Monday, December 31, 2018

Cav defense even better?

Fansided has an interesting article by Jacob Zinkula which notes that Virginia already-impressive defense may be even better this season in that they better at are limiting 3PT attempts against them. Opponents aren't getting off those shots. And as they learned in the embarrassing loss in the NCAA tournament last season, if you let other teams get off those shots, sometimes they go in. I have said for a long time that the SNA (Shots Not Allowed) is one of the most important non-measured statistical cagetories in basketball.


Sunday, December 30, 2018

Of those on the hot seat

Fansided lists five high-major coaches on the hot seat at the halfway point: Josh Pastner at Georgia Tech, Mark Turgeon at Maryland, Danny Manning at Wake Forest, Andy Enfield at USC, and Steve Alford at UCLA. I like Turgeon and Manning, and I hope they make it; but the other three fall into the "good riddance" category with me, whether or not they were winning.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

20/20 double/doubles

Double/doubles are common, but those where both numbers are in the 20s (or more) are fairly rare. For example, in the entire history of Trojan basketball there have been only three of them. Muntrelle Dobbins did it once, and Rashad Jones-Jennings did it twice, topping it off with a 23/30 double/double against UAPB in 2005. Quite a performance! (And one of my favorite Little Rock memories, since I got to see that one in person.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Did the non-conference finish where we thought it would?

Regardless of their schedule, I definitely did not expect Texas State to be 10-2 at this point. Georgia State, Georgia Southern and Louisiana tied for second at 8-4 was predictable - but not TSU. We shall see where they finish in conference play, but they have over-achieved to this point. I expected Troy to be further up the ladder with Jordan Vornado and Alex Hick as senior big men.

Where did I expect us to be? Probably about where we are. We have been good a few times and stinky several times. Maybe things are coming together, but I do not think we have much of a chance of penetrating the Big Four this year. Maybe next year.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Wish list for the New Year

1. Good health. Because of Walker's blunder in not filling out the roster, injuries have hurt us more this season than they otherwise might have. So, we badly need to keep healthy the players that we have.

2. Another outside shot maker or two. We have several that came in advertised as good shooters, but so far they have not been making their shots. Thus the burden has fallen on Tucker and Pippins, and in today's game two outside options are not enough.

3. More playing time for our big men. We are not a big roster to start with, and when Maric, Bankston and Johnson spend too much time on the bench because of fouls, it really limits our options.

4. MADE free throws. We are as good as anyone at shooting them; we just cannot seem to make them.

5. For Nowell to realize that he is a point guard, not a shooting guard. We have other shooters, and he is not making his shots, anyway. 5-8 is short for high school, and it is REALLY short for Division 1. No matter how good he is, there just are some things that are different in the big time, and he is going to have to adjust his approach.

6. More assists. Fewer turnovers.

7. More shots for Bankston, given how many of them he makes.

8. Better rebounding. We are barely holding our own on the boards.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The difference in polls

This week the AP has Duke #1 and Virginia #4. The coaches poll has Virginia #1 and Duke #2. Maybe the difference is because coaches better appreciate just what Tony Bennett does at VA.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Non-conference predictions

Pre-season predictions are pure guesses, but guesses toward the end of the non-conference season are at least a little better educated.

Going purely by records to this point, Texas State is in first place, with a three-way tie for second among Georgia Southern, Georgia State and Louisiana. (We are in next-to-last place.)

Sagarin has the same teams, but rearranges them: Ga State, Texas State, Ga Southern, Louisiana. (We are in 9th place.)

RealtimeRPI has it Ga State, Ga Southern, Texas State, Louisiana.

So all three methods have the same teams, but the order differs. But at least that serves to give a little consensus as to which are the top teams.

Monday, December 24, 2018

John Beilein deserves a title

Beilein is one of the class guys in college basketball - voted by his peers to be the most ethical Division 1 coach. And he came close to a national championship last season, going all the way to the finals. Same in 2013. Throw in a couple more Elite Eights, and a couple more Sweet Sixteens. So, he has been close. But not quite.

I love to see the good guys win. I love to see the sleezebags lose. I surely do hope John Beilein doesn't end up being one of those "almost" guys, who almost made it, but not quite.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Why is a lack of defense "exciting"?

