Friday, May 31, 2019

The difference between MVP and GOAT

The fact of the matter is that the greatest players are not always the most valuable players, because the best players do not always result in the best teams, and it is teams who win championships.

In the GOAT argument, certain names come up. Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Jordan, Robertson. (Until your career is over, you can't legitimately be on this list.) Who did it best? We will go back and forth on that question.

But I would insist that the MVP question is not the same. Who is the first player you would pick to build a winning team? When you come to that, there really is no question. The answer has to be Bill Russell. He himself was perhaps not the greatest player, but there is no doubt that his teams won - at EVERY level. At San Fransisco he averaged a 20/20 double double, and if they had kept block stats back then no doubt he would have dominated that number. His final two years they won back-to-back national championships with a record of 57-1. He led a dominant 1956 Olympic team that easily won the gold medal. And, of course, the dominance of the Boston Celtics while he was three is legendary. Russell won, and won, and won. Everywhere he went. The Most Valuable Player is the guy who does the most to make his team win.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

What a coach does

I guess if you had to break down the job of a college basketball head coach, it would be in three major parts: recruiting, teaching the game, game management. (There is also the administrative management of the department, but that is not as visible.) Personally, I like the coaches that teach the game. Their players know how to play - play the right way. These days there is a handful of coaches who really don't have to do very much coaching since they have a revolving door of NBA talent moving through each year. There are others, however, who rarely get five-star talent, but who keep the kids for three or four years, and mold them into consummate players in their particular system. They teach.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Can Virginia repeat?

The chances of any team repeating at NCAA champs are long ones. After all, it has not happened since Florida in 2007 and before that Duke in 1992. And then when you consider what Virginia lost after last season, the odds get even longer. Gone are super-shooter Kyle Guy, along with De'Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Jack Salt. That would cripple most any team. And Virginia does not live on one-and-doners, so reloading for them is a process, not an act.

However, Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key, Jay Huff and Kihei Clark should return, and all of them were obviously poised to step into larger roles. Tony Bennett is an honest-to-goodness coach who teaches his players to play the right way. He is a coach who makes the sum of the parts to be greater than the whole. In other words, he makes his teams better, and he makes his players to be a team. I don't expect Virginia to win the championship this season, or even to be in the Final Four conversation. But I do expect that they will be better than anyone expects them to be, because they have a better coach than most any other team has.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

You can't have it both ways

Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. "Oh, they couldn't have played today. They just did not have the skills to do it. They couldn't shoot at all, and they never would have survived in today's game."

But look at the all-time rebounding numbers, whether per game or per season. They blow today's guys out of the water. No contest - AT ALL. "But that was a different game back then. You don't need to rebound as much today because players are better shooters, and besides, the guards get a lot more rebounds because of the 3-point shot."

You can't have your cake and eat it, too. Either the numbers are for you, or against you. Granted that the game was different back then, but today's wimps would not have survived back then just as much as they might not have survived today. You can't have it both ways.

Monday, May 27, 2019


I love seeing batters whose batting average with Runners In Scoring Position is higher than their overall average. That means that they probably are cutting back on their swing just a little, trying just to drive the ball instead of swinging for the fence, trying to help their team instead of making headlines, etc.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Will new height change anything?

7-0, 6-11, 6-10, 6-8, 6-8. Height will NOT be a problem for the Trojans next season, assuming we stay healthy. Now, whether the new guys can earn their way onto the court remains to be seen. But we at least know that we had 6-10 and 6-8 at the two inside positions who are now veterans and who put up some outstanding numbers last season.

IF the new big men are players, it will be very interesting to me to see if Walker changes his approach to offense at all.  Maric and Bankston are going to put the ball in the basket. Will Walker think it is worth while to make his guards look inside first.

