Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chattanooga Preview: Chaos Unleashed

For much of the last three years, Coach John Shulman's support eroded and many Moc fans clamored for a new coach. As a long time supporter of Coach Shulman, it was hard to stomach. But the last two years results also were hard to stomach too. It was time for some new blood in the coaching ranks, if for no other reason than to re-energize the fanbase.

Enter Coach Will Wade. Without a doubt, the new coaching staff has brought new energy to the Mocs fan base. Around the conference, the Mocs have been referred to as a sleeping giant. Based on early results in recruiting and the like, Wade appears to be awakening that giant.

Coach Will Wade was an assistant at VCU under Shaka Smart. Smart has Havoc. The Mocs have Chaos. They plan on implementing intense defensive pressure and shooting a high percentage of three pointers.

The goals are as follows:
1) Lead the SoCon in scoring.
2) Top 40 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. (This is a stat that I've been following for years on this blog. If you've been following this blog, you've been up on this game.)
3) Shoot 35% or better from three point range.
4) 67 or more possessions per game.
5) Top three in SoCon scoring defense.
6) Top 20 nationally in steals.
7) Top 20 nationally in turnovers faced.
8) 35 or more deflections per game.
9) 8 or more student-athletes with positive scores on effort chart per game.

That's the basics of what Wade is trying to implement. So, get ready.

The question is, are the Mocs capable of running this kind of system with their current talent?

Let's start by looking at last year's players and evaluating from there. Z Mason would fit into almost any system. He's just that kind of player. He is an athletic, physical presence. He will be one of the leaders in the SoCon in rebounding. He could be among the leaders in the scoring in the SoCon. He certainly has to be on the short list for the SoCon Player of the Year. He is on the All SoCon Preseason Team.

It is also my belief that Gee McGhee belongs on the short list for at least being on All SoCon teams in the preseason. Tim Williams (Samford) made it in the preseason, and I thought that he and McGhee were very close last year in the Freshman of the Year voting. I also spent much of last year wondering what McGhee would look like in a style more like VCU's. I think we are about to find out. McGhee has an athletic explosiveness that should play right into this system. He is not a great shooter (at this point), but has been working on his shot in the offseason. I expect him to shoot much better this year.

Casey Jones and Lance Stokes both are long and athletic- exactly the sort of players you need in this style. Jones really came on after he came back from injury last year, and really showed off what he could do. Reports from practice say that he has been one of the most impressive players in early practice. Stokes defensive efforts after he came back at midseason last year were an important part of last year's team.

The problem is that the team does not have a lot of height or a lot of true point guard play. Rico White played point guard a lot last year, but was not really in his proper position. He improved at it by the end of the year, though. He is one of the better natural shooters on the team, if he can get open looks while playing point, which is something he struggled with last year. He is a decent driver and free throw shooter.

Eric Robertson has also been playing some point guard in practice. He might be the best natural shooter on the team and he is not really a natural point guard. That being said, I am interested to see what he produces as a point guard this year.

Alex Bran is a walk on point guard. He may be able to produce some. He was a little bit of instant offense at times last year. Martynas Bareika also can play good offense, but sometimes seems a little slow.

There are three new guys who are not transfers and redshirting this year or a walk-on. TJ Williams is 6-8, which means he is an important piece to this team. He will need to be able to play some in the four or five spot. He was highly acclaimed coming out of high school, and will be a critical piece to this team's puzzle.

Anthanee Doyle and Greg Pryor are both point guards coming in. Doyle was committed to Queens before the coaching staff came to Chattanooga. Can he produce at this level? Pryor was a late commitment out of Memphis who was excellent defensively.

Can Pryor and Doyle be the answer at point, at least to help move Robertson and White off the ball during games? Can Williams start at the five spot and provide some much needed height to the lineup? Those answers could determine how far the Mocs will go.

The schedule features three non-D1s, which is unfortunate. Wade has said that the schedule will be much better in the future. With Covenant and Montreat in the first three games, and a trip to Radford and a home game against Kennesaw State all before the Las Vegas Invitational, there is a chance for a decent start. Radford and Kennesaw State both should be OK, but the Mocs have a chance to start 4-0 if things go well. There is a trip to Nevada and UCLA as part of the Las Vegas Invitational, which will be difficult. Morehead State, IUPUI and Gardner-Webb all wait in Vegas as part of a four team tournament. The Mocs could certainly win that four team tournament if things work out for them. Then again, in the past, they have blown games like that.

 A trip to Georgia follows. Hiwassee will be the final non-D1 on the schedule. Then there is a trip to Northern Kentucky and another one to UAB. The Dr Pepper Classic features Grand Canyon, Middle Tennessee and Maine. There is only one more non-conference game- a trip to Eastern Kentucky in February, which may be one of their tougher non-conference games of the year.

The conference schedule features just one game against league favorites, Davidson and Elon. It also features just one game against the bottom two in the preseason polls, Georgia Southern and The Citadel. So the conference schedule basically balances out. There are trips to Furman and The Citadel to open SoCon schedule, and home dates with Samford and Wofford. If everything works out, there is a chance for a really fast start in SoCon play.

Best case scenario is that the Mocs find a way to start 4-0, beat Northern Kentucky, Hiwassee, win in Vegas and the Dr Pepper Classic, and could steal one from Georgia, UAB, Nevada, UCLA, and Eastern Kentucky. That comes out to 11-4 in out of conference play. Let's say that they pull out a 12-4 in SoCon play. That would mean 23-8 heading into the SoCon Tournament. How would all that happen? Z Mason is the Player of the Year in the SoCon, and Gee McGhee and Casey Jones leave little doubt that they are among the Top Ten or Fifteen players in the SoCon. They get adequate point guard play without turning the ball over. Williams is Freshman of the Year in the SoCon and gives them much needed size inside. The Mocs Chaos takes the SoCon by storm, and the Mocs finish either in first or second in the SoCon. They make a run to the SoCon Championship Game, and I refuse to predict from there at this point.

Worst case scenario is that the Mocs lack of a true experienced point guard play and lack of size on the inside proves their undoing. They lose early a couple of games and lose confidence. There are a couple of injuries that derail any momentum. Every time the Mocs seem to take one step forward, they take two steps back. In the end, the Mocs wind up going 5-10 out of conference, and 4-12 in conference, for a 9-22 overall record. The Mocs defensive pressure just doesn't cut it.

Truthfully, the Mocs will be much closer to the best case scenario than the worst case scenario. I just don't think the Mocs could possibly be that bad. They have more talent than that. The new system should work well and be difficult for the SoCon to cover. Mount St. Mary's saw a big turnaround under a VCU assistant coach taking over in his first year. I think the Mocs could see similar things. I think a 10-6 SoCon record and 9-6 out of conference is a legitimate possibility. That would be a 19-12 record, and likely get them a three or four seed in the SoCon Tournament. That would be successful in Wade's first system.

What do I really want to see though? I just want to see the effort increase. I just want to see the players work hard. If this team can avoid quite as many blowouts and show that they are working hard, I will be pleased regardless of the record. I want to see the record improve, but if the Mocs show the effort, I'll believe better days are coming. The recruiting is picking up, and this team is about to go places.

I'm just looking for actual proof, rather than my optimistic opinion, to believe that now.

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