Monday, November 3, 2014

ETSU Preview: Allow Them To Reintroduce Themselves

In the coming week, each day a Scanning the SoCon participant will preview their team. Today, swvabucsfan from Buccaneer Nation previews the ETSU Bucs in their return to the SoCon.

Every ETSU fan that I know is glad to be back in the SoCon.  Even though it’s a different SoCon than the one we left (no Appy State, Davidson or College of Charleston) some of the old rivalries remain (especially Chattanooga.)  And we’re within driving distance of most teams instead of dealing with a conference whose center of gravity is closer to Florida than Johnson City.  Besides, the ASun always carried the taint of the loss of ETSU football, a bitter pill for most every ETSU sports fan.  But now football is back and so are the Bucs.  So let us reintroduce ourselves.

If you remember the style of the Bucs before they left the SoCon, you’ll recognize a lot in the current squad:  undersized but very athletic and aggressive, playing a short rotation of about 8 guys, able to run and put the ball in the basket, but short on rebounding and front court defense.    Our play in beating the Mocs in the CIT last March was pretty typical of what the Bucs look like on a good night.

If you’re planning on coming to Johnson City for a game, you should know that the Bucs are not playing in the Mini-Dome this year.  Basketball games will be at Freedom Hall in Johnson City, a smaller facility that puts the fans closer to the action and gets them more involved than the cavernous Mini-Dome, The Dome is fine if you’re bringing 5-6,000 to the game and great if you’re packing in 10,000-12,000.  But 2-3,000 kind of gets lost there.  The Bucs played several games at Freedom Hall last season and wound up with wins over Samford, Stephen F. Austin and Marshall.  The team really responded to the atmosphere there.  I think that Freedom Hall provides a better “home court advantage” for ETSU.

Departures:  Most everyone with any size graduated – 6’7” 235 Hunter Harris, 6’6” 250 Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard and 6’8” 250 Lukas Poderis


BACKCOURT:  6’3” 195 Sr. shooting guard Rashawn Rembert.  Only 2 returning players in all of D1 ball made more 3’s than Rashawn’s  108 (Michael Frazier with 118 and Tyler Harvey with 109).  He shattered ETSU’s record for made 3’s in a season.  Last season’s numbers include 36.1 minutes; 16.8 ppg; .449 shooting; .425 from 3 (108-254); .842 from the line; 3.1 rebounds; 61 assists; 54 turnovers and 1.2 steals.  Rashawn is the hardest working guy on the squad, and he has radically improved his game, and especially his shooting, each year to date.

6’0” 150 Sr. Jalen Riley the second highest scorer for the Bucs only started 3 games because he’s got a rare ability to come off the bench hot and change the game.  Remember Vinnie “the Microwave” Johnson for the old Detroit Pistons?  Jalen is our Microwave.  Even smaller than listed here, Jalen is nonetheless a fine rebounder and penetrator who plays with a chip on his shoulder attitude and a short memory.  Last year was his first with the Bucs coming out of the JUCO ranks, and it took him a while to settle in and find his rhythm.  His streak of play the last 14 games of the season is probably more indicative of what to expect from him this year:  15.8 ppg in 23.8 minutes on .413 shooting, and .338 from 3, .842 from the line and 3.5 rebounds with 1.4 turnovers, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steals.  Although he may not start, expect him to be in the game at the end where he excels at controlling the ball, creating shots and drawing fouls (169 made free throws – 3rd all time for the Bucs), often getting decked in the process.

6’0” 185 Jr. point guard Lorenzo “Petey” McClain: the best handle and the most speed on the team.  Will push the ball up hard, even after made baskets.   Like Jalen Riley and Lester Wilson, he finished the season on a hot streak and seems poised for better things this year.  Not a strong shooter, he nonetheless improved all aspects of his game significantly between freshman and sophomore years. 20.9 minutes, 3.4 assists (4.7 the last 7 games), 1.3 turnovers, 1.1 steals, but only 3.4 points.  3.4 assists per game would have been tied for 5th in the SoCon and his assist to turnovers ratio would have been first in the SoCon at 2.6.  He made 11 of his last 12 free throws on the season.

6’4” 200 So. Guard Devin Harris: a physical guard who is a change of pace from his smaller, quicker teammates, Harris got very little playing time as a freshman in Murry’s short rotation.  But when Petey was injured before the ASun tournament, Harris stepped in and averaged 12.5 confident minutes with 7 points,  on 56% shooting, 2 steals and 3.5 rebounds.  He looked so promising that some Buc fans would rather see him than Petey at point.  Myself I think Petey’s better suited to run the offense.