Or to defense, for that matter, if either of the new big guys is a rim enforcer. We know that Bankston is a shot blocker, and if either Monyyong or Besovic is legit at it, that could be an intimidating pair down low. That would allow our perimeter players to be very aggressive.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

How Nowell compares historically

Little Rock has had some outstanding point guards in our history. How does Markquis Nowell compare with them in his freshman season? We have enough data to do a little research. I am somewhat hampered doing this because I do not know which of them actually played point most of the time. For example, James Scott is on our career assists list, but never made the single season leaders list. So, I am taking those players who were among the single season leaders in assists. The only place I can get their freshman year numbers is from the 1000 point club, so they necessarily also will be on that list.

Nowell - 11.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 105 assists, 36 steals, 38.2 FG%, 35.4 3PT%, 79.2 FT%

Josh Hagins - 8.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 96 assists, 38 steals, 45.2 FG%, 33.8 3PT%, 77.0 FT%
Derek Fisher - 7.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 92 assists, 39 steals, 41.2 FG%, 29.0 3PT%, 77.2 FT%
Vaughn Williams - 7.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 80 assists, 44 steals, 46.7 FG%, 71.0 FT%

The bottom line is that Nowell compares favorably up and down the line. He did not shoot nearly as well overall, but that can be attributed somewhat to his very small size. Hopefully maturity will improve his shot selection. Considering that the three players he is being compared to are all in the top ten scorers of all time, and they are the top three career leaders in assists and steals, there is not much more you could expect of him. Statistically they qualify as the top three point guards in Little Rock history, and he goes toe to toe with them. Mark him down as a 3-star who did not disappoint.

(Now if, if, IF Nowell and Maric will stay with the program for four years and improve as they go - ah, that is sweet to think about.)

Friday, May 24, 2019

Fans at a distance

Big money programs are on television all the time, so they have no trouble keeping the interest of those fans who live at a distance - far enough that they cannot attend games regularly. But how can schools do it a little further down the food chain? Today, that is an easy answer - via the internet. You can "reach out and touch people" easily. You can keep them informed, make them feel like they belong. And it is not all that difficult. The problem is that schools just don't do it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Walker feeling the heat

Darrell Walker ought to be feeling a lot of heat about now after the disaster that just ended. We had a lot more talent than we had wins last season, and that is not the sort of thing to inspire confidence in a head coach. Now we get to see if DW is able to learn from his mistakes. Can he improve? He should have six upperclassmen on the roster this year, so maturity will be less of an issue.

The #1 issue for me is whether or not Walker is willing to enforce on-court discipline. Is he going to allow the players to be NBA Junior, or is he going to make them play right? Is he going to let them play like they want to play so they will like him as a coach, or make them play the game right whether or not they like it? Keep an eye on the assist to turnover ratio of our point guards as an indicator of that problem.

If we don't finish next season above .500, I would be in favor of letting Walker ease back to the NBA. If it was fully Chasse Conque's decision to hire Walker, then that would make two disasters in a row under his management and he needs to cut his losses quickly. If it was not fully his decision to hire, then he may not have the full authority to fire, either. We shall see.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Tucker's tenure

Rayjon Tucker got a great deal from Little Rock. Little Rock got very little from him. There, I said it. Tucker was able to come into a situation where his abilities would get the greatest spotlight. Then he would transfer out as a hot ticket, able to go to a bigger stage. What did Little Rock get in return? Why, we got 21 losses.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Assessing recruiting

OK, so this is a stab in the dark. But it is better than nothing. What did we having coming out of this season? Nowell, Lottie, Pippins and presumably Curtis covering the point. Should be in good shape there. Lottie and Pippins at the 2. Problem. Wyatt at the 3. Problem. Bankston and Johnson at the 4. Good, but need some depth. Maric at the 5. Problem.

We who is it that we assume we having coming in.
Besovic - 5
Evans - 2
Lukic - 2
Monyyong - 4
Stulic - 2
Palmero - 3

Since these 2s are tall 2s, they can easily swing over to the 3, and Monyyong is plenty big enough for a Sun Belt 5. So we covered our immediate problems, it appears. And we may still sign another player. Monyyong appears to be the plum of the picking so far, but that is purely on paper.

