I thought I’d start at the bottom and work my way up as I do my previews, so we’ll begin with Southern Arkansas. SAU went 7-20 last year (3-13 vs. GSC West) and has been a conference doormat since I started following Harding Basketball. Head coach Brian Daugherty resigned after last year’s dismal effort, and Eric Bozeman is in as the new head coach. Bozeman had been an assistant at Ole Miss since 1998, but from 1993 to 1998, he was the head coach at Henderson State. A graduate of Arkansas Tech, Bozeman is very familiar with the current GSC West, and he inherits a young, but experienced team.
From a team perspective, SAU struggled across the board last year. The only solid part of their game was free-throw shooting, a category in which they led the league. Sadly, they did not get to the free throw line enough for that strength to be very valuable for the team. Their opponents shot eight percent better than they did (true shooting percentage), and they turned the ball over four percent more often than their opponents. Those are poor stats, but SAU’s biggest weakness was on the boards, where they were outrebounded by 20 percent on the season.
Individual stats from last year are below. For a full explanation of the unfamiliar stats, you might consider reading my introduction to John Hollinger and Dean Oliver’s stats.
|55||St. Rose, Leon||7.5||1.6||0.9||0.2||0.3||0.0||0.0||0.8||0.294|
|55||St. Rose, Leon||0.333||0.700||0.71||44.3||-2.3||9.9||13.9||2.1||6.8%||6.24|
Of that group, only Mike Richardson will not return, leaving a great deal of players with experience to learn from a presumably better coach.
A look at the individual stats reveals a few things. SAU had a very guard-heavy (read: small) team last year. They had a couple of good passers in Ronnie Smith and Cory Green, whose assist ratios were above the league average of 14. Green, who is just a sophomore, was one of only a handful of GSC players with a positive Pure Point Rating, and although I don’t remember if he actually played point guard, he probably should have if he didn’t. They also had some decent shooters, although no one was far above average, and they had some guys who really shouldn’t have been shooting (Leon Stone, Leon St. Rose, and Brandon Williams). Assuming that Coach Bozeman uses his resources a bit better than his predecessor, he could get some decent production out of the players he has.
One thing that the above group still lacks, assuming they will shoot and handle the ball slightly better this year, is a good inside player. Leon Stone, Brandon Williams and Chris Montgomery are the largest returning players at 6’8″, 6’7″ and 6’6″, respectively, and none were prolific rebounders. Brandon White, though short at 6’4″, was the 8th-best rebounder in the GSC among regular players last year, but he had no help. Ole Miss transfer Lonnie Jackson will presumably help the cause inside. Jackson had 14 rebounds in 42 minutes all of last season, but he was very undersized to be playing in the post in the SEC. In the GSC, I expect him to be much more successful and perhaps be one of the top three in the conference.
Southern Arkansas was picked #9 in the preseason coaches poll, but I think the coaches may have underestimated this team. With a new coach who knows the conference, one very good transfer in a key area of need, and a very experienced supporting cast, I think this team could easily win 5-7 conference games and be a sleeper for the GSC Tournament. Coach Bozeman still has too many under-sized and under-talented small players, but I think this team will show some clear improvement and definitely finish out of the GSC West cellar, at least for this season.