I have heard several fans comment that Walker's team plays "an exciting brand of basketball." Well, if "exciting" equals a lack of defense, I would agree. The Georgetown game looked like a bunch of kids on a playground running back and forth and doing just about anything they wanted to do with only token resistance. For the life of me, I cannot see what is "exciting" about that. It may excite some people, but to me it is just bad basketball.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Playing a national phenom

From time to time we play big-name programs. However, it is unusual for us to play a team which has a player who has made the headlines to the degree that Mac McClung has made it. The kid is a rarity, in several regards. He has unusual athletic ability for a white kid. Plus, he is a white kid at a school that has not had very many white players since the 1972-73 season when John Thompson (the father) began patrolling the sidelines there. Plus, he is from a small school (Gate City, Va). Plus, the coach who recruited him (Patrick Ewing) was a legend as a player, both in college and in the NBA. All these factors made McClung a media darling even before he got to Georgetown. We will now get to see him up close and personal.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Our offensive rebounder

Kamani Johnson is Mr. Offensive Boards for us. He leads the team in that category with 22, with only 13.8 minutes/game playing time. It seems like every year we have someone who just has a feel for hitting the offensive boards. And every team needs that. Since he is a true freshman, you have to figure he is only going to get better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Larry Johnson - Mr. Rebound

He played in Little Rock four seasons. In those four, he never averaged less than double figure rebounds per game. In this freshman season, he snared 15.5 per game. The next year he set the record for a single season at 16.8. Then he finished out his career with 12.9 and 11.2 his last two seasons. In his four seasons, he had four of the top nine single season rebounds-per-game marks in school history. That is a pretty amazing record.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

When does Anderson's time run out?

Mike Anderson is a favored son in Fayetteville because of his connection with the Richardson days, when he admittedly probably played a much bigger role in their success than most folks realized. (He did much of the work, Nolan got the credit.) And he has won a bunch of games as a head coach.

BUT, in Fayetteville he has never been further in the NCAA tournament than the round of 32. That despite having little competition for fans within the state, likely having his pick of any D1 talent from the state, having almost limitless financial resources, and being "bullet proof" to some extent because of Nolan's presence and the threat of considerable noise from his direction involving things legal and political should Anderson be fired.

Granted that the average sports fan in Arkansas is focused on football, but when March does eventually roll around, since they have nothing else to do, they finally begin to ask, "How are the Razorbacks doing in basketball?"  The answer is (once again), Not too badly, but not great. Sagarin has them ranked #42, which is sixth in the SEC. They are 7-2, with only one of those wins being outside of the "purchased" category, and it by only a single point. Plus, they lost to Arizona State at home. In short, they are not building the sort of resume so far that is likely to overwhelm the selection committee. That is the sort of season that has become far too familiar under Anderson.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Oh by the way

We are barely halfway through December, and Kentucky's Rent-a-Championship machine already has two losses, and are ranked 19th, below such stalwarts as Buffalo, Virginia Tech and Nevada. That is getting perilously close to "oh, by the way" status. That is a very satisfying situation, to my way of thinking.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Those special statistical seasons

I have always been a stat-nut. I love tracking statistics of teams and individuals. So, when one of those record-setting seasons is in the making, it is a lot of fun following it and anticipating getting to put the "done" stamp on it when the season is finished. Frequently those seasons pop up in years when the team is not doing well, and add a little bit of spice to a year that otherwise would be pretty dreary.

I remember the season that Rashad Jones-Jennings led the nation in rebounding (even though it did not set a school record). And I would love to have been there when the Johnsons (Larry and Charlie) outdid even JJ. Do you remember the year Ricky Davison blew the 3PT% record out of the water? He was amazing. Or the year Alan Barksdale missed only five FTs all season? Or the year Larry Johnson blocked 113 shots? Amazing! Or when Vaughn Williams handed out 259 assists? No one else has come even close to that mark, not even Fish.