Monday, May 20, 2019

That magic combination

We have had lesser coaches who were willing to stay and a couple of (later) Final Four coaches who wouldn't. Do you reckon we will ever get a coach at that level who wants to stay? Really, really tough to do, especially in these days of mega-money.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Their spots won't be handed to them

Notwithstanding the gaudy statistics that Maric and Bankston put up last season, they can't take for granted that they will have starting spots next season. The guys competing for those slots (Besovic and Monyyong) are even taller than they are, and put up some pretty good numbers themselves. And you can add Kamani Johnson into that mix.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Royal basketball fan

The  queen of the little nation of Bhutan is a lovely 28-year-old named Jetsun Pima. She was educated at Regent's College in London. Somewhere along the line she developed an interest in basketball and was the captain of her school team. She still maintains an interest in the sport.

Dragon Queen of Bhutan (cropped).jpg

Friday, May 17, 2019

How did Maric do for a Trojan freshman?

Nikola Maric certainly had a solid season, especially for a freshman. It would be interesting to know how he did against some of our better big men at a comparable stage in their careers. The problem is that we do not have many records for a comparable season. The only two inside players for whom we have freshman stats are Larry Johnson and Muntrelle Dobbins.

NM - 10.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 51.7%, 20 blocks, 52 assists
LJ - 13.3 ppg, 15.5 rpg, 48.1%, 113 blocks, 53 assists
MD - 7.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 46.3%, 29 blocks, 9 assists

Perhaps this is not a fair comparison, but it does give us a little idea about Maric's potential. Johnson and Dobbins are two of the giants in Trojan history, #6 and #8, respectively, on the all-time scoring list. Johnson dominates the rebounding and blocks stats. Dobbins was one of the better rebounders in Sun Belt history.

Maric comes up short in rebounding and blocks, but compares very favorably in the other categories. Plus, he made 42.9% of this 3-point attempts. That shot did not exist in Johnson's day, and Dobbins was a pure low-post man, attempting only one shot from the arc in his career.

The bottom line? If Maric stays in Little Rock and stays healthy, there is no reason to doubt that he will end up among the elites. That is something to look forward to.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

APR ban finally has some teeth

Reportedly UCLA is very close to being banned from post season play because of APR numbers. Currently they are at 933, and if the number dips below 930 next spring, they would get the ax. I am glad to see that. Maybe it will get someone's attention - but I doubt it. I wonder if Mick Cronin knew about that before he took that job.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Do it in non-conference

I have long been an advocate of the proverb, "If you don't play right, you don't play." Too many coaches do not seem to have any control over what is transpiring on the court because the players are just doing what they want to do. The time to get that fixed is early in the season. Yes, if you bench players who are not playing right, it may cost you some games, but at least they won't be conference games. Pay the piper early, and you may not have to pay later on. Convince the team you mean business, and maybe they will listen.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

College to pros or pros to college?

It was just reported that John Beilein is going to coach in the pros. He certainly has earned the right to have a shot at it, even though I would think he is much better suited to coach in college. Anyway, it raises the question as to which direction of movement works best. I don't follow the NBA, so I could not comment on that, but the college coaches I have seen come to the college ranks have been a mixed bag at best. In the first place, one wonders if their hearts are really in it, especially since they have to take on the unpleasant duty of recruiting.

Monday, May 13, 2019

John McDonnell - astounding

What Coach McDonnell accomplished at Fayetteville is almost unbelievable. 40 national championships. Five national triple crowns. (No other school has ever won one.) 20 conference triple crowns, including eight straight. 46 SEC championships out of a possible 50.

