The Muleriders finished yet another disappointing GSC season 5-9 last year, again failing to compete for a division title. They didn’t finish last, but it probably felt like it for a program that could use yet another facelift (not to mention a new mascot).
What went well for Southern Arkansas: Stop opponents’ offensive possessions.
I mentioned that SAU went 5-9 last year in the GSC West, although they were arguably the worst team in the division based on efficiency alone. With that in mind, consider that what went well for SAU was really only a relative strength. That relative strength: stopping possessions.
SAU was below average in all of the key categories last year, both offensively and defensively. They shot worse and rebounded worse on the offensive end, creating fewer assists and more turnovers than the average GSC team. Even on defense, their opponents shot for a higher true shooting percentage than the average.
Still, the Muleriders did a few things well. If their opponents were going to score efficiently, they were going to have to shoot because SAU did a fine job on the defensive glass, pulling down over 70% of their available defensive rebounds. Powerful post man Leon Stone had a great rebound ratio of 16.3% despite experiencing a rough year overall compared to 05-06. Other SAU players topping 12% included Leon St. Rose, Chris Montgomery, Ndubuisi Egwuatu, Rolando Little, and Kenny Wilcox.
The ‘Riders also forced a greater than average number of turnovers from their opponents, although most of that damage was done against weaker non-conference teams.
What we learned in 2006-2007: A team that can’t win even one of the key aspects of the game won’t win many games in total.
Here’s what I mean. SAU was the only GSC West team to be outperformed in each of the three keys: shooting, rebounding, and turnovers. Mulerider opponents shot 6.3% better than they did, rebounded 13.2% better, and turned it over 13.5% less. No other GSC West team, even 1-13 Arkansas Tech, fared so poorly in every respect. In fact, both teams finished with an equally poor Pythagorean division record of 4-10, indicating that SAU wasn’t really any better than ATU, even though they won four more games.
What’s in store for 2008: Less turnover than you might expect.
SAU hasn’t really gone the way of their fellow Arkansas state schools, loading up with troubled-but-talented transfers, and they return some multiple letterwinners this year. Leon Stone and several other strong rebounding role players are gone, but the best of their backcourt players are all returning: Cory Green, Mori Turpin, and Caleb Winters. They could still throw out an experienced lineup with those three, St. Rose, and Brandon Williams on the court, but their offensive output would have to dramatically improve to counter the loss in rebounding ability. Then again, if most of the GSC plays small, it may not make that much of a difference.
With that in mind, here’s who they bring on board this year:
- Scotty Lott – 5’10” SR guard: Played last year at Huston-Tillotson and is considered to be a decent distributor. He was more highly-recruited coming out of high school, but I’m not sure he’ll be much of an impact player. I imagine he’ll compete with 5’5″ Reggie Tims to run the point.
- Justin Stuart – 6’3″ RF forward: I can’t really find anything on him, so let me know if I’ve missed something. He went to Hope (AR) HS.
- David Noble – 6’3″ RF guard: Was ranked #117 among TX seniors in ’06 (and #78 before the season). That’s about all I know.
- Channin Harden – 6’2″ FR guard: Considered a solid talent, and apparently he was pressured by family to actually go to Harding instead of Arkansas St. (which I believe was then his top choice) to play football.
- David Verwers – 7’0″ FR center: He’s obviously big, so he was recruited by several D-I schools, but even some of the lower-tier schools considered him a project. D-II is the place where guys like that go, so I suppose we’ll see if he has anything this year. He was homeschooled, so it’s even tougher to find stats on him than it is for some of these other guys.
This isn’t a particularly exciting class, but SAU has a number of returning players, so it’s very possible that the ones who haven’t redshirted will do so this year, with the exception of Lott. I’m not seeing how this improves the team over last year’s dismal squad, aside from the extra year of experience for several players (a phenomenon certainly not unique to SAU). It may be another tough season for the Muleriders.