Thursday, April 30, 2020

Been there before

Georgetown is one of the programs which, like Arkansas under Eddie Sutton, seemed to come out of nowhere with the arrival of John Thompson, Jr. That is not true. Arkansas had been to the Final Four twice in the 1940s. And Georgetown had been in 1943.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

How we beat Purdue

So how did we beat the Boilermakers, considering we were behind late against a very good team? Well, Josh Hagins got hot at exactly the right time, of course. But digging into the stats, what did we do right that resulted in one of the biggest wins in Little Rock history?

It is not because we shot well as a team. We shot 39% from the field for the game, which is pretty bad. And we shot 33% from the arc for the game, which is not horrible, but still not really good. And we only hit 57% from the line, which is bad.

Did we win the battle of the boards? No, the bigger Boilermakers beat us by 7 rebounding.

What we did, of course, was to score more points, and we did that because we took 15 more shots from the field, because we had 15 offensive rebounds and they had 18 turnovers. The TV commentators talked a lot during the game about Purdue's point guard problems, especially late in the game, and we just happened to have arguably (although not definitely) the best point guard in our history. And that particular guy, who was the guy on the spot at the critical time, had six assists and zero turnovers - and made 8 of 10 free throws.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Challenged 3s

Part of the rationale for a reliance on the three-point shot is that is counts half again as much as those inside the arc, which is true. However, if you watch games, there is an inordinate number of shots from outside that are freebies - unchallenged shots where the shooter is wide open. I am not enough of an Xs and Os man to know if that is at least partially by design because of needing the defenders on that side of the court to cheat to the inside to help.

Further, the argument is made that you only need to shoot 33% from the arc to equal the point production of 50% shooting from inside the arc. And that is true - IF you totally leave free throws out of the equation.

But, given the inordinate (it seems to me) number of wide-open threes that are shot these days, a question I would like to have answered is the relative shooting percentage of challenged and wide open threes. How much does the average shooting percentage from the arc drop if the defender is at least there and trying to challenge the shot? I suspect that major college coaches know that number, but sometimes the defense played by their teams doesn't reflect that fact.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Our first good team

Thankfully, those of us who have been fans for more than a couple of years have seen some very good teams - championship caliber. And the old-timers remember the glory days of the win over Notre Dame. But when did Little Rock first leave our mark on the basketball world? It was in 1943.

If you thing things are crazy and out of kilter during this virus, imagine what it must have been like during those years. December 7, 1941 was the attack on Pearl Harbor, which thrust us into the largest conflict in world history. A large portion of the base of young men were being whisked through basic training and sent overseas.

But, Little Rock had a basketball team. At that time we were Little Rock Junior College, and our best effort to that point had been a .500 season (9-9) in 1932, our second season. And during the 1937 through 1939 seasons we were a combined 1-33. It would not be until 1964 that we got over .500.

We had no team in the 1940 and 1941 seasons, and then a team, but no official coach in the 1942 season. Finally, for the 1942-43 season we hired or appointed Herman Bogan as head basketball coach, and a little history was made. We can imagine that he had to piece together a team from among the lads who were not in the military; but he did pretty well with what he had.

The Trojans were 21-10 during that season, which would be our only 20-win season until Ron Kestenbaum led the Trojans to a 23-6 record in 1983. It is only a blip on the recollections of Trojan fans. (I assume that most of them are not even aware of it.) But it was quite an accomplishment, nonetheless.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

How do we become an at-large team?

This group has the potential to be one of the better teams Little Rock has produced. The 30-win group were mentioned in the Bubble Watch conversations (although they ended up not needing it), so they were almost good enough, at least. So what has to happen for this group to get there?

1. Schedule tough. We know we should be one of the best teams in the Belt, so we need to load up on games where we can get some notice if we should win. If we lose, we have lost nothing. Walker needs to be very aggressive this season and take whatever is offered. If we don't play them, we can't win them.

2. Markquis Nowell has to continue to improve. He is a remarkable ballplayer in his ability to make things happen. Now he has to get to where the things he makes happen are consistently the right things. He was second in the league in assists per game, so he gets the ball to the right place. But he was also second in turnovers. If he can get his assist/turnover ratio into the 2:1 range, which is what you like to see in a starting point guard, this team's offense should be running on high octane. All that means that Markquis' focus has to shift just a little away from scoring.