Granted that the number of national championships is inflated when compared with other sports, since he had three chances each year to win one. Still, divide 40 by 3 and you still come up with 13.3. And the five national triple crowns (winning CC, indoor and outdoor in the same year) is a staggering accomplishment, because you have three chances not to win a title. And the eight straight conference triple crowns is a level of dominance we may not ever see again at the D1 level.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Did the pros hurt?

It is strongly my opinion that they play an inferior grade of basketball in the NBA. Not inferior in talent, of course, but sadly lacking in basketball basics. Just my opinion, of course. But if it is true, did it help Darrell Walker to have coached in the pros? One wonders.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Where can Chasse hang his hat?

First, let me say that I realize that on-field performance is only indirectly the responsibility of an Athletic Director. He is an administrator, not a coach. How he does his job as an administrator is largely beyond the view of the average fan. We are not in a position to judge, and ought not to try to judge. His boss can take care of that.

However, at this point in his career at Little Rock, what can Chasse Conque hang his hat on as an administrator in terms of what is visible to us? He has inaugurated the wrestling program, but it is difficult to see Arkansans getting very excited about that, without an established in-state high school program to support it. Women's basketball remains good, but it was good before he came. Baseball seems to have improved some. He is perilously close to having made consecutive bad choices in a men's basketball coach. There may be marginal improvements in the other sports, but nothing that catches the eye.

Hopefully Chasse has the program on a solid foundation financially and academically. Those are things he can control. There is only so much he can do about what goes on competitively, but at this point I would say we are just about treading water during his tenure.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Obvious points of emphasis for the off season

FREE THROW SHOOTING. We were last in the conference. I have no idea how to teach this skill, but we have several players who are inexplicably bad at it. One of them, Ryan Pippins, shot worse last season from the line than he did from the 3PT arc. Lottie, Johnson and Bankston are also weak. Lots of low-hanging fruit to pick in this one stat.

TURNOVERS. We were last in the conference. This one is on the coach. Players will take care of the ball if you MAKE them take care of it. If you allow them to stay on the playground, that's what they will do, because it is a lot easier and a lot more fun.

OFFENSIVE REBOUNDING. This one is a little bit of a head-scratcher, because we were second in the conference in defensive rebounds per game, but dead last in offensive rebounds. We just do not hit the offensive boards. Perhaps it has something to do with Walker's philosophy. Maybe he puts a premium on guarding against the break. I don't know why, but we were not any good at doing it.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

An epidemic of whiffs

Season home run leaders:
Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, McGwire, Sosa.
All of them since 1998.

Season RBI leaders:
Wilson, Gehrig, Greenberg, Foxx, Gehrig
All of them 1938 or before.

Season strikeout leaders by batters:
Reynolds, Dunn, Davis, Moncada, Carter.
All of them are since 2009.

Anyone see a trend? Maybe an explanation?

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Sherlock Holmes at the fights?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was, of course, the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and many others. What is not as well known is that he was also an avid sportsman. He played cricket at the first-class level and was elected captain of his golf club.

Sir Arthur was also an amateur boxer. His connection with that sport led to his being asked to referee the James Jeffries-Jack Johnson heavyweight fight in Reno, which at the time was dubbed The Fight of the Century. He said, "I was much inclined to accept . . . though my friends pictured me as winding up with a revolver at one ear and a razor at the other." Other obligations prevented him from accepting the invitation, but it was a nice tribute.

July 4, 1910: Black challenger Jack Johnson defeats White world heavyweight boxing champion James J. Jeffries in 15th round at Reno

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

We were a prime example

This past season's version of the Trojans was a prime example of why many coaches insist that their teams play a slower pace. Too many turnovers. WAY too many turnovers. We were last in the SBC in turnover margin, and averaged the most turnovers per game by a bunch. (We had 16.3 turnovers per game; UTA was closest at 14.2.) We were next-to-last in assist to turnover margin.

