Friday, March 31, 2017

Stetson Billings

I always had a soft spot in my heart for Stetson. First of all, I like his name. It has a certain rollicking swagger to it. Second, he was from a small school, and I like to see those kids get a shot at the big time. Third, he was a good defensive player, and I like tough-nosed defense. It was really satisfying to see him get a chance to start several games at the end of his career, and I appreciate Flanigan's doing that. His minutes weren't huge, but he did get to spend a little time in the spotlight before he rode into the sunset.

Through most of his career, Stetson's offensive contributions were negligible. He was a strong defender and a reliable rebounder, but not a scorer. However, he evidently worked hard on his shot in his redshirt season, and ended up being one of our more reliable outside shooters this year (38.7%), albeit on limited attempts. He made his free throws (15 of 17) and had a very solid assist to turnover ratio for his position (1.78). All in all, he had a very solid senior year. He was a role player throughout his career, but he played his role well.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

I really, really hope

that Dayshawn Watkins is the real deal. That would make the transition with losing all those seniors so much easier.

I don't like TCU particularly

but I do like Jamie Dixon and the body of work he did at Pitt, so I will be keeping up with the Horned Frogs more now than I used to.

I like our fan base

We all wish we had better attendance. It would be nice if Trojan games were a hot ticket during basketball season. Still, I don't think we can complain too much in that regard. Our average home attendance this year was 2769. That was exceeded only by Louisiana, Arkansas State and Arlington. We were 30% ahead of the average home attendance for the conference as a whole. Not to bad at all for a sub-.500 season. Trojan fans actually are pretty good fans.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Marcus Johnson

This past season really was not fair to Marcus Johnson. In my humble opinion, he was asked to play out of his best position and we really did not have a viable option as his back-up at point, so he was not able to slide over to the 2 spot for extended periods on a regular basis. Given the numbers that he put up in his junior year, who knows what he might have done this year if he had been able to take up where he left off. Sometimes little things like that leave us wondering what might have been.

Johnson was not awful at point, and I think he would have been considerably better had he had Marcus Johnson alongside him at the other guard spot to take the pressure off him. But, he could not be two places at once, and so he was absentee at one position and encumbered at the other.

So we bid goodbye to MJ on a down note, but we have the memories of that superlative season in which he tied Nick Zachery for the second-best single season 3PT% in school history. It certainly was fun to watch.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Blocking Man

I realize the level of competition was lower then, but Mr. Larry Johnson must have been something to behold playing back in his day. His single-season record for blocks (113 in 1975) is better than the career record for everyone except Muntrelle Dobbins at 158.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Once again, Calipari fails

If I were a Kentucky fan, I would be getting a little tired of this. Every year John Sleezipari has arguably the best talent in the nation, and every year except one he has failed to bring home a national title, and this year even to get to the Final Four. In eight seasons at Kentucky, he has brought home one lone national championship. EVERY YEAR he has Final Four quality talent, and usually the best talent in the nation. One year he even got beat in the first round of the NIT, for crying out loud. Sure, they are winning lots of games, but they ought to win lots of games with the Cadillac talent they have.

Lis Shoshi

I was a little disappointed in Shoshi's season. I had expected a breakout year, but then I did not anticipate that he would be injured for several games. In fairness to him, he improved a little in scoring and rebounding, and is 9th on our career blocked shots list in only two seasons here, and had two of our top ten single-season blocks numbers in those two seasons.. So he did get the job done, and we definitely will miss him.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sometimes we use euphemisms

We may say, "He's just very competitive," when what we mean is, "He needs to see a psychiatrist."

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Maurius Hill

When I think of Hill, I think of Co Willis from a few years back. The only thing that saved him from being purely a role player throughout his career was his experience, dependability and versatility down the stretch.

Hill did a lot of things fairly well and was one of our most dependable players. He was undersized for a power forward, and not quite skilled enough for a top-notch 3. But he got the job done, and done pretty well, over the course of his career. He is the type of player that it takes several other players to replace. I hope they are out there.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Coach Rod Barnes

I have always liked Coach Barnes. His teams play hard-nosed defense. He took Ole Miss to the Sweet 16 in 2001, but then his teams fell on hard times, and he landed at Georgia State, where he never got rolling. At that time they were in the Colonial Athletic Conference, where the competition was at that time considerably tougher than in the SBC, where GSU later moved.

