06-07 Season Preview: Arkansas Tech

Moving on from the Bisons in my series of GSC West previews, we’ll start up from the bottom of last year’s division standings.  Leading off are the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys

Athletic directors don’t put up with losing seasons in revenue-generating sports like men’s basketball, so in Russellville, it was out with the old coach (Rick McCormick) and in with the new (Mark Downey). Downey comes in as a former University of New Orleans assistant, and he takes over a team that went 2-14 last season in conference play, 11-16 overall.

05-06 Recap

Tech started last season on a roll, winning 9 of their first 10 games, all in non-conference play. I warned then that they were playing a cupcake schedule, and I really didn’t know how things were going to turn out for them. I tempered my expectations, and they proceeded to lose all but two of their 16 conference games, with both wins coming against Southern Arkansas.

One of the strangest things about last year’s team was the play of senior forward Rone Smith, whose PER placed him among the top five players in the league in 04-05. He remained somewhat efficient in 05-06, but not really among the league’s best. With his team’s only other decent option also being a post player (fellow departed F Ike O’Hanson), he found himself somewhat turnover prone, hurting his overall rating.

Beyond those two men in the post, pretty much no one else was a worthwhile contributor for the Wonder Boys. Denarryl Rice thought he was (or maybe McCormick thought Rice was), as shown by his team-high 22.0 usage rating, but his poor shooting and unimpressive ball-handling and defense didn’t help the team appreciably.

Who’s Coming Back?

Maybe this isn’t the best question for a team that played so poorly. “Good Riddance” would be an appropriate heading if not for this sad fact: the aforementioned solid post players are both gone. Then again, so is most everyone else. In fact, in typical low-end Division-II style, Arkansas Tech actually only returns two players from last year’s team: guards Denarryl Rice and Antonio Harrison.

Rice, as I mentioned, was decent but far overemphasized in the Wonder Boys’ offense. He had a 16.52 adjusted PER, slightly above league average, with decent scoring ability and ballhandling skills. With some improvement, he could be one of the better players in the league. He will probably be overrated once again because Tech will have to use him more than a better team would.

Harrison played only sparingly, and the reasons for that showed when he was on the court. He made a lot of mistakes, although his solid handles kept him from being abysmal at running the point. He doesn’t shoot well for a 5’9″ guard, or at least he didn’t last year. If all the transfers don’t win over the job he will try to inherit, Tech will have to hope he becomes more consistent with more PT.

Who are the new guys?

It’s hard to say much about a team when all but two of its players are newcomers. Only one was listed among the GSC’s top newcomers in the preseason release: guard Terrance Whiters, a transfer from Loyola-Chicago. Whiters was projected to start at the point for Loyola, so he’s probably going to be taking over that role at ATU. At one point, he was considered one of the top 25 point guards by ESPN’s recruiting staff, ahead of big-time D-I standouts Gerry McNamara, John Gilchrist, and Justin Gray, so he definitely has talent. The problem for Whiters appears to be attitude, and the Wonder Boys are his third team in as many years. He was considered perhaps the best player on both Loyola-Chicago and Towson, his previous schools, so if he plays, he should play well.

Aside from Whiters, it was nearly impossible to find information about the other newcomers. Guard Creighton Parker transferred from Arkansas State, so he was a D-I recruit. Forward Jamill Jones is Rodney White’s cousin, so I guess he could be good. Brandon Friedel is touted as another good incoming guard, but how many guards can Tech play? Forward Irvin Humphrey played for a great Hahnville HS team in Louisiana, for what that’s worth.

Bottom Line

Arkansas Tech has a solid history, but not in the recent past. A new coach and an almost completely new team will hope to change that. All things considered, their recruiting class looks pretty good, if only because of Terrance Whiters. The Wonder Boys should be fine at the guard spots, but they will have to rely on a handful of unproven big men, which could be tough when they face off against players like Matt Hall and Nick Kohs. I’ll hold off on my predictions until the end of this series, but the Wonder Boys probably won’t be at the top.


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