is about where we are this year. When you are 4-9 in conference play and only a couple of ticks out of the cellar, it is hard to rationalize your priorities. Oh, if we were to win out, that would look nice and feel nice, but that is not likely. I guess you just hitch up your galluses and do the best you can every game for your own self-respect.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why you give multiple-year contracts

Every head coach in America was a head coach for the first time once. Regardless of the level, at some point he held the reins for the first time. As I watch Wes Flanigan, I see what I might term "rookie" mistakes. That is understandable, because this is his first time at the helm. 

Chris Beard came in and avoided those mistakes - but then, Chris Beard was not a rookie. Granted, he had not been a D1 head coach,  but he had been the head guy at Angelo State, McMurry, and for the ABA South Carolina Warriors. He had never pressed the buttons at the top level, but he had pressed the buttons, and the process, I suspect, is largely the same. In the sense that he had been a head coach at three different levels, he was a seasoned veteran. He knew what it took to get the job done. If circumstances had dictated that Beard's first season as a D1 head coach had been this season at Texas Tech, no doubt our opinion of him would have been much more muted.

John Wooden was a head coach for the first time a long time ago. So was Coach K. So was Adolph Rupp. At that point none of them had any experience at being a head coach, so the guy who hired each of them took a chance, at that point. In their cases the gambles paid off royally. Other coaches have not worked out so well. That is the nature of the beast.

IF Wes Flanigan learns from his mistakes, then he will be a better coach over the next couple of years. Circumstances will reveal very quickly how good a recruiter he is. We will see how he adjusts. That is the reason you give coaches multiple-year contracts. 

If it turns out that Wes has the ability to grow and learn as a head coach, then our patience will have been rewarded. If he cannot grow and learn, then Chasse will have to make the hard decisions, and that is why he gets paid the big bucks. I don't get paid the big bucks, so I don't worry about who is the head coach (as long as he runs a clean program).

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Maybe a good trend?

In two of our last three games we have held opponents to under 32% from the arc, and they were a combined 33% over those three games. That is a number we can live with. By comparison, in the four games before those, opponents shot from 38% to 50% from the arc. Only six times all season had we held opponents to less than 33% from the arc.

We need a talent upgrade

Quickly. Immediately. I readily grant that Wes is not getting nearly the best out of the talent he has, but he needs to get more so that he has a margin for error. Right now he has none. A rookie coach is going to make a good many mistakes, and a sub-par roster does not cut him any slack.

Perhaps we also need a coaching upgrade; time will prove that one way or the other. In the meantime we have Wes, and he needs to put himself in the best position to succeed.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Where is the consistency?

By any reasonable standard,  it appears this is going to be a sub-par regular season, which is really a shame, given all the maturity and experience we have had on the roster. Be that as it may, we can take comfort in the fact that in basketball (as in most sports these days), the regular season is virtually meaningless. The question is not, "How good a season did you have?" but, "How good a team do you have right now?" (That really irritates me, and it probably is the single thing I like least about basketball, but it is what it is, at least for the time being.)

That being the case, the questions for us are the same. The kind of season we have had is virtually meaningless (as it would have been last year if we had lost in the first round of the SBC tournament). The question for us is, "How good can we be by the time of the tournament?" And that is a little more difficult to answer. Without a point guard, I am not optimistic. However, Shoshi is back healthy, and even in a horrendous game at Texas State, he pulled down eight rebounds and blocked five shots. That is something to build on, and something that will serve us well in a tournament. A dominant rebounder and shot blocker helps cover a multitude of sins. We have some shooters, enough that we can have a couple of threats in the game at all times, but they have a depressing tendency all to go cold at the same time.

The bottom line is that we have the talent to be pretty good on a given night. What we do not have, right now, is the consistency - on either side of the ball - to be good over three or four games. Johnson is a world-beater one night and a total disaster the next. Same with Jackson. Same with Burns. For a team that is very mature in years, we are distressingly juvenile in performance; and until we fix that, I do not see us making a run in the post-season.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

This program needs some consistency

When you have a baseline to build upon, you know where you stand. During the three years of the Moser era and the first two with Shields, we won 17 or 18 games each season. It looked wonderful when compared with the 4 wins during Moncrief's dismal year, but soon we began to be disappointed and want more. And we should have. That number of wins had become the minimum acceptable. We ought to be able to do at least that well each year. So seasons came and went, and we did do better than that two seasons in a row. But then Shields slid below that baseline three seasons out of four, and out he went. And that is only reasonable.

Should we have a new baseline? Maybe, but we don't have it yet. Beard didn't stay, and one season does not make a trend. So we are still waiting for some consistency again.

But maybe, without knowing it, we do have that consistency. Over the last five complete seasons we have 90 wins. Divide 90 by 5 and you get . . . 18 wins. Maybe the baseline is still the baseline.

How to be a successful coach

1. Recruit high-character people
2. Teach them the right way to play
3. Insist that they do it

Tubby Smith may be in a class by himself

Tulsa: Sweet 16- twice
Georgia: Sweet 16
Kentucky: National Champs, Eite 8 three other times, Sweet 16 two other times
Minnesota: NCAA third round
Texas Tech: NCAA
Memphis: 18 wins already this year

Has there ever been a program builder quite like Tubby?

Tubby Smith 140507-D-HU462-310 (cropped).jpg

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Will there be any culling?

Will any non-seniors on this year's roster be gone next year? I am going to guess that there will be some casualties. Flanigan is going to be under pressure to make things happen after a disappointing season, so he will have to make some moves.