Finally, Barnes landed at Cal State Bakersfield, which was just about the bottom of the heap. At that time they were an independent, but after two years they found a home in the WAC. (Bakersfield has only been Division 1 since 2007.) In his fifth year, they made the NCAA tournament. In his sixth year there, he has taken his team to the Final Four of the NIT, and maybe more to come.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Jalen Jackson

It took him a while to get rolling in his Little Rock career, but Jackson eventually became our most reliable player for inside scoring. He ended up as a double-figure scorer this past season, and actually one of our better shooters. His 45.2% from the arc lead the team, albeit with a fairly small sample. He was third on the team in rebounds per game, third in steals and second in blocks. A  good all-round performance. Although at times he lacked a little in consistency, when his game was "on," he was a player.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Keep an eye on TCU

If you want a team on the move you can watch, keep an eye on TCU. This was the first season with alumnus Jamie Dixon as their helm. They did not make the NCAA (they were a bubble team), but they just hammered a good Richmond team to advance to the Final Four of the NIT. I am not saying that the Frogs will move into the top tier of the Big 12, because that is some pretty tough country; but considering how bad they have been in recent years, they are in for a very pleasant upgrade.

For the record, TCU has never been to the Final Four. They made the regional finals once (in 1968) and they have been to the Sweet Sixteen three other times, all in the 1950s. They have only made one NCAA Tournament appearance in the last 30 years (1998). So it has been a while since TCU basketball has been relevant; but stick around: that is about to change.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Not the best

The winner of the NCAA Tournament frequently is not the best team in the nation. Usually it is the best combination of skill and luck (avoid injuries, no bad calls by officials at the wrong moment, etc.). That is part of it's glamor, of course, that the best team may get beat out of the big prize, and an underdog may win it. And there is nothing wrong with that.

However, I do wish there were some reward for the team that did the best overall body of work for the season. As things stand right now, the best team gets nothing but a warm feeling.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kemy Osse

Kemy Osse is a sterling example of a kid who came in, stuck it out through some difficulties, and became a key player on the team by his senior year. (I wish we had a lot more like that.) With the problems that Johnson had, Kemy was our most reliable perimeter shooter over the course of this season. Plus he was always a steady influence on the court. He won't be remembered as one of the great Trojans, but I think most Trojan fans will remember him with affection and respect. He was a player.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Will we sign someone else?

I am guessing that it is almost certain that we will. Wes has to be embarrassed and under pressure after this year's disappointing season, so he will move to upgrade the roster if he can in the late signing period. We already have news of a couple more offers in recent weeks. If I had to guess, Pippins and Marcus are the most likely casualties to make room for the other scholarships.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Is that player on campus?

Sometimes a single player can make a huge difference to a team. This is not speculation on my part. In our fabled 1985-86 season, we were 23-11 overall. Paul Springer started 23 of those games. In the first eleven games of the year we were 4-7. For the remainder of the season, with Springer starting, we lost only four games, two of them in overtime, and beat Notre Dame in the process. Sure, there were lots of good players on that team: Myron Jackson, Pete Myers, Michael Clarke, Ken Worthy, etc. But those great players were 4-7 without Springer at point guard. What might our record have been if things had continued as they were? Then one of our all-time great teams might have been very mediocre. It makes one wonder how good this year's team might have been if we had had that one player.

A really entertaining game

I loved the Dayton vs. Wichita State game in the NCAA tournament last night. Both teams are noted for hard-nosed defense and really getting after it with a physical style of play. Blue collar ball. My kind of basketball.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The NCAA owes an apology

Each year the NCAA ought to send an official letter of apology to all the teams that "get" to play in the play-in games. Those games exist just to allow a few more sub-par money conference coaches a chance to boost their resumes. They make no sense at all and are an insult to the teams that get bumped to the first day of the tournament. Oh, the NCAA  goes to great lengths to pretend they are really part of the tournament, but continual slips of lips show how people really view them, and logically should.