3. Our perimeter defense has to improve. Opponents shot 34.6% from the arc against us, which, while not awful on our part, is certainly not very good. In today's game if you can't stop the three, you will have problems. And this team, with Monyyong and Co. looming in the lane, should be one that can put lots of pressure on perimeter shooters. We can afford to gamble and not concentrate quite so much on help defense inside because we have some big erasers waiting to swat shots.

4. We need another Barky. We have several options in 3-point shooters who can get the job done. That is not our problem. What we lack is someone who strikes fear into the hearts of the opposition, who changes how they defend - whom they have to watch every minute he is on the court. Someone who shoots over 40% and who is not afraid to shoot it. Nowell is close, but I had rather have his attention on running the team. Stulic starts at the Shooting Guard spot. If he begins next season like he finished this one, he could be the man.

5. Monyyong and Johnson are as good a 5/4 combination as you are likely to find in this league. What we need (and what we probably have) is two guys good enough so that there is not any drop-off when you rotate in the second team. Year before last Maric and Bankston were close to being that good, although in different ways. If they both get back to where they were, opponents will be in a world of hurt when they have to rest their big men.

Five things. Get them done - or even most of them - and ESPN and CBS will be talking about us as teams that could make the Dance even if don't win our tournament. And that does not happen very often in Sun Belt Land.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The ideal roster

The ideal situation would be for your best players at each position never to need rest and never to get hurt, so you never had to substitute; but that is not reality. So, if I can construct a roster the way I would like to, it would have two at each position, plus three more at point, the 3 and the 4, since you can never have too many point guards, and the 3 and 4 are flexible positions that can often side either direction.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Did we play well?

It always disgusts me to see the Kentuckys of the world wildly celebrating after they beat the SWAC teams of the world. It just seems out of place. Really good teams ought to have more class than to carry on after they barely beat a team they ought to have drawn and quartered by halftime.

Did we win? That is what goes into the record book, but that really is the wrong question to be asking. If you win by playing poorly to beat a bad team, big deal! If you play an excellent ballgame, but still get beat because the other team had a once-in-a-lifetime shooting night, then there is nothing to be ashamed of.

"Did we win?" is the wrong question. The right question is, "Did we play well?" Get the right answer to that question, and the other one will take care of itself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Will we ever have a real homecourt advantage?

The powers that be did us a favor by making the Jack Stephens facility to be of limited seating. At least it is not a cavern like Alltel was. If you get 3500 people in the Jack and spread them around pretty well, it has a nice "full" feeling.

One of the most enjoyable things to witness in college basketball is when a program that has been down for a long time begins to get rolling and the fans start getting genuinely excited again. We are witnessing that happening at Rutgers these days.

For perspective, Rutgers last went to the NCAA tournament in 1991, so it would have been 29 years if they had gone this season, which seemed likely. That is a full generation, meaning there are a lot of New Jerseyites who cannot remember when Rutgers was relevant in basketball. BUT you give a bunch of college-age kids a reason to get excited, and they are happy to oblige. That is especially true in a blue collar state when the team they are rooting for is a blue collar team that makes it living on defense and rebounding. And there are a lot of old-timers around who remember when Rutgers went to the Final Four in 1976.

The Scarlet Knights play their home games at the Rutgers Athletic Center (affectionately known as "The RAC"). This season it became one of the toughest spots in the country for opponents to play  The Knights were 18-1 at home, and that included wins over #20 Penn State, #22 Seton Hall, #23 Illinois, and #9 Maryland.

The reported seating capacity of the RAC is 8000, and Rutgers reported an average home attendance this season of 6764, with the last ten games being sellouts, after it became obvious that the Knights were legit. I hope we will get to witness that at the Jack one of these days - when we have a REAL homecourt advantage and opposing teams dread coming to Little Rock.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Conference rankings for last season

The top six (per RealtimeRPI):

Big East
Big 12
Big Ten

That is a little interesting. First off, good for the Beast! making the grade over all the football schools. The best conference was the one where basketball matters most. Second, it looks like the Pac-12 is on the road to recovery since it made the top half, and that is good for college basketball. We need a west coast presence.

The conference with the current malady is the Big Ten, which had been consistently among the best. And what has happened to the vaunted ACC? I thought basketball was king there. Maybe they have gotten so big that the bottom feeders are pulling them down. Notice that the top two conferences are the ones who deliberately stayed small (ten or less). The SEC is still struggling, despite the high-profile coaching talent that has been brought in.

