Delta State crushed the GSC competition last year, so they’re the last preview in my preseason series. Official games start tomorrow, but first let’s discuss the 2006 conference champs.
The Statesmen looked like a Division-I team playing in the comparatively-lowly GSC last year, with an early-season loss at North Alabama being their only blemish entering the NCAA Tournament. I thought they were going to win the whole thing, but they actually didn’t even make it out of the region, losing to Arkansas-Monticello in the regional semifinals. Still, I guess 30-2 isn’t bad.
Head Coach Steve Rives left on a high note with this Delta State program, and perhaps he knew he was leaving all along. He brought in some outstanding transfers for 05-06, led by center Jasper Johnson, who was without a doubt the GSC West Player of the Year. His team had an unstoppable offense and a physical, stingy field goal defense. Add in some superb rebounding and a tendency to force a lot of turnovers, and you have a recipe for astounding success.
Here’s where DSU ranked in the league in three key areas (both for and against, conference games only):
True shooting percentage – 57.9 (1st)
Opponent TS% – 51.1 (2nd)
Net TS% – 6.7 (1st)
Offensive rebound % – 37.2 (2nd)
Opp. OR% – 30.8 (5th)
Net OR% – 6.4 (3rd)
Turnover ratio – 16.6 (6th)
Opp. Turnover ratio – 18.4 (2nd)
Net Turnover ratio – -1.8 (3rd)
That’s an example of the strength of shooting efficiency as perhaps THE key stat for a game. DSU destroyed the opposition in that category, while finishing third in each of the other keys.
As expected with such a strong record, DSU was a very deep and talented team on paper. Jasper Johnson was their leader, a 6’8″ player with great rebounding skills, a fantastic post game, and even a decent outside shot. On top of all that, he even handled the ball pretty well, nearly posting a positive pure point rating (which is even somewhat rare for point guards). His 33.35 PER led the league by a huge margin. Johnson was named National Player of the Year at the Division-II level by Daktronics.
For all that Johnson did, DSU’s offensive attack was not a one-man show. Fellow post Victor Brown posted a 26.14 PER and was the team’s best rebounder. Guard Jeremy Richardson helped the outside attack and was a huge mismatch for opponents off the wing. Virtually every other regular player posted solid PERs, with point guard Travis DeGroot’s 12.23 being the worst of the starters. He did a great job distributing the ball to his more talented teammates, though.
As with many teams who load up on transfers to make a title run, DSU suffered some big losses this offseason. Coach Rives is gone, along with virtually all of last season’s best players. Four of last year’s starters have departed (Johnson, Brown, Richardson, and DeGroot), and those are not the only losses. Solid reserves like Sandrell Spann and Colby Harris are gone, as are one-dimensional depth enhancers Marerllis Nix and Karl Nickerson.
Who’s coming back?
Seven players return from last year’s team, although only four played last season. Several redshirted, including David Clark and Luke Townsend. Forward Karlton Fields also did not play last year, presumably due to injury. Here are the other four, ranked by PER:
- G Marlon McCoy – 23.46
- G Turmaine Rice – 14.01
- G Josh Williams – 11.57
- G Justin Neely – 10.38
One problem is apparent from this list: DSU has just one returning forward or center with experience (Fields). Aside from he and freshman David Clark, The tallest of the other returnees is 6’4″, which probably isn’t tall enough, even in the GSC. This list is also a little misleading, because McCoy only played in two games. Rice is the returning starter at shooting guard, and he’ll have to take on a lot more of the scoring load and become a more efficient shooter. Neely and Williams both showed some potential off the bench, but I don’t know if either of them (or McCoy) is a true point guard.
Introducing the new guys
Freshman point guard Chad Akins is probably the brightest new face, having come to Delta State after turning down a walk-on offer from Ole Miss. He looks to be the point guard of both the present and the future. Akins wasn’t a great scorer in high school (12.8 ppg), but his 7.1 assists per game show that he probably has what it takes to play the point in the GSC right away.
JC transfer Johnny Hodge looks to be the other key newcomer. Hodge was a consistent scorer at East Central CC in Louisiana, and he may be the best scoring option for the Statesmen next to Turmaine Rice. The other newcomers are assorted JC transfers or high schoolers who have very little information available on them. Notable among these players is 7-foot center Wikrun Bajwa, who will probably be the tallest player in the conference.
DSU is a team that typically reloads rather than rebuilds, although there is little star talent coming in this season. Akins and RsFR David Clark may get there eventually, and Hodge might step in to ease the scoring load, but this is not a typical DSU transfer class. Still, even with a new head coach (former assistant Jason Conner), it’s hard to imagine this team out of the conference tournament. Rice will score, the other returnees aren’t bad, and if some of the younger guys step up this season, they could be good again. If I had to bet, I’d say they won’t come all the way back this year, but it won’t be long before they’re back at a nationally-ranked level.