Reasons for optimism

We underachieved this past season; no denying that. It was very disappointing. Plus, we lose a lot of experience and maturity moving forward. Some will scoff, but notwithstanding those facts, I do see reasons for optimism looking ahead. Not sky-high optimism, but some of the more cautious sort.

First, Deondre Burns showed that he is going to be a good one. He led the team in 3-point percentage among those with over 50 attempts. If he starts for a full season he could put up some really nice numbers. If he can be a career 41% three-point shooter, he will be tied with Nick Zachery for third all-time.

Second, I still think Oliver Black is going to be one of the premier big men in the SBC. Even this year he shot 55% from the field, pulled  down 3.3 boards per game, and was third on the team in offensive rebounds. He should be ready to go from the starting gate this next year, and I think he is going to do well.

Third, we should finally get to see Dayshawn Watkins at the point. He was a 3-star recruit out of high school and was signed by a money conference school. He may take a few games to get the rust out of his system, but I am very eager to see how well he does. If he does solve our problem at point, that will be a huge step forward from where we were this last season.

We have a lot of holes to fill, but those should be three important cogs in the wheel. A bona fide point guard, a play-making scorer, an inside threat and board man. We  really lacked all three of those this year. There is just a chance we might have them next year.

Add to all the above the fact that Wes Flanigan will no longer be a first-year head coach. I don't know how well he will learn from his mistakes, but until I see otherwise I am going to assume that he is able to do what most people can do in that regard, and if so, he will be a better coach next year than last.

Not defending the three is not optional

Because the game is so disproportionately weighted in favor of the three-point shot, and because players have focused so predominately on shooting from that particular spot, and because the three has become so glamorized in today's game and other aspects of the game correspondingly neglected, teams today have no option but to focus their defenses on defending the arc. Occasionally a team will come along that is bad enough at shooting that it can be de-emphasized momentarily, but that does not happen very often.

How many times this weekend will we see a player on the backside of the defense cheat inside to provide help defense, only to have the opposition quickly reverse the ball or penetrate and kick out, and the man he was supposed to be covering make a wide open three? It happens all the time. It ought not to happen any time. You just cannot afford to leave shooters with more space than the defender can close in about half a second. Does that mean that your interior defense is going to get neglected to some extent? Certainly it does, but that is today's game. The rule makers have said, "Ignore everything but the three," and have shaped the game accordingly. I don't like it; in fact, I despise it, but there it is. You neglect to defend the arc at your own peril. The good news is that if you shut down the three these days, a lot of teams do not have a good Plan B.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Rooting for teams in the NCAA

Sometimes I root for teams in the Big Dance because they are "my" teams - ones that I follow regularly. Sometimes I do for quirky reasons, like perhaps just liking the sound of the name of the school (Quinnipiac, for instance). And sometimes I do like my 92-year-old father, who usually does not know one team from another: I just pick one at random and root for it for the fun of it.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A pox on media timeouts!


Wide open NCAA tournament

It has been a while since we have had an NCAA tournament so lacking in a favorite. This one is really wide open. Several contenders, but a case can be made against any of them. Ought to be fun.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Logically optimistic

Sheer logic makes me think that we ought to have a pretty good recruiting class coming in. Wes Flanigan has been an assistant at Little Rock, UAB, Nebraska and Mississippi State. As an assistant he would have been involved in recruiting at each school, and should have learned something about evaluating talent from each of his head coaches. He would have had lots of practice at it, from several different perspectives. In addition, he grew up in a basketball family with a father who has coached a number of Division 1 players.

We had several slots available this recruiting season. We filled all the openings in the early period. Logically, that should mean that we got who we wanted. If we got who we wanted, and if Wes is as good as he ought to be at evaluating talent, then we ought to have a good group coming in. Now, logic does not always equal reality, but it is enough to make me optimistic.