SWINGMEN:  6”4” 215 Rs-JR Lester Wilson is an excellent athlete with power, speed (though not great quickness) and leaping ability and a good long range shot (138 made 3’s on .350 shooting as a freshman and sophomore). He had a bit of a sophomore slump early last season but finished hot the last 15 games and is poised to make a big step forward his Junior year.   Look at his numbers the last 15 games:  in 25.7 minutes averaged 15.2 ppg .470 from the field, .410 from 3 (34 made), 22-24 for .916 from the line, 4.8 rpg.  Notice the pattern here – down the stretch Lester, Jalen, Petey and Rashawn were red hot from the free throw line.  We’ll need more defense, rebounding and team leadership out of Lester this year.

6’2” 185 So. A.J. Merriweather was the surprise of last season as a true freshman.  His energy and infectious enthusiasm made him most everybody’s favorite Buc.  His quickness, length and energy make him play more like 6’5” than 6’2”.  In 26.5 minutes he averaged 6.3 rebounds, 9.5 points on .482 shooting and .433 (13-30) from 3 with 1.4 steals.  His 6.3 rpg would have been 9th in the SoCon and first for SoCOn freshmen.  His 1.4 steals would have been 5th in the SoCon, 1st among freshmen.   Nobody ran any plays for this kid – he just went and got the ball and scored.  A scrapper and the best 6’2” or less rebounding freshman in D1 ball.  You won’t believe he’s 6’2”.

FRONTCOURT:  And here’s where it gets problematic.  Our only productive front court players are gone, leaving Ron Giplaye and Isaac Banks.   6’6” 250 Sr. Ron Giplaye missed all but 5 games last year after open heart surgery (!!).  He lost muscle mass, strength and explosiveness, averaging 4.4 minutes, 1.4 points on .429 from the field, .429 from free throws and only 0.8 rebounds and probably should have just redshirted instead of wasting the eligibility.  A transfer from Providence, he was reputed to be a fierce rebounder and defender with Big East toughness but a low shooting percentage.  But he was a shadow of himself after surgery.  It’s unclear how well he has recovered.

 6’7” 215 So.  Isaac Banks was another victim of Bartow’s short rotation.  A true freshman, he saw no action in 1/3 of the games and averaged only 5.7 minutes in the rest with his time shrinking as the season went on.  He showed some ability to score and rebound  averaging 1.2 rebounds and 1.3 points per game on .579 from the field and .700 from the free throw line. That projects to about 4.2 rebounds and 4.1 points on efficient shooting in a 20 minute game.  But he looked lost at times on defense, and we really need front court defense this year.   They say he looks stronger and with an even better shot this fall.


SWINGMAN:  6’4” 185 Fr. Desonta Bradford Tennessee Class A POY, averaging 21.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game this past year, shooting 54 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range during the regular season, on his way to being named first-team all-state. This athletic lefthander is an excellent recruit.  He arrives in the guard/small wing man area where the Bucs are loaded this year.   Word out of the Bucs camp is that he is just too good to sit, though.

FRONTCOURT:  Here’s a photo of our 3 biggest newcomers – 7’0”, 6’10 and 6’9”.  But it’s misleading.  I don’t expect any of them to play a major role this year.  If only they could look as good AFTER the whistle blows:

 6’10” 225 Fr. Karl Overstreet – he was set for a post grad year at Hargraves, but lost it to injury.  He’s got the size and reportedly moves well.  But it will likely take a year or so to adjust to the speed and physical play of D1 ball.  I’d be surprised to get too much help from Overstreet this year.

6’9” 235 Sr. transfer Alex Bates – he’s graduated so is eligible this year.  He’s got the body but just hasn’t produced in 3 years at Northeastern and Tennessee State,  averaging 9.2 minutes, 1.3 rebounds, 0.8 points on .529 shooting (mostly very short range) and .400 from the free throw line with 0.4 blocks.   It’s questionable how much help he can give the Bucs.

7’0” 230 Jr. transfer from Indiana Peter Jurkin – a legit 7 footer and a real athlete, will have to sit out a year.  Indiana coach Tom Crean said he could be a difference maker on the national level and spent 2 years trying to get him healthy without success – he’s got the orthopedic problems that plague some big men.  He’s already had leg surgery while at ETSU and won’t be ready to practice until sometime next semester.  If he ever solves his leg problems, he should be a terror on this level.  Look at that photo again – he’s the big stud in the middle.        But that’s a very big “if”.

