Saturday, November 01, 2014

Falcon Men's Basketball Preview

A new era opened for Falcon football and men's basketball this year.  The similarities ended there, however.  The football team was replacing a coach lured elsewhere after winning a championship.  On the basketball side, it was a coach whose contract was not renewed and a team that was 12-20 and 6-12 last year.

Chris Jans was brought in, as BG paid more money for a head coach than we would have ever imagined.  Jans appears to be the right candidate.  Lots of head coaching experience in the JUCO levels and helped Wichita State get where they are.  By all reports, he has brought a strong energy and work ethic to the Falcon program and I believe that since it is his first D1 Head Coaching job he is all in for making it a success.

What we all want is to stop thinking about one date:  1968.  We want a MAC title and to go back to the Big Dance.  Doing so is incredibly difficult even if you are good--ask last year's UT team.  This is a one-bid league.  It requires a cosmic alignment of tumblers and the ability to win at least a couple days in a row at the Q.  I think Jans can do it...whether he will is another question.

I am optimistic for the future.  The question for today is what can we expect this season.

I believe it will be an interesting season and fun to watch...if for no other reason than there are so many unknowns.

BG was 12-20 last year.  There were a bunch of close games in there that BG could have won, so the Falcons were probably a little bit on the plus side of 12-20, if that's a thing.  With the exception of Cam Black and Craig Sealey, that team returns intact and in fact adds Chauncey Orr back into the mix.

Again, that's returning players from a 12-20 team, but it is worth noting that no one left with the new coach.

How did those records come about?  BG played pretty good defense...the Falcons were 3rd in points per possession allowed last year in the MAC, conference games only.  If there was a weakness, it was on the boards, but in general, BG played decent defense.

The problem was on the other end of the floor.  BG was last in the MAC in points per possession, free thows made, 3FGs attempted and made, and 3FG%.  BG was 9th in FG%...remember the context, this is a team that shot the fewest amount of 3s in the MAC.  3FGs bring your overall FG% a team that doesn't shoot 3s and STILL IS 9th in FG% cannot be effective.  If you aren't shooting 3FGs, you should be taking higher percentage shots and you need to make them at a high rate.

BG is returning Richaun Holmes who is picked as pre-season All-MAC first team.  I believe you will see much of the team built around Holmes.  It will be interesting to see how he handles that role.  He has tended to get frustrated--especially with foul calls--but if he's going to be the focal point, he won't have that luxury any more.  Spencer Parker, BG's 2nd leading scorer, also returns in the frontcourt.

Also back are guards Jehvon Clarke, Anthony Henderson, Chauncey Orr, JD Tisdale and Zack Denny.  How this group evolves will be interesting.  I think Clarke could be interesting off the ball.  Henderson has never developed into a consistent shooting threat, Orr can be a very solid player and a classic 6th man who can play 2 or 3.  Tisdale showed athleticism but also a lot of struggles getting the ball into the basket and Denny was injured most of the year but it was hoped he would be an outside shooting threat.

BG brings some inside guys back as well, more on that below.

Jans went out and added some guys with the idea of getting immediate help.  He brought in three JUCO players and a HS player.

Two of the JUCO players are 1s:  David Joseph and Jovan Austin.  I think this addresses one of the two biggest issues on the offensive side of the ball, which is that I don't think Jehvon Clarke is a natural 1 and I think he was in a role where he did contribute occasionally but not on a consistent basis.  

 Both Joseph and Austin were highly productive players in HS and in their JUCO careers and JUCO play can often translate into MAC success, but it is certainly not a given thing in all cases.  This will be something to watch for.

The other newcomers are inside players.  There's Delvin Dickerson who is only 6'5" but very solid (he's also JUCO) and then Rasheed Worrell who is 6'7" and a true FR who was headed to App State before there was a coaching change.

This is just as important.  With Black gone, the apparent plan had been Garrett Mayleben or Josh Gomez.  Mayleben redshirted so we have seen nothing from him and Gomez was not terribly productive.  Something has to pop on the inside or it will be a long year for the Falcons.

Jans told the Blue Ribbon yearbook that Mayleben put weight on and was improving, so maybe it will be him.  He was always ID'd as an upside project, so anything from him is very helpful.

The other returning inside player is Spencer Parker.  Parker was very good last year for BG, scoring 12.5 PPG and shooting 47%.  He also averaged 5 rebounds a game, which was 20th in the MAC, something I am surprised to discover just now.  Jans told Blue Ribbon that he views Parker as a 4/3...I had always seen him as a 3/4.  Parker is a guy who can get to the rim with a good mid-range jumper and he could be the biggest beneficiary of improved PG play.

It is really important because Holmes has tended to get into foul trouble and at some level all big men get fouls sometimes, so BG simply has to have some depth on the inside.

BG does not have a terrifically difficult non-conference schedule.  There are no Power 5 teams and only on A-10 team.  That said, there are a bunch of tough games and BG appears to be playing the easier teams away and the tougher teams at home, which is the riskier way to go.  Finally, the MAC has gotten tougher while BG has been struggling.  The Falcons play Akron, OU, and Buffalo twice, so the conference road is no picnic.

With that in mind, here are the things to watch for as the season starts.

1.  Does BG improve its offense by generating strong PG play that improves our shooting percentage by creating space for shooters?

2.  Does BG improve its offense by generating an outside game--either through the new guys or someone returning...maybe Zack Denny.

3.  Does BG develop inside contributors who can support Holmes and Parker?  To me, this is the biggest issue.  Imagine this scenario.  Holmes picks up 2 quick fouls.  Who plays inside?  Right now, there is no proven answer.

Finally, just because I am optimist at heart, let me give you the best case scenario for the team.

BG builds on last year's solid defense.  Pep Joseph is an immediate contributor at PG and is creating shots for the BG offense.  Zack Denny and Jovan Austin are consistent threats from the outside and that opens things up for Holmes and Parker in the paint.  BG gets depth support from Clarke, Orr, Mayleben, Dickerson, Henderson, Tisdale, and Worrell.  Holmes matures into his leadership role.  The community embraces the program and the Stroh starts to rock.

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