We’re off to a great start with the strangest team names in the conference. First were the Arkansas Tech Wonder Boys, and now we have the SAU Muleriders.
The Muleriders have been cellar-dwellers for several years now, and last year was no different. They were a young team that I thought might improve, but the influx of talent at other schools kept up with them, and SAU finished a dismal 3-13 in conference play. They had home wins over Harding and UCA and a road win at Henderson State. With only six wins overall because of a relatively tough non-conference schedule, the high points were few and far between.
Senior forwards Kenny Langhorne and Brandon White were the best contributors last season. Langhorne checked in with a very respectable 22.26 PER, and White’s was an equally impressive 20.59. Langhorne was properly recognized as the star player, for the most part, with an 18.8 usage rating. Looking at the rest of the team, though, that probably should have been a higher figure.
White was underused, playing just 14 minutes per game with a middling 14.9 usage rating, so he probably should have been used more effectively. Perhaps he was unappreciated because one of his skills was getting to the free-throw line and making shots, a commonly-overlooked talent. It’s hard to say things like that for sure, but that appears to be the case.
Senior guard Ronnie Smith and junior forward Leon Stone were other solid contributors, although Smith was greatly overused in the offense. He led the team in per-40-minute scoring average at 19.5, but he only shot 34% from the field. Stone was a better shooter, but he had turnover problems that limited him from being a great player.
Perhaps one of the Muleriders’ problems last season was that they never really found an identity as a team. Too many bad players had usage ratings like the good players, suggesting that this team may have been team-oriented to the fault of not getting their good players involved. They may not have made the conference tournament that way, and their stars may not have been ready for that treatment, but a 3-13 team has to do something to set a spark, and the Muleriders failed at that.
Who’s coming back?
As you might have noticed, last year’s top contributors were upperclassmen. Only Leon Stone was a junior, so he’s probably the only one coming back. Center Lonnie Jackson and guard Cedric Davis were also seniors. SAU has yet to release their updated roster, so all this speculation about returnees may be off the mark, but here are last year’s underclassmen, ranked by PER:
- C Leon Stone – 14.92
- G Corey Green – 12.47
- C Ndubuisi Egwuatu – 8.92
- F Brandon Williams – 8.30
- G Brandon Bealer – 8.25
- G Kyle Crumpler – 7.73
- F Chris Montgomery – 5.10
- G Reggie Tims – 5.01
- F Sam Brooks – -2.74 (yes, that’s negative)
Sure, you could put out a team like that, but would anyone really want to? Green and Bealer played a lot last season and figure to return as starters, and one would hope that Stone will also start. As for the rest, they either have problems with shooting, turnovers, or rebounding, maybe even all three.
Introducing the new guys
For now, 6’9″ center Rolando Little is the only known SAU newcomer, thanks to the GSC preseason basketball release. I know precious little about him, except that he’s from Memphis, went to a D2 because of grades, and supposedly he can play. That doesn’t tell me much, and if the Muleriders don’t get some scoring help on the wings, they’ll have lots of trouble again this year. I’ll try to update this section when SAU puts out a new roster.
Southern Arkansas lost the three of the four best players on a team that had a rough year last year, so I wouldn’t expect much this year without some fantastic incoming talent. It’s always important to pay attention in the non-conference season (after considering strength of schedule) to see what they may be able to do in the conference season. For now, I’d place them toward the bottom.