Number three on the list for season previews is Ouachita Baptist. The talent pool seemed to run dry last season for the Tigers, who finished 4-12 in a tough season of conference play. That was only good enough for seventh place, a lower-than-average finish for OBU, which is typically at least a contender. This year, the preseason coaches’ poll places the Tigers fifth in the GSC West, which would put them in line for the final playoff spot.
This, of course, assumes that the GSC will retain the old playoff format with 5 teams from each division making the conference tournament. There are two fewer teams this year, so that may not be the case (UCA left the West to move up to the D-I Southland Conference, and Lincoln Memorial escaped from the East to another D-II conference).
OBU’s main problem from a year ago was that they were undersized and lacked the ability to stop other larger teams on the defensive end. They shot adequately, but their league-worst 57.7 true shooting percentage allowed caused them to hemorrhage points at times. They also allowed opponents to pull down 38.7% of the balls on the offensive glass while only getting the boards on their end 28.8% of the time. That is not a recipe for success, and it certainly didn’t work for the Tigers.
Interestingly, all of the Tigers’ conference wins came against the two teams below them in the standings (SAU and Arkansas Tech). That doesn’t say much for divisional parity, but it proves that they really deserved their seventh-place finish.
I do actually see some impressive aspects to last year’s Tiger team, namely the coaching staff and guard Lucky Butler. Butler led the team with a PER of 19.64 while shooting well and not making a lot of mistakes. He also rebounded well for a guard, with a rate of 8.6%. As for the coaching staff, Charlie Schaef and company seemed to understand who needed to get the ball once they were on the court. The players with higher PERs generally saw more of the ball, except that sharpshooter Daniel Munday really didn’t see enough action.
Sadly for the Tigers, Lucky Butler is gone, as is fellow senior leader Brian Ross. While Ross wasn’t a PER stud, he did seem to provide a sorely-needed spark from time to time, and I’m sure he will be missed.
According to the new rosters on their website, OBU will also be without several underclassmen from last year’s team, including big men George Kirby, Travis Carrington, and Randy Oliver. In other words, basically all of the rebounding talent is gone. It will be tough for the Tigers to win with only shooters, so we’ll see what the new class brings in.
Who’s Coming Back?
Here’s a list of the team’s returning players by PER:
- G Daniel Munday – 16.13
- F Justin DeLamar – 15.29
- G Brandon Dawson – 14.48
- G Jaranimo Marks – 12.62
- G Damon Harris – 11.52
- G Rowan Ledbetter – 3.48
That’s not an impressive crew, especially when two of the top three were vying for basically one spot on the court at a given time (Dawson and Munday). Presumably, Dawson is the better defensive player and Munday is the scorer. Harris will have to improve his handling to be effective (that 15.0 turnover ratio is unacceptable for a seasoned point guard).
Clearly the Tigers need some big men, so let’s go over the incoming class.
Introducing the new guys
The GSC Preseason Release lists junior transfer forwards Derrick Woods and Memo Rodriguez as OBU’s top newcomers, but the name that interests me most is David Cornwell, a senior transfer from Southern Miss, a solid D-I program. Cornwell averaged 7.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in 21 minutes per game last season for the Golden Eagles, which probably means he’s a solid starter for the Tigers, if not immediately one of the conference’s best players. He had issues with turnovers, so we’ll have to see how he fits in at OBU. He doesn’t have quite the resume that Jasper Johnson did when he went to Delta State last year, but getting a seasoned C-USA transfer shouldn’t be a bad thing.
As for the “top newcomers,” Woods is a transfer from Angelina JC in Texas, and I only know that he battled injuries last season for a pretty good team. His teammates ended up at places like Central Florida and Louisiana-Monroe, while he and guard Brandon Rose ended up at OBU. Contrary to what Angelina’s student paper said, OBU is not a top-ranked D-II school, so I’m not sure how much of their material I’m going to believe.
I also know virtually nothing about fellow “top newcomer” Memo Rodriguez, except that he also had more talented teammates, and his team at UA-Fort Smith actually won the NJCAA Division I national title. Guard Leon Coney and forward Shawn Bridgewater are the other incoming transfers, and between the two I only know that Bridgewater had a few solid games for a middling NJCAA D-II team. Whether or not he’s big enough at 6’3″ to play the post in NCAA D-II is another story.
Overall, I’d be excited about the Southern Miss transfer and hope that at least one of the incoming forwards works out, or it may be a long season.
Right now I’m not sure if I’d consider OBU a contender, but they’re at least marginally better than the other teams I’ve previewed so far. They have several solid players returning and a good coaching staff, but they will really need Cornwell to step in and provide star-level scoring and rebounding in order to beat some of the division’s better teams.