I finally finished the rest of the GSC West, so it’s time that I do a team capsule for our very own Harding Bisons. HU finished 18-11 last year, losing to Delta State in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. The Bisons finished 10-6 in GSC West play, locking them in a three-way tie for third place in the division. It was an up-and-down year in a competitive division, and hopefully this is the year that the Bisons take control and get back to the NCAA Tournament.
For the season as a whole, the Bisons had just one main weakness, but their strengths weren’t strong enough to make them a truly elite team. Rebounding was a problem all season, as a very slight disadvantage in non-conference play became a significant 12% disadvantage in games against the GSC West. Other teams were bigger and stronger, while we played more of a finesse game. We did shoot well, and we did an excellent job forcing turnovers (and not turning it over ourselves), holding a 15% edge in the conference season. Other teams were more athletic, but our guys had the skills to even things out.
As you can see, our guys had a little trouble at the foul line in conference play. It wasn’t because we weren’t shooting well, but because we fouled our opponents so much. Harding opponents led the division in free throws attempted. The Bisons will have to play much more disciplined basketball this season. Rebounding will also be a key area to work on, and the use of some larger, more athletic post players would help.
Just by looking at points scored and against, it would seem that we had a great offense and terrible defense last year, but that’s not actually the case. Given our frenetic fast-break pace (by comparison to the rest of the league), we actually were below average on offensive efficiency (7th of 9) and, in fact, very solid on defense (4th).
2004-05 Individual Stats (explanation):
The outlook is good for the Bisons once you see this table, which shows that the Bisons have three truly excellent players returning. Matt Hall was the most dominating offensive player in the conference last season, once you combine his efficiency and desire for the ball (first in the conference in usage rate and fourth-best returning player in efficiency). He knew that he was the go-to guy and he did an excellent job, leading the conference in scoring. If he can improve defensively against the bigger forwards that other teams put out there, he’ll be even better. Hall also needs to improve his 8.8% rebound ratio, which is low for someone who usually plays the three or four.
Lonnie Smith was perhaps the conference’s biggest outside threat, the perfect complement to Matt Hall’s game. Smith’s high usage rate shows that he was able to get his own shots as well, and he was also exceptionally efficient. Like Hall, he will also need to improve his man defense against bigger guards. On offense, however, those two are unstoppable.
Ceso Sprewell had an interesting stat line last year. Spree was clearly one of the best rebounders and defenders in the conference, once again a perfect complement to the exceptional inside-outside offensive duo of Smith and Hall. Sprewell doesn’t play down to his 6’4″ height, either. He’s the league’s third-best returning rebounder, with an exceptional 17.5% mark despite not playing in the post most of the time. Sprewell was highly efficient, but his usage rate was low for such an efficient player, suggesting that he needs to develop an offensive game aside from being a transition specialist. Even without a great shot, Sprewell was still one of the best players in the conference.
I expect the “big three” in efficiency to be devastating again this year, but what of the rest of the team? I previewed the new players here, so I won’t go over that again. Rafael Franco was an efficient center, but he wasn’t your typical banger in the paint. Alassane Savadogo and Jesse Bynum will have to take over his role. Bynum was a solid rebounder, but he needs to do more elsewhere on the court to really be an efficient player. Hopefully Savadogo can step in as a solid defender, rebounder and occasional scorer.
Steven Barnett looks to be the most promising of the incoming class of point guards, but I can see him splitting time with Reggie Bibb. They won’t have to do much to be more effective than Edward and Emmanuel White on offense (two of the worst regular players in the conference), but they will have to play some solid defense to be in their class.
Brandon Sims, Brian Chapple, Patrick Andrepont and Alex Anderson all seem to fall into the taller, more athletic group of newcomers, but the problem is that the 2-4 spots on the floor are already taken by excellent established players. Unless Lonnie Smith plays point guard or we use an undersized center, these guys will have to rotate in off the bench. I think this will give us some great depth, as they all appear to be good players.
Once the Bisons figure out who’s playing the point and who’s playing center, they have the chance to be a special team. No GSC West team can boast three excellent returning starters like Hall, Smith and Sprewell. UAM comes close, and UCA and Delta State look to have great recruiting classes that will allow them to be successful immediately, but when it comes to established GSC players, the Bisons have the cream of the crop. I’m not picking the Bisons to win the division, but I think it’s clear that the top four or five teams will be very close this year, and anyone could win it.