Turnovers lead to empty possessions - when you do not even get off a shot. That is a sure-fire recipe for losing ballgames. Players like to win, but they also like to have fun and to look good. It is the coach's job to MAKE the players forget about looking good and make them concentrate on BEING good. In other words, to force them off the playground and onto the basketball court.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Graduate transfer nonsense

There is nothing right about this graduate transfer business. I don't know who made up the current rule, but it is a complete farce. It sanctimoniously proclaims to be about helping players further their education, but how many players do you think actually transferred in order to get a graduate degree that was not offered where they had been?

Sure, players transfer both directions, and lower-level schools do frequently get good talent from big time schools that helps them considerably. But that virtually never happens under the graduate transfer provisions. Always the players are using the rule to help them vault to a higher level school, after the smaller school had devoted three or four years of cost and effort into developing the player.

I will go right on record: that rule is a joke, and I hate it. Any questions?

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Financial pain

Winning games helps attendance, and attendance directly impacts the bottom line in a basketball program, even if it is not the only factor. That is self-evident. Our play was awful this season, and our attendance was awful, to go along with it. And the problem was that attendance was dropping during the Flanagan regime even before Walker got here. I wonder how much the AD will put up with. I wonder how much the AD can afford to put up with.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Horace Wyatt

Other than some valuable playing time, there was not much here to shout about. He did shoot a nice percentage (48.6%) overall. Outside of that, he did not really play enough to be able to demonstrate too much of what he might bring in the future. He did start 17 games, so he must have brought something that the coaches noticed. And he is 6-7 with 263 minutes of D1 college experience under his belt now, so he will be valuable to us

Friday, May 3, 2019

VERY wrong, but what was it?

Obviously, something was very wrong with this team last season, but it is difficult to put a finger on just exactly what it was. I have a sneaking suspicion, but I could not prove it, so I will let that lie.

But consider some statistics. We shot 48.4% overall, compared to 44.0% for our opponents. We shot 35.4% from the arc compared to 35.3% to opponents. We averaged 34.2 boards per game while the other guys got 34.5. We had more assists and more blocks than our opponents. And especially look at this stat: we averaged 74.23 points per game and our opponents averaged 75.90 points. That is a difference of only 1.67 points per game. And yet we lost 21 games.

Those numbers would suggest that we should have been in a string of very close games, and we logically would have won our share of them. The stats say we ought to have been 15-16, or maybe even 13-18 or somewhere along there. Instead we lost TWENTY-ONE games. In other words, we were AWFUL!

Something was not right with the Trojans last season, and it showed up in our record, but it did not show up on the stat sheet. Now, I am no Sherlock Holmes, but that suggests to me personnel issues, sometimes called locker room problems. This team was not a team. A team wins its share of close games, because it plays together. Several players from last season are now gone, and that may have fixed the problem. If it did not fix the problem, then the problem was not with the players, but with the staff.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Kamani Johnson

This kid has some potential. While we were being dazzled by Kris Bankston's gaudy numbers, Johnson was quietly shooting "only" 55% from the field. And, he was a better rebounder per minute than Tucker. He stuck to his job, only attempting one 3-pointer all season (he missed it). And he was third on the team in blocks. Not spectacular, but steady; and the way things went this last season we could have done with a lot less of the spectacular and a lot more of the steady. He was fifth on the team in FTs attempted, but shot only 50.8% from the line, so that is a place he needs to improve.

I really like Mr. Johnson's upside. If he sticks it out here in LR and gets some decent coaching, he could end up being a good one.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Ryan Pippins

Pippins' numbers don't overwhelm you. First of all, he played in only 21 games. However, he averaged 20.5 minutes in those games, although he started none of them. He shot 45% from the field, which was the best of any of our guards. And he shot 39.3% from the arc. Inexplicably, however, he only shot 38% from the line. (Maybe he and Lottie caught the same disease.)

But what Ryan brought that was most valuable was something that doesn't show up in the stats. On a team that seemed to be trying to be NBA Jr., Pippins was a mature and steadying influence, something we did not seem to have much of last season. We need him back next season, and we need him healthy.