Continuing from the bottom up, the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys finished 10-17 last season (3-13 in GSC West play). Oddly enough, they dominated one of the conference’s top teams, beating Arkansas-Monticello twice, while their only other conference win was at home against fellow doormat Southern Arkansas. Head coach Rick McCormick is 17-37 entering his third year at ATU, and things certainly haven’t been easy.
Arkansas Tech’s 3-13 conference record last year tied them for the worst record in the GSC West, so let’s review what went wrong. ATU was only slightly outshot by their opponents, on the whole shooting about three percent worse. Turnovers were more troublesome, since the team did an equally poor job of holding on to the ball themselves and forcing the other team to turn it over. The worst part of the Wonder Boys’ game, however, was free throw shooting.
While they were not the worst shooting team percentage-wise, they combined a poor percentage with a total inability to get to the line. Getting to the line is half the battle, and the Wonder Boys had the fewest attempts in the conference while allowing the third-most. In the conference season, the disparity between ATU’s free throw shooting and their opponents’ was an astounding 36 percent. ATU showed a lack of discipline and training in this respect in 2004-05, and the team suffered as a result. Rebounding was ATU’s strong point last year, but it wasn’t strong enough to overcome their large deficiencies in other areas. The Wonder Boys did manage to out-rebound their competition by 3%, which is not really a huge margin.
Last year’s individual stats (explanation):
Arkansas Tech has just five returning players from last year’s roster (at least among those who played), with those being Rone Smith, Ike O’Hanson, Andrew Stanek, Marcus Lyons, and Ben Freeman. This may or may not be a good thing. Clearly, the Wonder Boys will love having Rone Smith back, since he was actually the most efficient player in the conference according to PER. He was only named second team all-conference, since his somewhat pedestrian averages of 15 and 7 points and rebounds per game held him back, but voters overlooked his shooting proficiency. Though he was not an outside threat, Smith was a force inside, making 63.4% of his shots. It might be difficult for him to improve, since he wasn’t a particularly good passer or jump-shooter, but that doesn’t take away from what he accomplished last year.
Sadly for Arkansas Tech, their only other decent players from last year are gone. They give top billing to Marcus Lyons, and he does seem to be a decent shooter and passer, but unless he is a superior defender (something I don’t remember), he really doesn’t do enough of what he does well to be even marginally effective. Ike O’Hanson and Andrew Stanek were actually better last year, but they were both role players. Ben Freeman also returns, but there’s not much to be said about him.
Looking at their overall skills, it’s hard not to notice that Arkansas Tech will have all of their best rebounders back with Smith, O’Hanson and Stanek all returning. However, they will miss getting scoring help from Jeremy Johnson, Daniel Watson, and Terrence Martin, and they will miss the passing skills of Martin and Detrius Roberson. In losing Martin, they also lose their only real three-point threat.
Not knowing much of anything about their incoming players, it’s hard for me to say anything about how this year will be different from the past. They’re getting a decent junior college rebounder and a decent JC scorer, among other assorted JC guys and freshmen. Unless they’re really bringing in some athletic, good-shooting guards, ATU is really going to struggle to score points this year. Rone Smith is a great inside player, but I don’t think he can bring this team out of the cellar without some excellent outside help. With a handful of tough non-conference games (including one against Colorado State!), I think this team may have trouble reaching the ten win mark they set last year (and the three conference wins). I don’t think they’re beating UAM twice this year, that’s for sure.