Time to get hungry

When you go to post-season one season and miss it the next, the players who were involved in both years tend to be hungry to go again. Unfortunately, we do not have many of those, but we do have a few; and hopefully they will be leaders in spreading the hunger to the newcomers.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Almost unbelievable, if true

According to the video linked below of the 1956 NCAA Finals, Bill Russell had a 26/27/20 triple/double. Blocks were not recorded officially, but evidently someone counted them from the video. Twenty blocks! His sense of timing on defense was amazing.


2017 Regular Season National Champion

In our on-going effort to make the regular season mean more, this blog officially declares Gonzaga to be the National Champion of Division 1 college basketball for the 2016-2017 regular season.

Image result for gonzaga bulldogs men's basketball

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The NCAA committee frequently does this to me

Pitting Vandy against Northwestern in the first round. Two of my favorite teams. Probably I will have to root for Northwestern, given their historic situation this season, but I really like Vandy's new coach.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Land of Opportunity

Things will be wide open in Little Rock next season. In the Starters Returning column, we will have a big zero. (Black and Burns did start some games, but they were not among the top five in minutes played.) So if you want to play, this is your chance.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Measuring success relatively

Chris Beard is a very good basketball coach and I am sure he is at Texas Tech intending to shoot for a national championship. However, he may need to keep an objective evaluator handy, because he is going to be in for a tough job. He is the coach at a football school in a football state, but he competes in a conference where there are schools from states where basketball is king. Furthermore, TTech has not had a ton of success in their history. They have been as far as the Sweet Sixteen five times, but three of those were 1976 or before. Two Sweet Sixteens in the last 40 years is not exactly a howling record of accomplishment. Nothing approaching a Final Four. Recruiting to Lubbock, Texas is not going to be a piece of cake, either.

Tubby Smith's last year at TTU produced 19 wins and  a 9-9 conference record. Six rotation holdovers from that squad were available for Beard, yet Tech only got to 6-12 in conference. The Big 12 is just a brutal place to have to coach basketball.

Beard has shown he can do a lot with a little, and that is what he will have to do at Tech, because he is not likely to rake in talent like they can in Kansas, nor will he have the bottomless pit of money available like they have in Austin. His proven ability to identify hidden talent will stand him in good stead.

Consistently being in the top half of the Big 12 would be a considerable accomplishment for any coach. I think Beard may be able to do that, and along the road he might break some new ground of accomplishment in Lubbock. But he is competing against men named Self and Huggins and Drew and Dixon, etc. That is some tough company. Oklahoma State has already won 20 games this year, with a new head coach, and their RPI is 35, and yet they are only fifth in the Big 12. You can do awfully well in that conference and still be well down the list.

Big 12 only going to get better

The Big 12 is arguably the best basketball conference in the country (ACC and Big East might argue that), and certainly one of the top three. They are only going to get better. Texas Tech replaced Tubby with Chris Beard, and we know his ability. Probably more important, in terms of a big jump upward, was TCU's hiring of Jamie Dixon from Pitt. They have a long way to go, but they took a big step in the right direction this year. And, of course, this does not even mention all the COY types who are already in the conference. Even making the top half in that conference is an accomplishment.

Time for a deep breath

This is the point in a disappointing season when we must draw a deep breath and say, "Oh well, there is always next year." And, that is very true. I thought we should have been in the top third of the conference. we weren't.

What did I get wrong? Well, first of all I thought Dayshawn Watkins would be healthy. He wasn't. I thought Flanigan would be able to get more out of his players. He wasn't. I thought Johnson would take up where he left off last season. He didn't. Likewise with Shoshi. Neither did he.

On the positive side, I had high expectations for Jalen Jackson, and he fulfilled that hope. Likewise with Kemy Osse and Maurius Hill, who were both reliable, steady players. The biggest surprise was Deondre Burns, who came out of nowhere mid-season to become our most reliable shooter. Big things should be ahead for that young man.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Jaron Blossingame - a throwback

I watched most of the Duke and Clemson game today in the ACC tournament. It was really fun. Jaron Blossingame, Clemson's outstanding player, actually does post up like old times, and the Tigers actually throw the ball to him, and they actually do it like it ought to be done, getting the ball to him at the right time and in the right place. I loved it.

