These previews are intended to be in the style of Basketball Prospectus’ ongoing D-I previews. See part 1 of their Pac-10 team previews here for an example.
First year coach Mark Downey struggled in his first year as the Wonder Boys’ head coach, to say the least. He went 6-21 overall, including a truly awful 1-13 conference record. However, if you want to start by looking at the bright side, he returns four starters and seven players overall from last year’s 8th place team in the GSC West.
Will that be enough to reach 7th place in 2007-2008? The other coaches don’t seem to think so. One voted them third in the division, while the other six were evenly split between sixth and seventh (which is last place, since coaches can’t vote on their own teams). Let’s look a little deeper and find out what’s in store for the most unfortunately-named team in the division.
What Arkansas Tech did well: Grab offensive rebounds
ATU had their struggles in most aspects of the game last year. They were the worst shooting team in the division, but if they did one thing well on offense, it was getting second chances. Tech pulled down 36.3% of available offensive rebounds, well enough above the 32.9% average to say that was a discernible skill.
Tech also had a guard in Terrence Whiters, who for all his shortcomings, did manage to eat up a bunch of possessions while posting a better than average efficiency rating. While we don’t know how he would have fared for a better team, we do know that there is value in using up offensive possessions, especially if you’re one of the more efficient players on the team. So the Wonder Boys had that going for them.
What we learned in 2007: One moderately efficient player needs four more to make a moderately efficient offense.
By that, I mean that Whiters was surrounded by zero offensive talent. Three of his better teammates are all gone this year: Denarryl Rice (with a quite good 119 Offensive Rating), Brandon Glenn, and Donald McCoy. It’s not like ATU played good defense, either, but they need some guys who can come in this year and be role players in that offense if they are going to succeed.
Whiters’ strength offensively is hard to gauge. He doesn’t shoot well from the outside (he just does it a lot). He doesn’t hold on to the ball well (17.2 turnover ratio), and he’s not a distributor (12.3 assist ratio). He doesn’t rebound well, even for a guard (5.6% rebound rate). His brick index of 2.3 isn’t awful, but it’s certainly not good. Honestly, his entire value seems to come from the quantity of possessions he uses at a very average rate of efficiency. Still with the possible exceptions of Glenn and Rice, there was no other option. He’ll likely fill that role again this year.
What’s in store for 2008: Hopefully some help for Whiters.
There aren’t a whole lot of key players returning, even though they return four “starters.” Other than Whiters, the returning players total just 26% of other offensive possessions with a fairly dismal aggregate efficiency. Irvin Humphrey and Jamill Jones will probably be asked to carry more of the offensive load up front, while Whiters will control the backcourt. Guards Josh Danner and Brandon Friedel also return. Friedel was below-average offensively while using 10% of the team’s possessions, and Danner played very little.
The Arkansas tech media guide for this year lists what amounts to an entire team of newcomers, 12 in all. Obviously not everyone will receive playing time, so I’ll try to sift through them:
- Renard Allen – 6’1″ G – Soph transfer from the U of New Orleans: I can’t even find any info on when he played at UNO. I’m guessing he didn’t, and he somehow still used a year of eligibility. Other than that, I have nothing.
- Jamar Flowers – 6’6″ F – JR transfer from Navarro CC (TX) by way of Pearl River CC (MS): Flowers had originally committed to Southern for the upcoming season, but he didn’t qualify academically, so he somehow ended up at ATU. I suppose that’s not an uncommon occurrence, and it’s a considerably less-eventful departure from D-I than we’ve seen from other GSC players. He averaged 10/5 at Navarro, and Coach Downey seems to consider him an athletic slasher type, something the Wonder Boys need. I’m thinking he’ll step into the rotation, but he’s bounced around a lot, so you have to wonder if he’ll stick.
- Chad Henderson – 6’2″ G – JR transfer from Mineral Area CC (MO): Henderson averaged 11 points per game at Mineral Area, and I imagine he’ll take a spot as a backup in the guard rotation.
- James Giles – 6’9″ F – JR transfer from Aiken Tech (SC): Giles averaged 5.5 points and 6.5 rebounds at Aiken Tech as a sophomore, but anyone with his kind of size can be useful. I’d expect him to spell Humphrey in the middle. He was a fairly well-regarded HS prospect coming out of New Jersey, with a few items about him on Rivals.com.
