The Arkansas-Monticello Boll Weevils are next on my list of GSC previews. Central Arkansas finished third in the division last season, but they have moved on to the Southland Conference in Division I, so second-place UAM is now the seventh team in this series.
UAM looked very strong heading into last season, with sharpshooter Nate Newell and forward Billy McDaniel returning among the best players at their positions in the conference. Their 11-5 record was probably about what everyone expected, if not a little on the low end for wins.
As it turned out, Newell didn’t have as strong a season as before. He started out shooting well, but GSC defenses proved to be wiser last season, and they basically locked him up toward the end of the year. There is still no more prolific shooter than Newell in the GSC, but if he can’t get good shots or get to the free-throw line (where he shoots consistently over 90%), his value is limited.
McDaniel was about as good as expected. He’s been overrated for several years, since he’s not a truly prolific scorer, but he was probably a better rebounder than anyone else his size. His 26.2% rebound rate probably made him the most productive in the conference in that area of the game, when you adjust for his playing time.
Several other role players stepped in, most notably point guard J.B. Williams, who was the best rebounding guard in the conference. He and Brandon Mayweather, among others, propelled UAM to the division’s second-best record, behind the blistering assault that was Delta State.
With the exception of a season-opening (and truly mind-boggling) loss to Arkansas Baptist, UAM only lost to solid teams last year. A home loss to Harding was really the only bad defeat of the conference season. The Weevils also lost to Delta State twice and on the road at UCA and Christian Brothers. Their non-conference defeats, other than the aforementioned debacle, were to Dayton, Cincinnati, and LSU, the last of which you might remember as being pretty solid in the “real” NCAA Tournament.
UAM beat a good North Alabama team in the conference tournament before losing to eventual regional champion Montevallo in both the conference and regional tournaments.
The frontcourt talent of last year’s team was really their strength. They killed conference opponents on the boards and made efficient use of their shots, even though they played mostly pedestrian defense.
It’s unfortunate for UAM, then, that most of their frontcourt is now gone. McDaniel and Holland are gone (Holland was for most of last year, too), as is Brandon Mayweather. That’s a lot of solid, if not spectacular, talent to lose. Mayweather and Holland were fantastic inside scorers, while McDaniel was more of an inconsistent slasher type, despite his larger build. All three were fantastic rebounders, so there will be a lot of work needed on the inside.
Who’s coming back?
Returning players, ranked by PER:
- F Derek Easter – 19.64
- G J.B. Williams – 18.58
- G Nate Newell – 16.96
- F Torre Doty – 16.64
Obviously, that’s a short list, but it’s a good one. Newell and Williams played the lion’s share of minutes at guard, and both were already above the 15.00 league average. Easter and Doty both played about 11 minutes per game, but Easter only appeared in 9 games, despite his good PER. Neither shows much of an ability to shoot, although Easter was solid from close range. Both were good rebounders in their limited PT.
Williams looks like a great point guard in the making, especially if he can improve his shot. He already distributes the ball well, and he’s incredibly athletic and active on the defensive end. Depending on incoming transfers, he may be the best guard in the conference.
Newell, on the other hand, is more of a skills-type player. He is limited athletically, although he apparently has the stamina to play entire games. His main defensive attribute is his height, which allows him to at least try to cover his more physically-gifted counterparts. That also helps him get off his deadly 3-point shot. He shoots too much, but when he gets his shot falling, UAM is incredibly tough to beat.
Introducing the new guys
This is always an exercise in futility, to try and gauge the talent level of incoming high school players and JC transfers. I usually don’t have much to go by except what limited stats are available and any online scouting reports I can find. This makes the task difficult for UAM, which has seven new players on their (for now) only eleven-man roster.
Sophomore transfer Ryan Nelson is a lanky 6’7″ forward who was an atrocious shooter last year for Kennesaw State. He seemed to have D-I skills, but he only averaged 4.8 rebounds and 3.8 points in 28 minutes per game there. To me, this suggests that he may have been overmatched at that level. While D-I is certainly a step up from the GSC, the A-Sun is on the bottom edge of D-I. I suppose he’ll be better in a smaller D-II environment, and there’s an outside chance that his height will make him great, but I wouldn’t count on it. Solid starter? Maybe. D-I savior? Not quite.
Honestly, that’s about all I could find out about the UAM newcomers. 6’9″ forward Jermaine Samuels apparently is a member of some sort of music group that recorded some Christian songs, and there’s virtually nothing out there about anyone else on their roster. No newspaper article mentions, no all-state team nominations, nothing at all. Here’s a list of the newcomers if you want to look on your own:
- G Larry Upshaw – 6′ SO (Transfer) – Gary, IN
- F Ryan Nelson – 6’7″ SO (Transfer – Kennesaw St.) – Rochester, MI
- G Terrence Smith – 6’4″ FR – Houston, TX
- G Matt Harshfield – 6’5″ JR – Dallas, TX
- G Jacob Sheffer – 6’4″ FR – Brinkley, AR
- F Jarvis Brown – 6’7″ JR (Transfer – Trinity Valley JC) – Macon, GA
- F Jermaine Samuels – 6’9″ SO (Transfer – Missouri St. West Plains) – London, England
There should be enough returning talent at UAM for the Weevils to return to the conference tournament. Williams and Newell will again be solid, but Doty and Easter are going to have to keep up their level of play in much longer stretches of playing time. I would pencil in Ryan Nelson as a starter at forward, with maybe Brown, Harshfield, and Samuels fighting with Easter and Doty for playing time. The question remains: is this enough for them to match last year’s great team? My hunch is that they’ll take a step backward, unless there’s a lot more to this incoming class that I just haven’t found.