Why play for an elite program?

I realize I  am cut from different cloth than a lot of people, but if I were a high-D1 basketball prospect, I absolutely would not jump on the bandwagon by going to one of the elite programs. Why? Anyone can take the easy route. If you win there, you accomplish nothing unexpected. On the other hand, if you go to a program that needs help, and you do help, and against odds they accomplish something remarkable, think how much more exciting that would be.

One thing I'll never know

It is amazing to me how anyone could miss a dunk shot. I mean, all you have to do is drop the ball in the hole. It is point blank. But then, since I have never come even remotely close to dunking the ball, that is one question to which I will never know the answer. I will have to discuss it vicariously.

Eager on recruiting

I am really looking forward to seeing how our new recruits pan out. Wes is supposed to be a good recruiter, and it will be interesting to see if any of this current crew can be of immediate help, since we are going to need it.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Does it matter when you lose an all-time great?

Those who were around in those days seem to consider Wimp Sanderson as one of the better coaches we have had in Little Rock, having led the Trojans to the NIT. He was the coach in both the 1995-96 and '96-'97 seasons.

Malik Dixon was our second-best all-time scorer, his total points being eclipsed only by James Scott. He played in both the '96 and '97 seasons.

Muntrelle Dobbins is the second-leading rebounder in Little Rock history, behind only Larry Johnson. He is also 8th on the all-time points list. He played on both of those teams.

In both the 1996 and 1997 seasons, we had one of our better coaches, our second-best all time scorer and our second-best all-time rebounder. Yet in 1996 we were 23-7 and went to the NIT and in 1997 we were 18-11 and did not go to post-season. Why the drop-off, considering what we had coming back? The answer? In 1996 we had Derek Fisher, and in 1997 we did not.

Derek Fisher is without doubt one of the best players in program history, if not the best. His absence left a BIG hole in the program. We were still pretty good, but no better than that. Josh Hagins might not quite have equalled Fisher's impact on the program, but he was pretty close. His stats were comparable, and his leadership was outstanding. Last year we had the best season in program history, this season we have been mediocre at best. Quite a drop-off.

My point is that you cannot lose an all-time great from your program without it having a profound affect on the team. Wimp had two of the program's all-time great players returning in the second of those two years, and still had a five-win drop-off, with no post-season. The fall was more drastic this season, but then Wes Flanigan did not have Dixon and Dobbins to help break the fall. Should some of the blame fall on the coach? Certainly, but even a very good coach cannot by himself always close the talent gap.

Monday, March 6, 2017

I like Black's upside

I thought Oliver Black would be better this year than he has been, but I still like his potential. He is athletic and plays hard. And he still had two years to develop.  I think big things are in store for him - and for us.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The event that most has to be taken in context

This would probably be the pole vault, due to the vast changes there have been in the physical qualities of the poles themselves. It is just not possible to compare someone with a bamboo or steel pole to the modern, high-tech fiberglass poles. For example, Cornelius Warmerdam was the first vaulter to clear 15 feet, and broke his own mark two other times. That height pales in comparison to the 20 feet-plus that stands today, but consider that Warmerdam vaulted throughout his career with a bamboo pole.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Little things

It seems ludicrous to think of a three-game winning streak being a big deal. When you have had a season like we have had, little things can seem like big things. And you have to make the small goals before you can make the big goals. Joe Dimaggio once had a two-game hiting streak, and it did not seem like much - at that point.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Why white at home?

I assume the home team would have the call as to which uniforms they wear. Invariably the dark uniforms are much more attractive then that white (light) ones. It would seem to me that the home team would want to wear the better-looking uniforms at home, and yet they always wear those  drab white ones. Curious.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

What we must have next year

First on the list - way above everything else - is a point guard. If we have him on campus already, fine. If we don't, fine. But one way or the other we have to have a point. Actually, three points. We cannot have a repeat of this season, where everything comes apart at the seams for the want of one player. There are several other holes we have to plug,  but if we don't have a point, it won't matter what else we have.