- Garrett Glover – 6’7″ F – FR out of Russellville (AR) HS: Averaged 8/6 in high school, so he’s probably on the team because he’s 6’7″ and a freshman. I’d expect him to redshirt with so many other newcomers, but I really don’t know.
- Jeremy Hoard – 6’2″ G – RF also out of Russellville HS: On the ATU roster page, he’s actually “Jermey Hoard,” which sounds like something that could make a person very sick. Honestly, they have it as that spelling in so many places on their site, I’m starting to doubt that he’s actually “Jeremy.” Unfortunately, I don’t know much about his basketball ability.
- Troy Marcus – 6’6″ F/G – JR transfer from Jamestown CC (NY) by way of Paris JC (TX): Although saddled with two first names, Marcus has already been compared to Charles Barkley by his new coach. Perhaps it’s an apt comparison, once you adjust for the average player size in D-II, and he certainly seems to have talent. Marcus averaged 25/13 at Jamestown as a sophomore, ranking nationally in both scoring and rebounding at the JC level. Though he probably doesn’t have an NBA future, he looks like a great player, and I’ll forgive Coach Downey for the comparison. Expect Marcus to start immediately.
- Laithe Massey – 6’3″ G – FR out of Heber Springs HS (AR): Massey has size and the ability to run the point, which he did all four years at Heber Springs. Apparently he picked ATU over Harding, Lyon, UA-Ft. Smith, and two D-I schools. My only question is this: why won’t they tell us which Sun Belt school he decided not to attend? I’d guess Arkansas State, but we’ll probably never know. He averaged 15 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds as a senior, which would suggest he’s a pretty athletic guy and not just a shooter. I would expect him to redshirt, considering the returning talent, but Downey is suggesting he’ll play this year.
- Jamal Nuh – 6’8″ F – SR transfer from Benedict College in SC (a fellow D-II South Region team, though in the much-less-competitive SIAC): I cringe whenever I have to look something up on the SIAC (or a SIAC team’s) website. For the most part, they look like junior college sites, and Benedict is no exception. Every year, a SIAC team or two takes an NCAA tournament spot from a more deserving SSC or GSC school. Still, I guess Nuh could have talent. He didn’t appear much in Benedict’s box scores, though.
- Kevin Rhyan – 6’2″ G/F – JR transfer from Motlow State CC (TN): Rhyan averaged roughly 5 points and 5 rebounds for Motlow State. I doubt he’ll be playing much forward, like he did in JC, but apparently he has some shooting range. It’s hard to say much more about someone who didn’t get that much playing time even in JC.
- Joseph Smith – 6’9″ F – JR transfer from State Fair CC (MO): While not busy founding the Mormon church, Smith averaged 10/8 at State Fair. Though not spectacular, his stats at least show a little sign of potential. I imagine he’ll need to spend lots of time away because of family commitments, so it’s not likely that he’ll be much of a factor. Seriously, though, it’s nearly impossible to find information on a Joseph Smith who’s not the Joseph Smith.
- Darren Tarver – 6’3″ G – SR transfer from George Mason: I saved the best for last. Not to be confused with brother Derrick (who played at Akron), Darren Tarver has been around college basketball for a long time (he even has a colorful webpage to prove it). As much as I like to poke fun at D-II eligibility standards, though, it’s hard to do so with him. Darren was actually at George Mason before the miraculous Final Four run, having transferred there as the JC Player of the Year in 2001. He played the 2001-2002 season at Mason, with his team reaching the NIT. He only played in three games that season for the Patriots before suffering a stress fracture, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he was starting for a mid-major team. As best I can tell, he received a medical redshirt for that season, so he should still have been a junior.The following May, Tarver had a heart attack and was told that he wouldn’t play again in major college basketball. Initial reports were that he would never play, period, so he went on into the working world: for Quicken Loans as a branch manager and later worked for a sports marketing firm called MCR. After all that, who knows where his basketball ability is now? Had he played at ATU after his JUCO days, he likely would have been one of the best players in D-II. But now, at (presumably) age 26-27, and after dealing with a heart condition, how much is left in the tank? Personally, I just don’t know how to predict what he’ll do this year.If you’re interested in reading more, he supposedly posted on a CAA message board after news of his commitment to Tech got out.
Overall, it looks like a potentially great incoming group of players, with at least one other legitimate scorer to help Whiters carry the offensive burden. Throw in some added depth, and you’d have to expect some improvement out of this year’s Wonder Boy team. It’s going to take that and much more for Tech to contend.