The Bisons finished yet another successful campaign in 2004-2005, going 18-11 with a win in the GSC tournament over Valdosta State. It was an interesting season for the GSC West, with a noticeable shift in the balance of power among teams. While HU stayed just above the middle of the pack, UAM and UCA had very strong years, especially in non-conference play. Billy McDaniel and Nate Newell gave the Boll Weevils a devastating (if inconsistent) inside-outside combo, while Lamar Grimes and company at UCA gelled under coach Rand Chappell and very nearly ran the table in the non-conference season.
The conference season was a different story, as Delta State came together and won seven of nine to start the year. Henderson State suffered through some internal problems and limped out of the gate at 3-7 before a strong finish. OBU was as strong as ever, and Christian Brothers also made a great run. There were seven contending teams (out of nine) for most of the year, so parity was the name of the game. The five teams that made the conference tournament all finished within a game, at either 11-5 or 10-6.
The Bisons were up-and-down to start the season, winning some close games (and losing one) against lesser opponents, but playing well against in-region teams like Alabama-Huntsville and Montevallo, which was in the national top five when the Bisons beat them on the road. The team was generally efficient on offense, reaching a rating of 95 in every game except the UALR game and breaking 120 five times. Defensively, things were a bit more erratic. There were great games against UALR (103), UAH (89.9) and Montevallo (103.3), but terrible games against Indiana Tech (126.1) and Southwest Baptist (119.2), which hit 18 of 43 attempted 3-pointers.
As it turned out, this would be the story of the season: average offense that is electric at times, and erratic (but improving) defense. The number of points scored and allowed doesn’t really tell the whole story in the GSC, since there are a handful of teams that really like to slow the game down. The Bisons’ worst defensive game actually came against UAM in a game where they gave up just 81 points (above average, but generally not terrible). The kicker? There were only 61 possessions for UAM in the game, seven below the average that Harding allowed for the season. The bright spot for that performance was that it was just the second conference game, and the team was mostly average the rest of the season. Still, the Bisons were next to last in defensive efficiency, while they were fifth, right in the middle of the offensive efficiency rankings.
UAM and Ouachita both swept their series with the Bisons, but HU’s two wins over a usually-strong Henderson State team got them in the conference tournament once again. Once in Tupelo, the Bisons demolished Valdosta State, which was limping into the postseason after being one of the top teams in the GSC East early on. The team met its match against Delta State in the second round, though, and failed to advance.
This year, the Bisons will be without the services of Edward and Emmanuel White, along with Rafael Franco and Jamaal Greene. I’ll look at the roster situation a bit later, and I’ll try to figure out who will get playing time while making almost completely unfounded assumptions about the incoming talent.
I know it may be hard for some of you to get psyched about basketball at the beginning of August, but I want to think it all through before I get too involved in football season and the baseball pennant races. So, just file this away for the future. And don’t forget “Midnight” Madness on October 17th.