Jason Conner enters his second year as Delta State’s head coach after a moderately disappointing 18-10 rookie season. As usual, he’ll be relying on plenty of newcomers.
First, let’s take a look at last year.
What Delta State did well: Utilize their athletic advantage.
As is the case in most years, DSU had a wealth of athletes on last year’s team. They typically have more size and speed than anyone else in the division, and they also know how to use it. They create space for high-percentage baskets, although they didn’t make them last year at the same rate as when they had the Richardson/Johnson duo two years ago. Their in-division true shooting percentage of 57.7 only barely set the pace, and they failed to keep their opponents from doing the same damage on the defensive end of the court.
The way the Statesmen really used that advantage last year was in valuing the basketball. Shooting efficiently was part of their offensive game, but the main part was getting more chances than the other team. DSU was the best team by far at forcing turnovers, causing their opponents to lose the basketball on 18.3% of offensive possessions. That was 1.5% better than the next best team (a large number when you consider that everyone else was bunched between 14.7 and 16.8, a range of just 2.1%).
When you put opportunity (turnovers forced) and shot efficiency (true shooting %) together like Delta State did, you’re bound to succeed on offense. DSU’s division-leading offensive rating of 110.0 was the unsurprising result.
What we learned in 2007: Freshman guard Chad Akins held the offense together.
As well as Delta State shot the ball and forced turnovers, they weren’t as good at playing together and showing the same care for the ball on offense. Only one Delta State player had a higher assist ratio than turnover ratio last year: point guard Chad Akins.
Akins had three other options last year, and he found all of them on a regular basis. Of the three, only Johnny Hodge will be back this year, while Marlon McCoy and Turmaine Rice are gone. Though he wasn’t a terrible outside shooter, Akins struggled inside, so it’s good he didn’t have to carry much of the offensive load himself. His 12.7 usage rate was fairly low, but his ability to run DSU’s offense was apparently enough to give him the GSC West Freshman of the Year award.
As for everyone else, well, they just need to do the little things better: make the extra pass and hold on to the ball. Even Hodge, who was a high-usage, high-efficiency guy, struggled in that regard, turning it over nearly twice as often as he picked up an assist.
What’s in store for 2008: The Johnny Hodge show, as far as we know.
Only two returning DSU players used more than 4% of the team’s offensive possessions, and only three played more than 8 minutes a game. Of the former two, only Hodge did a lot of damage, with Akins’ purpose mostly being to find the other talented players. Highly-efficient role-playing forward David Clark will probably see more time, so it will be interesting to see if he can keep shooting over 60% when he’s both playing more often and seeing more of the ball when he plays.
Forwards Anthony Fizer, Brian Jenkins, and center Wikrun Bajwa also return. Of the three, only Fizer appears to be useful, with Jenkins being mostly a turnover machine and the 7-foot Bajwa being ineffective at pretty much everything during the garbage minutes he played.
Luckily for DSU, they have 13 newcomers, some of whom will have to contribute immediately:
- Ray Selvage – 6’9″ SR center: This is the player we know the most about, even though you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at DSU’s press release, which says he came from Pearl River JC. The problem: that was four years ago. It’s true he averaged 16/12 and six blocks as a sophomore there, but he had another stop along the way at UT-San Antonio in 2004-05 before he fell off the map. UTSA was a bottom-tier team that year, although they did well for the Southland Conference. There, he was a role player, averaging 6.7/4.7 with a serious turnover problem that kept him from being more than moderately efficient. That probably won’t be as much of an issue at DSU, where they should be able to use him inside fairly effectively.
- Eugene Jackson – 5’7″ JR guard: I have nothing.
- Rodney Esters – 5’7″ JR guard: From Mississippi Delta CC, but other than that I have nothing.
- Justin Duke – 6’3″ JR guard: Averaged 11/4 with 3 apg at Itawamba CC, and will probably be a backup PG.
- Ryan Stephens – 6’2″ JR guard: He went to Orangewood HS in Orlando, but otherwise I have nothing.
- Ernesto Green – 6’2″ JR guard: Averaged 17 ppg and 4.8 apg at East Central CC and was their leading scorer, so he would seem to be in the mix at guard.
- Xavier Ruth – 6’3″ FR guard: Averaged 24 points and 6 rebounds at Shannon HS and considered one of the state’s top talents. If they don’t redshirt him, I’d say he’ll get a serious look at SG.
- Brad Skipper – 6’7″ JR forward: Played at a good JC but didn’t really rack up the stats, averaging 8 pts, 6 rebs, and 3 asts.
- Eric Spencer – 6’4″ SO guard: Averaged 6/4 for UA-Ft. Smith as a freshman, probably just backup numbers.
- Oraine Green – 6’1″ FR guard: I have nothing.
- Jason Elzie – 6’4″ JR guard: From Itawamba CC and Spring Hill College.
- Jordan Clements – 6’5″ JR forward: Considered the best combo guard in his JC conference. Averaged 13/7 in 05-06.
- Oliver Mansour – 6’7″ JR forward: Averaged 12/8 at Bevill State CC and could probably step in right away.
That’s a lot of nothing, along with a few guys we know something about. Expect Selvage to be an impact starter right away. To me, Green and Ruth are the other promising newcomers, with Clements, Skipper, and Duke also possibly among the guys who might see playing time. Selvage will be a solid center, even though the team could probably have survived with returning forwards Clark and Jenkins alongside Hodge. I’m not convinced that the two-guard need has been met, since I don’t know much about Ruth, Elzie, Duke, or the others. Even if Ruth steps in and contributes, they’ll still need players for backup minutes.
There are more questions about this DSU team than any in recent memory, which will probably cause me to rank them no higher than last year’s fourth-place team, depending on the outlook for the rest of the conference. They will have more size than anyone else, so they have that going for them. But can they play as a team and replace their #2 and #3 offensive options? Those are big questions, and I suppose we’ll find out the answers soon enough.