Friday, November 1, 2013

Samford Preview: A Dangerous Team

By Cujo
The Samford Bulldogs enter the 2013-2014 season with a lot of fresh faces and guarded optimism. Samford returns 4 starters from last season's young squad (the veterans are juniors), as well as significant contributors Russell Wilson and Brandon Hayman. Head Coach Bennie Seltzer added a talented host of freshmen, as well as big-man transfer Michael Bradley. The one consistency carried over from last season is that the Bulldogs will be young and there will be freshmen seeing playing time right away. The big question is whether the Bulldogs can win consistently and find success on the road. The big difference from last season may be the luxury of depth.

Returning players expected to provide significant contribution:

The question of who to discuss first for the Bulldogs is a toss-up between preseason All-Conference guard, Raijon Kelly, or SoCon Freshman of the Year (12-13) and Preseason All-Conference forward, Tim Williams. Deferring to seniority, we will start with Raijon Kelly.

Kelly (junior, guard/forward) burst onto the scene as a freshman in the 2011-2012 season under then head coach Jimmy Tillette in the Samford version of the Princeton offense. Kelly was an All-Freshman team selection that year. Kelly didn't miss a beat when Head Coach Bennie Seltzer took over in 2012-2013 and changed the style from the Princeton and a steady diet of matchup and 1-3-1 zone to a more up-tempo offense and physical man-to-man defense. It didn't take long for Kelly to adjust and become a noteworthy scoring threat who could create his own shots as well as dish out assists for others. The comment that stood out from the coaching staff last season was that they did not think Kelly had come close to tapping or realizing his potential.

Tim Williams (sophomore, forward) was expected to be the cream of Seltzer's first recruiting class and he did not disappoint. Williams, a natural forward, averaged 14.2 ppg and 7.1 rpg playing in the center position due to the Bulldogs unexpected absence of a true center in 2012-2013. He proved to be silky smooth around the basket, scoring with inside moves, fall away jumpers and a deceptively quick dribble drives down the lane for crowd-pleasing dunks. Outside of Chattanooga, there was probably little debate whether he was best Freshman in the SoCon last season. This season, with the addition of Michael Bradley, Williams is expected to move to his natural four position. Bulldog fans are anxious to see what Williams can do with a big man playing the five and Williams in his natural position. The combination of Williams and Bradley hopefully will present matchup problems for SoCon opponents and improve the Bulldogs rebounding on both end of the court.

Conner Miller (junior, guard) is a rock steady guard whose contribution last season was not reflected in the stat line, but was evident to any student of the game who saw him in action. He played big minutes and did the little things that are the difference between winning and losing. He's a smart, hard-nosed player who is also capable of going off from outside the arc.

Tyler Hood (junior, forward) was sidelined early last season with an injury that kept him out of the lineup for several critical weeks in the middle of the year. Hood, like Miller, is a smart, hard-nosed player. The term blue-collar is thrown around too much in sports, but it comes to mind when discussing Tyler's game. He can score around the rim against bigger defenders and can also step out and knock down the three. He is the kind of player who wants the ball in his hands with the game on the line and he expects to deliver.

Russell Wilson (sophomore, guard) was as a fan favorite as a freshman. For Samford fans, he is best described as a tenacious defender. From opposing guards' perspective, however, he might be the most irritating player in the SoCon. His defensive game is relentless--like water torture. He has boundless energy, he is quick as a cat with a seemingly laser focus on shutting his opponent down. As the season progressed, Wilson started doing things off the dribble that would fill a highlight reel. Wilson has made great strides in the off-season, both in his skill level and his leadership. Look for Wilson to break into the starting lineup as the Bulldogs' point guard.

Brandon Hayman (junior, guard/forward) is an extremely athletic player with a knack for scoring around the basket. Though undersized, he seems to find a way to make things happen on both ends of the court. He has an uncanny ability to lose his defenders and pick up easy buckets around the rim. His athleticism and lack of concern for his body make him a tenacious defender and a weapon off the bench.

Transfer newcomers expected to contribute this year:

Mike Bradley is a 6'10" center who started out at Connecticut. "Big Mike" is expected to make an immediate impact and take over the five spot. The only concern about Big Mike is whether he can put the injury bug behind him. So far, so good. Coming out of high school, Big Mike was a McDonald's All-American nominee. It will be interesting to see what a true center does for Seltzer's style of play.
Chris Longoria is a 6’4” guard who transferred from Bingham University to Samford in January. He redshirted in 2012-2013. It is not presently clear whether Longoria will be eligible to play before January.