Well, we may be having such a season this year with Bankston's shooting percentage. There is a lot way to go, but it is fun to watch his numbers every night and wonder if he is going to miss any shots.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

When a cupcake is appropriate

We have discussed the soft schedule of Texas State this season. They are 9-1, but Sagarin ranks their schedule at #345, which definitely qualifies as a cupcake schedule. However, I do not necessarily fault Coach Danny Kaspar for setting things up that way.

First off, it is unlikely that TSU would be in the running for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament in any case, so scheduling the Gonzagas of the world would only serve to bring his team into conference play bloodied and possibly discouraged. So, the second possible motive to do it would be to toughen up his team in preparation for conference play. (If your non-conference opponents are tougher, they make conference look easy.) And, if you are competitive against a tough schedule, that is one thing; but if you are just getting your kids beat down night after night in games where they have no realistic chance, that does not accomplish much (unless you need the money).

It is nice to win. It feels good. It helps morale. And, with a weaker schedule you have the opportunity to get your offense and defense clicking, plus getting depth built up by getting the bench into the game more often. There are lots of things to be accomplished by a weaker schedule, just as long as you make sure your team realizes that fact and does not get an inflated view of how good they are.

Friday, December 14, 2018

When honored names are revived

I enjoy watching when programs begin to revive that once were bellweathers, but which have fallen on hard times for a while. We have a couple of examples this season. San Fransisco, of course, was a powerhouse team during the 1950s - indeed, THE powerhouse team, what with Mr. Russell swatting shots and dominating the boards. They had back-to-back national championships, three straight Final Fours, and the longest winning streak in the pre-Wooden days. Then they went to the Elite eight twice in the 1960s and twice in the 1970s. It has been a while since the Dons have been a factor, but there may be something in the works this year. Kyle Smith has them at 9-1 in the early going.

Likewise, DePaul has been just awful in recent years, the doormat of the Big East. However, they, too, had their heyday. They have been to two Final Fours, and eight Sweet Sixteens from 1953 to 1984. Before that, the great George Mikan made them a household name.  Coach Ray Meyer led the team for 40 seasons, notching seven straight 20-win seasons from 1978 to 1984. While the Blue Demons are not scaring anyone yet, they have started the season at 6-2, which gives some hope that things may be on the upswing somewhat.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

How To Get Better At Free Throw Shooting

I am sure there have been books written about this. I am sure it is much more of a science than many coaches would like to admit. Some teams shoot well; some teams get better. So why can some coaches teach FT shooting and others seemingly cannot? Don't look at me, because I do not know the answer; but I have to believe that somewhere out there are those Free Throw gurus who have made a specialty of teaching that part of the game.

I do know this much from my old music days: practice does NOT make perfect. Merely shooting free throws does not necessarily make you that much better at shooting free throws. First of all, what you are trying to do is not to shoot them, but to make them. Anyone can shoot them. If you shoot them badly, and practice doing whatever it is you are doing when you shoot them badly, then you are just practicing bad shooting. PERFECT practice makes perfect. Do it right; make the shot; then do it right over and over again.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Little Rock - home of rebounders

It certainly is not that way today, but there was a time when Little Rock was Rebound City. In an eleven-year stretch, we had the leading rebounder in the SBC five times. (Muntrelle Dobbins, Ryan Moss twice, Rashad Jones-Jennings twice). I wonder if we could bring one of those gentlemen out of retirement to help our anemic rebounding these days.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The annual Heisman farce

Ron Yary. Forrest Gregg. Orlando Pace. Are you telling me that these and others like them were NEVER in the history of the sport good enough to garner the Heisman? Why don't they just tell the truth and change the definition of the award to be for the best skill position offensive player in the game?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Room for improvement

The nice thing about being really bad is that there is lots of room for improvement. Well, we are bad, so we can get saddled up and start moving in the right direction. Any time now. Why hesitate? Let's get going.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Dixon's teams - still playing defense

You know Jamie Dixon's teams are going to play defense. For example, in the 2012-13 season, Pitt held opponents to 39% shooting overall and 30.4% from the arc. Pretty typical. But, of course, Dixon moved on to his alma mater. So, are the TCU Horned Frogs playing defense, too? Natch! Opponents shoot an anemic 37.6% overall and an amazing 27.8% from the arc. You won't lose many games playing like that - and in fact they have lost only one so far (7-1).