The best of the rest was the AAC. SBC was 14th, which is pretty good for us. The two on the bottom were the two HBCU conferences, SWAC and MEAC. And things are not going to get any better for them after COVID knocked everything in the head.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Not sorry for them

San Diego State just fell out of the preseason Top 25 - because Malachi Flynn declared for the NBA. I don't feel the least bit sorry for them. They stole him from Washington State in the first place. If a guy will bail out for you, he will also bail out on you; and then you get what you deserve.

There is a character issue hidden somewhere in all this moving around.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Chris Mullin

During my YouTube basketball fest while live sports are shut down, I have seen several games from the old Big East. Which means I have seen Chris Mullin and St. John's play Georgetown. Those were classic games!

For some reason, Mullin is one of those great players that I tend to forget. Perhaps it was because his team never won a championship, and he was not flashy. He was just one of those players with a great shot who had a wonderful feel for the game and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time doing the right thing. And when you are playing Patrick Ewing and Georgetown, you had better be.

Mullin's game was understated. He just seemed to float around the court, without any sudden movements. He seemed to know where he would need to be next and was already headed there a couple of plays ahead of time.

He would have been a great 3-point shooter if they had had it in his day. Instead, he shot 55% overall, which most 6-6 small forwards do not. His free throws were nearly automatic - 85% for his career. He averaged 3.6 assists per game for his career, along with 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. Nothing overwhelming in any one category - just pretty good in everything. Plus 19.5 points per game over his four years. Plus he averaged 37 minutes per game over four years of college play, so he was on the court a LOT. He threw the ball in from the end line, and then brought the ball down the court, even though he was not the point guard. Just a very good basketball player.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Why have a coach?

I watched a video of a bizarre game from 1974 between Tulsa and Oral Roberts. If the venue had been a local playground instead of a college arena, it would have fit right in. No offensive scheme. No defense to speak of. Tons of turnovers. It literally looked like what you would expect to see in a pickup game on an outdoor court.

That brings up the question, What role were the coaches filling? They were sending in subs. They had recruited the players. But as far as bringing any structure to the game, they might as well have been in the locker room. It was weird.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Why not the G-league?

Baseball player routinely go to the minor leagues. It is rare for anyone to jump directly into the majors, whether he comes out of high school or college. Why not have a minor league for the NBA and use it like MLB does? How is that wrong? If the players are good they eventually find their way to the major leagues, and their progress can be speeded up by the home club. I think it is a good idea that will allow players to be in college that want and need to be in college, instead of creating malcontents who disrupt the process.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Guard the baseline

Back when I was a kid, the thing that would get you the biggest chewing out was letting someone drive the baseline on you. Coaches would very forcefully plant a foot right by the line and tell you that if you are there, they can't get past you without going out of bounds. And if you did it during a game, it was guaranteed to get you jerked out of the game with a tongue-lashing by the bench, in front of the crowd. You don't hear much about that these days, though.

However, I did see someone comment on it on one website recently. The argument was that if you have a shot blocker on your team, then you definitely want to force the drivers away from the baseline toward the inside, because your big guy can pick them up there and prevent the shot. Makes sense to me. And we have a definite shot blocker - at least one. So no more baseline drives, Trojans!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

UCLA's best

The Fansided site undertook a tough job - naming UCLA's best team from among their own players. They took the easy way out: they called Bill Walton a power forward and put him in the lineup alongside Jabbar. Oh, well, I might have done something like that as well if the job had been mine. But I still say that Lew Alcindor was the best college player ever, and therefore the best team ever was going to be one of the teams he was on.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Vaughn Williams

Another Colossus in the Little Rock program was Vaughn Williams. Again, probably few of us got to see him play, since his career was 1979-83, but his numbers say he was one of the best guards we have had.


In two of the categories that define the point guard position (assists and steals), he is by far the career leader at Little Rock. He had 259 steals, and Fish in 2nd place had 184. He had 534 assists and Fish had 472. And you can throw in 259 blocks for his career, plus an 11.6 career scoring average.

I think that Williams sat near me at one of the games when the alumni are recognized, and I started to go speak to him, but didn't; and I really regret it. Old-timers need to know that they are remembered.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Larry Johnson

If you go by the numbers, Larry Johnson is by far the best inside player Little Rock has ever had. I cannot say "big man," because I do not know how big he actually was, but his notable work was done inside the lane.