In some conferences they are everywhere you look

Kansas goes to Texas Tech today. I am thinking, "Well,  Chris Beard is a pretty good coach; maybe they can pull it off." And then I think, "True, but Bill Self is a pretty fair country coach himself." As are most of the coaches in the Big 12. That is a tough conference. Nothing comes easy.

20 wins? Not likely

Before the season began I thought there was an outside chance that we might get 20 wins. Obviously, that is pretty far-fetched now, particularly given our remaining schedule. At this point I would just like to see us finish strong, play good basketball, and get a little confidence heading into the post season.

I have changed my mind

I had been saying that we need three point guards on campus at all times. After our experiences this year, I am thinking of upping that number substantially. Without a true, effective point guard, you are just in big trouble!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Evaluating recruiting

How (when) do you evaluate a recruiting class? When they are freshmen, or when they are upperclassmen? My contention is that, especially at our level, you grade classes later rather than sooner. In the best of all worlds you would not expect freshmen to be playing much, anyway, because your seniors would be good enough that they would not get much time on the floor. If you need lots of help from freshmen, then you are in trouble, anyway. And, if a player does not stick around, then he didn't help us much.

Billings, Osse, Jackson, Hill, Shoshi, Johnson

They are not all from the same class, but they ended up in the same class. And I think it was a pretty good class. This year has been a disappointment, but they played a big part in our success last season - and this season is not over yet.

I did not get my wish

Duke played North Carolina last night. I was hoping for a zero-to-zero tie, but it did not work out that way. Oh, well.

We will have earned it

If we somehow manage to extract respectability from this disappointing season, we will have earned it. A three-game road trip coming up into Texas, and then back to Jonesboro, and then the Georgia teams come to town. All those just happen to be in the Top 5 in the conference. If we are still standing after that, I have to assume good things are happening.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

I would not have guessed this.

According to CBS, Purdue leads the all-time series with Indiana 115-89.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Beard's best job

That Chris Beard did a remarkable job of coaching in Little Rock is undeniable. There were several aspects to his success: getting immediate buy-in to his system, finding a couple of leftovers in the recruiting market who fit exactly what we needed, etc.

However, I  do not know but what the best day's work he did was getting Jermaine Ruttley to agree to be a role player in Little Rock. JR had  been a big star at a lower level, by far their leading scorer. Evidently he had what amounted to a blank check from the coach to do whatever he wanted to offensively, since they probably did not have anyone else close to as good as Jermaine. Then he comes to Little Rock, starts a little over half the games, averages 3.1 points per game, and becomes a defensive specialist. Granted, for his unselfishness he got to be on a championship team, but how was he to know that at the beginning? Beard had to have done one great sales job, and it worked.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another stupid statement

"The Bruins' defensive apathy only heightens their watchability." This is from ESPN's first Bubble Watch. What kind of an idiot statement is that?! They are "watchable" because they are bad?! People enjoy watching bad basketball? Well, maybe so if it is the Globetrotters, but this is not supposed to be a comedy routine. Just another pathetic statement by the powers that be in college basketball who would love (evidently) to completely exclude defense from the game, since defense is, to them, not "watchable," and therefore does not matter.

Good memories

So often I see a team play well and win a game after a losing streak, then in the next game revert back to the bad habits that had caused them to lose the previous games. They had short memories. I hope this team recognizes what worked against App State and keeps doing the right things the right way. Maybe we can pick up a few more wins and finish this season on a more positive note. It has been pretty gloomy lately.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A nice trend


App State 7
Coastal 10
Monroe 7

Football? Who needs it?

#1 and #2 in this week's AP poll are both from schools in non-power conferences. Gonzaga and Villanova.

We still have some upside

Shoshi is not yet full speed, or at least it did not appear to me he was Saturday night. I think Oliver Black will continue to improve throughout the season, and I think his upside is tremendous. Over the last two games Marcus Johnson has has 12 assists against 3 turnovers, so he is playing better at point, at least on the offensive side. Stetson is obviously a better player this year than he was previously, and his game will strengthen as his confidence continues to grow. This team can still get better.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Only one group of fans smiling this year

At this point, only the Arkansas State fans are really happy, of the D1 programs in the state. Fayetteville is almost in open revolt after the Missouri loss. Our fans are very disappointed with the season so far. Pine Bluff is tied for 7th in the SWAC. UCA is tied for 7th in the Southland. Actually UCA has some reason for hope, since they seem to be heading in the right direction, even though success might still be a season or two off.

"Making the game more entertaining"

The powers that be in college basketball need to stop their whining about  how the game needs to be sped up and made "more exciting." As long as they leave those all those media timeouts in the game, it is obvious they are not really interested in speeding up the game. Talk about a wet blanket! Every time things get going a little - "Media Timeout."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Army Day is always fun

We have been doing it for about 17 years, I guess, and haven't missed more than one or two. We load up all comers once a year and migrate from several different directions to Little Rock for a Trojans game. Great fun! Usually all ages, from babes in arms to my father when he was in his upper 80's. Pappy's Army is on the way!

Friday, February 3, 2017

We need some wins really badly

This season is dangerously close to coming unraveled. We need a couple of convincing wins in the worst way. No better time than now, because the schedule gets tougher after this. This team needs an injection of confidence.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Dissect the season to enjoy it

If the season is going poorly (as ours is at the moment), then just slice it up into little sections. The obvious ones are non-conference, conference, and post-season. Or, if it works, cut it into parts even smaller than that. We did right well in November, when we were 6-2. I wish the season as a whole had been better, but I am not going to let it spoil my enjoyment of November.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Never forget

College sports are supposed to be entertainment. They are supposed to make me happy. If I can't be happy following college sports, then I simply won't follow them, because they then serve no purpose (and probably serve very little in the best of cases).