GSC Preview 2007-2008: Henderson State

The HSU webmaster finally found it necessary to post the roster for this year’s Reddies squad, so I guess I’ll also take some time and preview their season.

What worked for Henderson State in 2007: Getting down and dirty on defense.

Despite all the recent coaching and player turnover at Henderson State, the Reddies really haven’t changed their bread and butter, their defense.  In the few years I’ve been following the team, their trademark has been physical defense, almost to the point of literally beating you down on the court.  I’ve come to understand that officials in Division II simply don’t make the calls you see at higher levels of play, and each year the Reddies get away with a style of play that wouldn’t cut it in major college basketball.  That’s not to say they’re cheating, because everyone plays the system to their advantage, and in recent years, Henderson State has done it to their advantage.

I didn’t think last year’s HSU team was as good as their usual level of talent.  After Rand Chappell left for UCA, the team fell completely apart.  They didn’t play well on the floor, despite their physical advantages, but somewhere in the middle of last season, the Reddies turned up the D and piled up some wins.  Having a defense that allows 13 fewer points per 100 possessions than the average team in the division while still maintaining an average offense was enough to give Henderson State 11 regular-season conference wins, good enough to win the division.  They kept up that level of play all the way through the conference and NCAA regional tournaments, both of which they lost in the end to Montevallo.

What we learned in 2007: Even more about defense.

It’s actually kind of mind-blowing to consider just how well Henderson State played defensively last year.  They allowed a league-best 47.3 true shooting percentage, nearly eight points lower than the next best team.  Opponents shot under 40% from inside the three-point arc, while only one other GSC West team held their opponents under 50% (OBU, and barely).

On the offensive end, the Reddies kept it simple, attempting over 3/4 of their shots from two-point range (no other team topped 2/3), and they were still efficient enough to post the division’s second-best true shooting percentage.  Part of that success was about getting to the free-throw line (only Harding made more from the charity stripe), but it was mostly about their quickness and athleticism freeing up easy shot opportunities.

Another component of their tenacity on defense was their rebounding skill.  HSU was third in defensive rebound percentage and above average on offense, giving them the league’s second-best rebounding percentage differential (to Christian Brothers).  Really the only weak point for HSU was in the turnover battle, which the Reddies lost by a considerable margin, making their superiority in other aspects of the game that much more apparent.

What’s in store for 2008: A brand new team.

Barely 20% of the team’s 2007 offensive possessions were accounted for by players who return for this season, and nearly all of them were used by Antoine Vinson.  Reddie legacy senior Larry Bray probably will continue riding the bench, and Jason London is the only other returning player who received playing time.  I guess that means we have some introductions to make.

  • Julius Berry – 6’7″ RF forward: Berry returns as a relatively unheralded redshirt freshman from Iowa, but he does have some size.
  • Dontavis Jones – 5’7″ JR guard: Jones was a reserve guard at Mineral Area CC (MO), and he appears to be coming on board mainly to reunite with HSU coach Sam Weaver, who was his high school coach.  I found the picture of him at the bottom of this page amusing, since it looks like he’s setting up his opponent to kick a field goal.
  • Jerome Wilson – 6’1″ JR guard: Wilson was a solid high school player, a good athlete and rebounder for his size.  I can’t find any stats on him, but he appears somewhat promising.
  • Bryant Hazelman – 6’0″ FR guard: Played for an outstanding high school team and considered a good shooter.
  • Josh French – 6’7″ FR forward: Averaged 24/13 as a high school senior, recording a double-double in every game last season.
  • Jonathan Simms – 6’3″ FR guard: Made all-state at Hot Springs (AR) high school.
  • Lucas Whisenhunt – 6’5″ FR forward: Considered a solid post player by Arkansas 1A standards, whatever that means.  He’s possibly the real deal, though, based on his line in the exhibition against Northwestern State.
  • Daniel Hurst – 6’2″ SO guard: Exclusively an outside shooter, Hurst made 36% of his three-point shots (which were 80% of his total shots) last year at Missouri Southern, which plays in a decent D-II conference.
  • Josh Harris – 6’8″ FR guard: Went to Pine Bluff, which must mean he’s pretty tough.  I don’t know much about his basketball ability, but I hear it’s good to have tall people on your team.

The Reddies had a good team last year, but with only one major returnee, there are lots of big shoes to fill.  Can Berry/Harris/Whisenhunt adequately fill Dee Dee Drake’s shoes on both ends of the court?  That’s the biggest question to me.  I think they’ll take a small step back this season in terms of team quality, but I’m not certain where I think they’ll fall in the conference standings just yet.

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