6th Career Points
1st Career Rebounds
1st Career Rebounding Average
3rd Career FG made
1st Career Blocked Shots

As you look at his numbers, what is really impressive is that some of the numbers are in a class by themselves. He has 265 career blocks, and second place is Muntrelle Dobbins with 158. Third place is 100. He has 1315 rebounds. Second place, again is Dobbins with 1010. He averaged 14.1 rebounds per game over his career. So, in the numbers that reflect the blue collar work done down on the inside, he stands alone in Trojan history.

He played four full seasons for the Trojans, and he averaged a solid double-double each year. For his career he averaged 14.5 points per game and 14.1 rebounds. In his sophomore season he had a 14.4/16.8 double/double with 82 blocks thrown in for good measure. He must have burst on the Little Rock scene like a tornado, because as a freshman he averaged 13.3/15.5 with 113 blocks. For good measure he had 53 assists and 26 steals.

I would love to talk to someone who remembers his playing days. He must have been really something.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Good year for the little guys?

The Score just came out with their Way Too Early Top 25, and it is fairly representative of the other such predictions so far this off-season. (Let's hope the off-season doesn't become the season.) The thing that first catches you eye is that three of the top four teams are from non-Power Five conferences: Gonzaga, Creighton, and San Diego State. All of those are familiar names in recent years, but none of them is from a football power conference. Then you throw in the fact that #5 is Villanova from the Big East, and the scene is really top-loaded with programs that are not football powerhouses. Of course, it may not end up that way, but part of the fun of being a sports fan in a free country is that your guess is as good as anyone's - until reality happens.

Friday, April 10, 2020

John Paul Jones

Most of us know of the famous United States naval hero by this name, with his famous quote, "I have not yet begun to fight." What many Americans may not know, however, is that there was an athlete by that name who was prominent in our sporting history. He was an engineering student at Cornell and did not even make the track team until his last year there.

However, in 1913, Jones set the first world record in the mile to be ratified by the IAAF (4:14.4), thus he was the first "official" record holder and the first of only four other Americans to have held the mark, along with Glenn Cunningham and Jim Ryun.

The current mile record holder is Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco at 3:43.13.

John Paul Jones ca1911.jpg

Thursday, April 9, 2020

1973 UCLA Bruins

Yahoo has just finished a GOAT contest for the best college basketball team, and came up with the 1973 UCLA Bruins. It is hard to argue with that conclusion, especially considering Bill Walton's jaw-dropping performance in the finals. However, for the record, when asked which of his teams he thought was the best, Wooden himself picked one of the Alcindor teams, I forget which one.

It is a little amazing that fans of this era still appreciate what those UCLA teams accomplished. You really had to see them to believe them.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


I love it when players have colorful nicknames. At the moment I am watching Charlotte play Marquette in the 1977 Final Four. Charlotte's star, of course, was the legendary Cornbread Maxwell, one of my all-time favorite nicknames. He was a good player, too. There was steak to go with the sizzle.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Prejudice against defense?

Offense sells tickets; we all know that. But people who are supposed to know the intricacies of the game ought to appreciate defense. So why was Ruot Monyyong not Player of the Year in the SBC? He was good enough on defense to garner DPOY, and his offensive numbers were not shabby. So why was he not POY? Is the top offensive player just automatically granted the POY title automatically, and no one digs any deeper to see if there was anyone more deserving? I think Ruot got robbed.

I also think John Fowler got robbed his senior year when the same thing happened. Again, it was not as if Fowler was useless on offense. His numbers were very respectable. And his on-the-ball defensive abilities were widely admired. But he did not get POY? I wondered why not back then, and I still wonder. Why this prejudice against defense?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Where did we improve?

Obviously we were a much better team this season than last, but exactly where did we improve, statistically speaking.

Our opponents' FG% went down, so our overall defense improved.
Our FT% was significantly better.
We had two legitimate rebounders, against only one (sort of) last season.
We had more steals and blocks.

So, boiling it down, our defense improved, and it showed. At times we were very good defensively.

Friday, April 3, 2020

GOAT bleed-down

One interesting phenomenon to observe during this offseason is the large numbers of GOAT polls and conversations. That is natural, since we are currently in a vacuum as to what will happen and when.

One thing I have noticed when there is a GOAT poll regarding the greatest college players is that people frequently color their assessment of a player's college career by his pro career. The prime example is Michael Jordan. Certainly he would be in the discussion as the NBA GOAT, but college? He averaged 17.7 ppg and 5.0 rpg. Are these the sorts of numbers that would qualify a player to be the Greatest of All Time? But fans quickly forget that, although he was good in college, he certainly was not the Greatest in college.