Friday, December 7, 2018

Rivalries we sometimes overlook

Tomorrow Pitt plays West Virginia. This seems like it might not be a big deal, since they are in different conferences and different states - but it is. It is The Backyard Brawl. The two cities are only 75 miles apart. Both have become known for a very intense, physical style. It is a bragging rights situation, and it is the type of rivalry that puts the real spice into college basketball.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Grading our recruiting class

Problem #1: Lack of size, especially size that will do the dirty work down low. Monyyong seems to fell into that category, although he needs to put on a LOT of beef. Besovic is very big, but how well he shrugs off his European background and becomes a banger remains to be seen. Grade: B

Problem #2. More gritty, blue collar defense, Little Rock style. If Monyyong becomes a shot rejecter, then we took a step in that direction. However, we are going to need ferocity on the perimeter to get back to our defensive roots, and I cannot tell that Stulic helps that at all. Grade: D+

Problem #3. Free throw shooting. Well, Stulic may help this in time, but I doubt he is going to get much opportunity to make a difference anytime soon, so the existing players are just going to have to get this fixed. Grade: F

Problem #4: A pass-first, high A/TO point guard. No help here. Grade: F

Problem #5: Rebounding. I am speaking specifically here about board work by the big guys. (Our perimeter guys do a good job.) We got size, and size ought to result sooner or later in rebounding. Grade: B

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Is the Big Ten back?

Last year only four teams from the Big Ten made the NCAA tournament, which was out of character for them. Was it the beginning of a longer-term lapse, such as the one the Pac-12 is suffering? Probably not. Currently RealtimeRPI has the Big Ten ranked #1, ahead of the Big 12 and the Big East. There are just too many places with rabid fan bases for the conference to stay down long.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Do we do anything well?

As I write we are 4-4, which is by definition mediocre, which means neither good nor bad. I spend (perhaps) too much time lamenting the things we do not do well. So, what do we do well? There must be something, or we would not be mediocre.

We shoot the ball pretty well. I especially like the 48.9% overall team shooting average. Give most of the credit for that to Kris Bankston, with solid help from Maric, Johnson and Tucker. They are taking shots they can make, and making the shots they take. That is a winning formula. From the arc we are at 34.7%, which is good, though not great. I'll take it for the time being.

For a team that does not have any dominant big man rebounding, we have done pretty well on the boards. We are plus-2, and that is with a 6-5 small forward being our leading rebounder. If Kamani Johnson starts earning more minutes and if Bankston can ever cut down on his fouls, our board work probably will improve.

Monday, December 3, 2018

In-state slugfest

Even in Arkansas there are five D1 schools in basketball, so we have options regarding who we want to have a rivalry with. But that is not always the case. If you want a D1 rival in Montana, there are only two choices. Likewise North Dakota. Likewise South Dakota. And so on.

This past week Providence whipped Rhode Island 59-50, and that is on the east coast, basketball country. The only other D1 option in the state is Brown. So they wait for conference play, but before they get to conference, there is the annual knock-down, drag-out within Little Rhody. It does not get a huge amount of play in the basketball world, but it is a big deal in Rhode Island.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

When you have The Man

Rayjon Tucker has been our  best scorer so far this season, although that has been in the absence of a couple other of our better scorers. That may adjust itself as the season goes on. He is also our leading rebounder, and our big guys have not been out with injuries. He also had the most assists of any non-point guard. It seems obvious that he has a green light from Coach Walker. So far he is The Man for the Little Rock Trojans this season.

What you always worry about when you have a player like Tucker is how that plays with the others. Some of them do not expect to be scorers, of course. Some of them know and accept their roles. But there are others who might be saying, "I could have made that shot if he had just passed me the ball." I hope we do not get into that sort of a situation. That is a chemistry-killer.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Satisfying, isn't it?

Don't you love it when one of the little guys (that many "fans" have never heard of) upsets one of the giants in the game? Like the other night when Radford beat Texas. Yes, that is as in Austin, Texas; the home of all the money and all the tradition (although admittedly not that much basketball tradition). And the Longhorns were ranked #17 at the time. Radford got it done. That just teaches the old lesson: never be afraid.