To kick off the 2006-07 season, I’ll go through a quick preview of each of the GSC teams. I’m probably not going to have as much time this year to devote to blogging each and every game, and I won’t be able to attend more than a few games, since I’m living about 500 miles away from Searcy. Still, my current plans are to keep the same stats. I’ve worked on streamlining that process a little bit over the summer, so perhaps that won’t be quite so time-consuming.
Last year, the Bisons finished a somewhat disappointing 16-11, out of the running for the GSC tournament. Lonnie Smith took on the star role after Matt Hall’s injury and was quite streaky, even becoming invisible against the teams who had a solid defender on him. His prolific scoring at times certainly gave him great value, but his limitations in size and as a ballhandler and defender made him something less than star-caliber in the GSC. Nevertheless, he was an electric player , and his presence will certainly be missed.
On a brighter note, the Bisons got some solid play out of the wing positions. Brandon Sims, Cole Kee, and Patrick Andrepont helped with the scoring load and were adequate defensively. All three finished above the league average in PER as well.
The problem with this particular strentgh was that a team really can’t play four players on the wing. Steven Barnett and Reggie Bibb split time running the point with very little success. Neither showed an ability to score, and Barnett was a turnover machine. Barnett seemed a bit more athletic, but Bibb was still adequate defensively. Both are somewhat undersized for point guards, which made it that much more difficult to have Lonnie Smith out there as well.
The Bisons had mixed results in the post, with the players’ widely varying skill sets coming into play throughout the season. Jacob Thies played a lot, presumably because of his hustle and heady play, though he will need to improve his scoring to become a solid starting option. Ceso Sprewell, though seemingly undersized to play inside, will be remembered as one of the league’s best rebounders and the only regular option to see an exciting dunk. His shortcomings as a shooter were mitigated by his inside play, and it will be tough to replace him.
Alassane Savadogo was an interesting case at the center position. His size and reflexes made him a fantastic rebounder, but his virtually nonexistent shooting touch and propensity for fouls kept his production at the “good” level. With a bit more refinement to his offensive game, he could be unstoppable in the GSC. His size and athleticism still allowed him to get inside and finish with a very respectable 56.4 true shooting percentage, and if he puts things together, the Bisons will be very tough on the inside.
Matt Hall is back, and it feels good to type that. He’s already an honorable mention for preseason All-American according to Street & Smith, and I hope he will have all of his mobility back after the horrific injury he suffered against Missouri-Rolla last year. Delta State will probably reload with great one-year-and-done types like Jasper Johnson, but Matt Hall is probably still the best player in the conference. His great inside-out play and athleticism make him an impossible matchup for anyone but the best defenders, and he made great strides in his decision-making since his freshman year.
Alongside Hall will probably be some combination of Savadogo and Thies on the inside (along with newcomers Brian Howard, Tony Foster, and Matt Ragsdale). The Bisons will be a bigger team than usual in this regard, and hopefully that will play to their advantage.
Last year’s solid trio of wingmen return. Brandon Sims appears to have been granted another year of eligibility, so he will be a senior again along with Andrepont and Kee. If these players can become a bit more consistent in 06-07, this should be a real strength.
Depth is never a bad thing, and the Bisons appear to have some solid newcomers at the guard position. Rick Hamilton is a 5’11” JUCO transfer who shot 45% from three-point range and averaged 2.4 steals in his sophomore season at Clarendon College. He’s considered a combo guard, and if he handles the ball well, it sounds like he could take over at the point if Bibb and Barnett do not improve. Trent Morgan, from Little Rock’s Central Arkansas Christian, also looks like he could step in as a freshman and get immediate playing time. Morgan is 6’3″ and considered to be a solid defender and scorer. He was named all-state twice and received a nomination for the McDonald’s All-America team.
Overall, I think this year’s team looks significantly better than last year’s version. With so many solid returnees, the return of Matt Hall, and what looks to be a good incoming group of players, Coach Morgan will have a lot of options at his disposal. I’ll make some predictions after I look at the other teams, but I don’t see any reason to believe Harding will miss the GSC Tournament again this season.
Update 10/19: Apparently, the GSC coaches think highly of the Bisons as well, picking them to win the West Division.