The UAM Boll Weevils finished last season 18-10 and barely out of the NCAA Tournament. They were 10-6 in conference play and were off to an outstanding start before collapsing at the end of the conference season. UAM lost their last six games of the 2004-05 season, which was a disappointing finish for a team that was dominant through January. Head coach Mike Newell had several legitimate stars on the team, including his own sharpshooting son Nate and perennial all-conference post player Billy McDaniel.
Arkansas-Monticello was the only GSC team last season that was better than their opponents in all four major areas of the game, both in conference play and in non-conference games. Because they seemed head-and-shoulders above their opposition, I was touting them as the conference’s best team until their collapse, when they basically forgot how to shoot and hold on to the ball. In conference play, UAM outshot opponents by 7 percent and turned the ball over 7 percent less, both of which helped the team, but their truly great areas were free-throw shooting and rebounding.
From this table, you can see just how dominant they were on the boards and at the line. Their strength at the line was not necessarily because of their own shooting (though they were good), but because they played very disciplined basketball and didn’t foul their opponents. UAM opponents actually shot exceptionally well at the line (76.6% in conference play), but they only had 218 attempts, 25 fewer than any other team.
Rebounding was a phenomenally strong area for the Boll Weevils, especially when you look at the league average. GSC defenses, as a whole, got two-thirds of all rebounds (66.7%), which would make the average GSC offensive rebound percentage 33.3%. UAM rebounded the ball 35.9% of the time on offense, while holding their opponents to 28.1% at the other end. That’s a 27 percent edge over their opposition, by far the greatest edge any team had in any aspect of the game. I truly respect this team because of that strength and their solid play in all aspects of the game. Whether it was talent or great coaching, I’m not sure, but this team deserves a great deal of praise for their season up until February 12th of this year.
Take a look at the individual stats (and the explanation if they look unfamiliar):
Arkansas-Monticello returns five of these players from last year’s roster, and they are clearly the most important ones. Holland, Mayweather, McDaniel, and Newell will be back, along with DeMarcus Wilson. All four spots except the point guard slot will be filled by players who were at least above league-average in efficiency, with Holland among the best players in the league. Interestingly enough, Newell and McDaniel, who are touted as the team’s stars, are not the best players at UAM. Perhaps McDaniel’s on-ball defense is underrated, but I highly doubt that is a problem with Newell’s stats.
When it comes to individual categories, it’s easy to see that UAM will again be a force when it comes to rebounding. Holland had the league’s best rebound ratio at 21.2%, while McDaniel was in the league’s top 15 and Mayweather was in the top 25. UAM is very, very strong inside, with Holland and McDaniel also being efficient scorers. Most GSC teams are lucky to have even one good inside player, but the Boll Weevils have three.
Nate Newell will help keep defenses honest as one of the league’s best returning shooters (39.6% from outside last year), but he needs work on his inside game to become a more efficient player. The other potential problems I see for UAM are the point guard position and the team’s future. UAM lost Mike Reese, who was one of the league’s best distributors, with a 6.0 Pure Point Rating, and they’ll bring in two junior college transfers to take his spot. Robert Miller seems to be the more likely fit of the two, given his solid scoring numbers (19.0 PPG last year). In fact, he could step in as one of the league’s better guards with those peripherals. M’Jumbe Williams will also battle for time running the show.
As for the future, there is just one freshman (and no sophomores) on the 2005-06 roster. I have a feeling that the fans in Monticello (as few as there may be) won’t be happy if the Boll Weevils come up with anything short of a division title and an NCAA berth this year, since no one knows what the future holds. It’s difficult to land solid freshmen in Division II, but it’s much easier to build a program when you have guys for more than two years (not to mention less recruiting to do each year). There’s good news for UAM faithful this year, though. I think this team will contend for that title, perhaps living up to the promise they showed at times last year.