Incoming Freshmen:
Seltzer and his staff had what appears to be a banner recruiting class on paper.

Jordan Capps is expected to see playing time right away. This 6'6" guard/forward has reportedly impressed since arriving on campus. According to the official Samford athletic website, Capps was ranked by ESPN as the 18th-rated player in Georgia. He earned all-state honors as a senior at Peachtree Ridge High School where he averaged 14.7 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest. His athleticism and rebounding are his best assets. He has good length, runs the floor well and possesses the ability to finish above the rim not only on the break, but also in the half court. He also can knock open shots from behind the arc.

Isaiah Williams is another name that has been mentioned as a freshman who can play now. Williams is a 6'1" guard who is expected to be a big-time scoring threat who can do it all--scores when needed and dishes out passes that lead to baskets.

Brandon Roberts is a 6'1" guard. He may need a year to develop before being completely ready for the next level, but he is another highly rated recruit who is expected to factor into the Bulldogs future. He is a great ball-handler with exceptional court vision, who can score in bunches. He is a very consistent 3-point shooter. He was an All-state performer at West Morgan High School (Alabama) averaging an impressive 32.5 points per game. He was chosen to play in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He was rated as the No. 3 prospect in the state of Alabama by

Nnamdi Enechionyia is a 6'6" Guard/Forward. Enechionyia also may need another more to break into the rotation, but he too factors into Samford's future. He averaged 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a senior at St. James School in Hagerstown, Md. He has a natural ability to shoot from anywhere on the court.

Emeka Ikezu is a 6'9" Forward/Center from Greensboro, N.C. He comes to Samford by way of Hargrave Military Academy. Like Roberts and Enechionyia, he may need some time to develop, but the Bulldogs are expecting big things from him. Ikezu is originally from Nigeria. He is an impressive athlete, who is very active on both ends of the court.
Nathaniel “Biggie” Henderson is a late signee, who may not see playing time this year, but is expected to provide a lift off the bench and a healthy dose of perspective. From the Samford official website: Biggie’s favorite number is 5, his favorite foods are chicken nuggets and French fries, and he loves the color red. His favorite movie is "Good Burger", and he enjoys watching movies, playing video games, and watching Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Henderson is thrilled to join the team and very excited to meet all of his new Samford teammates!”

The Schedule:

From a fans standpoint, the non-conference home schedule leaves something to be desired. The much anticipated return game with Kentucky (2 for 1) did not materialize. Apparently the fine print in the contract said "Kentucky State", not University of Kentucky. The out of conference schedule includes (among others) Indiana, Florida Gulf Coast, ETSU and Marquette away and Austin Peay at home.

The conference schedule pits Samford against the top three teams in the SoCon preseason poll five times. Three of those five games are at home. The odd game is a home game against Davidson with no return game. In addition to its lone game against Davidson, Samford plays Georgia Southern and the Citadel once each. Both of those games are on the road.

Best Case/Worst Case Scenario:

The best case scenario is for the Bulldogs is to stay healthy, gel in the out of conference schedule and get meaningful minutes from some of the newcomers. The biggest question is whether they can find success on the road and play with consistency. Samford should have the luxury of a deeper bench than last year and be more athletic, which should give Seltzer more options to play the style of basketball he promised when he arrived--up-tempo, aggressive man-to-man defense that creates points off of turnovers. If the cards fall right and the Dogs find some early success on the road, Samford could have a shot at a 20 win season and double digit wins in conference play.

The worst case scenario for the Bulldogs young lineup is that inconsistency and road woes carry over from last season. It will also be imperative for the Bulldogs to avoid injuries along the front line. If Samford is forced to play some of the young players before they are ready, .500 could be optimistic.


There is a lot of optimism on the team and among the faithful. Seltzer and company have brought in basketball players who on paper at least possess athleticism and skill in numbers arguably never seen before at Samford. If this young team can get some success on the road in the early season and develop before heading into conference play, the Bulldogs can make some noise and perhaps challenge for a top four seed going into the tournament. Even though a young team, Samford has a core group of sophomores and juniors who have logged significant minutes. Throw in some bright young talent out to prove themselves and the recipe could be there for a top four finish.

As long as the likes of Kelly, Williams and Bradley stay health, Samford could be a team to contend with in the SoCon tournament. If the team develops before the conference schedule kicks in, the Alabama Bulldogs could get 10 or 11 conference wins. The big question is consistency.

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