That leaves 6’5” 220 Jr. Tommy Williams.  An All-Region JUCO from East Georgia State, he’s long for his height, physical and smooth around the basket  averaging 12.5 points per game on .514 shooting, and, most importantly, 9.9 rebounds.  He’s the only front court player we’ve got who had a productive year last year, albeit on the JUCO level.  I’ll be surprised if he’s not our number 1 front court player this year. 

There are some very weak spots on the schedule (games against UVA-Wise 11/18 and Tusculum 1/19 at home) along with some tough ones on the road against VCU 12/22 and Tennessee 12/31. 

An early measure of how the Bucs can do against good mid major teams will come in November on the road against Valparaiso (11/14) and Winthrop (11/24), and in December on the road against Morehead State (12/1) and Eastern Kentucky (12/16).

Early conference tests will also be telling: at home against Western Carolina (12/3) and Greensboro (12/13).

Look to those games to see how the well Bucs are doing finding answers in the front court, in rebounding and defense.

SUMMARY:  *************************************************************************

So the Bucs guards and swingmen are experienced players who match up awfully well on the SoCon level, as they demonstrated in beating the Mocs handily last March.  But our front court is totally unproven.  I’d say that 6’5” 220 Tommy Williams and 6’7” 215 Isaac Banks are the most likely to be in the rotation when conference time rolls around.

If we can answer the questions in the front court, the Bucs will be a strong contender for the SoCon title.  If.   But for the last 2 seasons we struggled badly against the 3 ASun teams with big front courts (Mercer, FGCU and USCU).  And we’re even smaller this year, unless Bates or Overstreet can help.  Of course, those were pretty good ASun teams, one of which made the Sweet Sixteen (FGCU) and one of which beat Duke in the first round (Mercer).   I don’t see any teams in the SoCon this year that have the kind of size that those teams did, with the possible exception of the new guys coming in for Chattanooga and Mercer.  Even top dog Wofford doesn’t have much front court size.   And other than Wofford, most SoCon teams are in rebuilding mode this year.  You probably don’t want to get into a free throw shooting contest with the Bucs down the stretch of a tight game.

Strong points:
Proven guard play,
Scoring (76.8 would have been 2nd best in the SoCon),
3 point shooting (would have led the SoCon in made 3’s with 275, and been 3rd best in percentage with .363),
Free throws (would have led the SoCon in made free throws with 656 and in percentage with .748),
Turnover margin (would have led the SoCon with 2.4), quickness, speed and athleticism.
Decent back court defense (would have led the SoCon with 7.7 steals) but some trouble defending the 3 Point line that arises in part from trying to collapse to help a small front court underneath
(would have the most 3’s allowed in the SoCon with 269, and yet would have been 2nd best in percentage defense, holding opponents to .332 from the line).

Weak points:
Unproven front court,
Small size,
Trouble with rebounding (would have been 10th in the SoCon with -3.2 rebounding margin) and defense underneath (
76.1 points allowed would have been second worst in the SoCon, ahead of only Samford’s 76.4)
Trouble defending big physical guards like Lipscomb
Trouble with 3 point defense (see above)

The comparison is with last year's SoCon with Davidson, Elon, Georgia Southern and App State


Most folks on our board see our schedule as weak and see the SoCon this year in a rebuilding mode except for Wofford.  And Wofford, with a modest-sized front court, doesn’t seem designed to take advantage of the Bucs main weaknesses, while their strengths at guard are matched against very real strengths for the Bucs.  Consensus on our board is that anything less than 20 wins would be cause to hang the coach.  But I think that folks are underestimating the difficulty in winning on the road in conference, and in winning on the road against teams like Valparaiso, Winthrop, Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky.  They’re also underestimating the difficulty in winning out of conference early in the season while we try to sort out our front court problems.  

I’d say that a regular season total of 18-11, 12-6 in conference, is more likely.  

In the SoCon, Wofford has to be the pick until proven otherwise, but the Bucs do not match up too badly against them.  Chattanooga has the most promising crew of newcomers – but they lost a lot with Z. Mason and newcomers do not always turn out as advertised.   Mercer also has a big new crop that worries any team as small as us.  But the Bucs should be a very real threat for the conference title, depending on how things develop.   A more realistic pick might be 3rd. 


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