Friday, October 18, 2013

Appalachian State Preview: Time To Compete

The 2013-14 Appalachian State Mountaineers are a team that will have more expectations and more hopes this season than before. With how the season ended on an uptick last March, there will be the hope that the team can pick up the school after the drop off this fall on the gridiron. There's also the ever-present cloud of Jason Capel's contract being up after this season. With a 44-49 record in three years to go along with falling APR scores, constant turnover and the Sun Belt move upcoming, there's an uphill battle for this coaching staff. However, there are factors that will play in their favor such as a core returning unit, a favorable schedule, a strong freshman coming in and Capel's improving coaching abilities that could help this team surprise some people.
1) Returning players

Capel's Crew returns most of the team from last year. Gone are all-around contributor Nathan Healy and strong sixth-man Jamal Trice. Also gone is project-turned-viral-sensation Brian Okam who graduated and is playing his final year of eligibility at Winston-Salem State. Also gone from the team are last-man-on-the-bench Bennett Rutherford and Jonathan Frye, who never quite got over his concussion and didn't played a minute.

The biggest question is who will pick up the productivity left by Healy, who led the team in rebounds, three-pointers made, minutes, shots made, steals and blocks? Most importantly, who will be the leader that Healy was? Expect everyone to pick up some of the lost productivity here and there, but a single player has to step up and be that leader.

The best returning player is small forward Jay Canty who will need to pick up some of Healy's numbers this year and control the game on both ends. He's probably the best player App has right now.
One of the potential surprises is point guard Chris Burgess, who struggled early in his freshman year but developed very well. He's the only true PG and will be vital against the pressing teams, especially since other teams saw how the press worked at times last year against App State.

Then you have the joined-by-fate guard duo of Tab Hamilton and Mike Neal. Neal should be the shooting guard who can also be the second point guard. Hamilton has his flaws and could be in for a rude awakening if he's beaten out for a starting spot by Burgess, but can still contribute as a pure shooting guard.

The lone senior on the squad is forward Tevin Baskin, who is in his second year with the program after transferring in. Last year he played in every game but didn't start once. This year Baskin looks to be a starter and needs to pick up the productivity left behind by Healy that Canty doesn't. He needs to cut down on the fouls and average 24-28 minutes a game this season as his post presence and leadership will be needed.

The returning player that could be the most exciting in sophomore power forward/center Michael Obacha. He is listed at 215, but that is no longer true and he is even more muscular now. If he can compliment Baskin down low, the two could be a dominant force in the paint. Like Baskin, he needs to cut down on the fouls as he averaged 3.7 a game. At times it seemed like a race between Obacha and Baskin to see who got to four fouls first.

The other returning players are sophomore guard Frank Eaves, sophomore forward Rantavious Gilbert and forward Tommy Spagnolo. Eaves and Spagnolo will have a hard time breaking into the rotation, but Gilbert has the size (6'8”, 235) to come in and make an impact as a power forward/center.

2) New faces

Easily the biggest new face is 6'8”, 250 lb true freshman Mike Kobani. He will not be redshirted barring injury and very well could break into the 8-man rotation that Capel seems to favor.

Also eligible this year is Hartford transfer Dustin Clarke. It's somewhat unlikely he'll break into the rotation unless he blows people away at point guard. Then you have freshman guards Ty Toney and Adam Scott, who won't see the court much this year.

Someone to keep an eye on for in the future is Purude transfer Jacob Lawson, who could fit right in at forward after Baskin's graduates.

This is one of the first years in while that the list of new players is smaller than the returning players.

3) Schedule

Since next season App goes to a conference that has standards when it comes to non-conference scheduling, they got as many sub-D1 teams as the SoCon would allow and more. It really is quite embarrassing to have four of the six non-conference home games be non-counters. There was anger when the schedule was announced.

One good thing about the schedule is a home game on Sunday, December 8th against Charlotte. These two teams really should play every year as there's legit bad blood and the schools are only 100 miles apart.

The Apps are playing in the exempt Global Sports Shootout, which basically gives the mid-major teams involved road dates at NC State and Cincinnati and then a round-robin against each other. The NC State will be interesting because of the Devonte Graham saga (nothing has changed on that front since) which blew up at the end of September. App State hosts Campbell and travels to NC Central as a part of the festivities. Elsewhere on the schedule has trips to Georgia, Winthrop, Presbyterian and Duquesne before conference play kicks off.

There was a gaffe involved where App had a home date with UMKC scheduled as a return leg from last year's game, but the Kangaroos opted out of the date and App couldn't get a replacement because there were already four sub-D1's on the schedule.

The conference schedule giveth early in that there's Davidson and Elon in early January before the students come back, where App has a history of pulling of wins in Belk and should help considerably in the cramped Alumni Gym.

The conference schedule taketh away late in the season when the season ends with three road games, at Furman, at Samford and at Chattanooga. That season finale in the Roundhouse could be a big game with massive seeding implications place like it was last year in Boone.

4) Best case/worst case

Best case for this team would be that Burgess becomes a solid true point guard, Obacha and Baskin dominates down low without foul trouble, Canty works his magic all around and Capel coaches the team up to a 22-7 record, 12-4 in SoCon play and guaranteed post-season play. The SoCon Tournament last year had an inspired performance against Davidson which almost ended in a massive upset and should send some good vibes into 2013-14.

Wost case is that App gets demoralized from the non-conference schedule, gets fat on the cupcakes and then crashes early in January against Elon, UNCG, Davidson and UTC. A losing season would be a massive disappointment. Anything between 16-20 wins would borderline. If the the worst happens, Capel will know he's a dead-man walking and the season will become a lame duck with the Sun Belt move upcoming.

5) Overview/Prediction

There's a solid core of six guys right now (Burgess, Neal, Hamilton, Canty, Baskin and Obacha) who will start and probably will be joined by Kobani and the remaining sixth-man guard is up for grabs to make the eight-man rotation. As far as a season overview, App has a really solid chance to finish high up in this conference. Anything less would be a disappointment. Davidson and Elon will be the favorites and after that, it's a free for all. Capel knows this. He also knows it's contract year and he has the hottest seat in the SoCon by far. Last year did have him coach more than in his first two years combined and inspire the team late in the year to a decent finish after a horrendous start. After two years of APR free fall, which I documented this summer, there should be an uptick next spring but most of those dice have been cast.

If I have to give a prediction on this season, I'd have to go 17-12 and 10-6 in SoCon play for a fourth/fifth place finish and a spot in the quarterfinals against the other fourth/fifth place finisher in a game no one wants to play (since CofC is gone, it's an 11-team conference this year). That wouldn't be good enough for a CIT/CBI berth. That would set up the SoCon Tourney as a lynch-pin for the Capel Era.

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