"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Central Arkansas Preview

Central Arkansas Bears
December 28, fiserv.forum

Coach: Russ Pennell (49-108 at Central Arkansas, 142-166 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 277.0
3-Year kenpom Average: 274.3
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 281

Projected Starters: PG DeAndre Jones (5'11" Jr), SG Khaleem Bennett (6'4" So), SF Rylan Bergersen (6'6" Jr), PF Eddy Kayouloud (6'7" So), C Hayden Koval (7'0" Jr)

The Bears started 2018-19 in poor fashion, going 5-8 in non-conference play with three of those five wins against non-Division I opponents. Conference play began well as they got off to a 5-2 start, but seven straight losses sank their season as they sputtered to a 14-19 finish. The main reason was a porous defense that allowed over 1.00 points per possession in 17 of 19 losses.

While leading scorer Thatch Unruh is gone, the Bears return four starters from a team that tied for the second-most wins in a single season in program history.  Jones and Koval are proven scorers that can get baskets both inside and outside the arc while Kayouloud flashed big game potential on a number of occasions last year. UCA got a big mid-September boost when BYU transfer Rylan Bergersen was granted immediate eligibility. The wing struggled for minutes with the Cougars, but has the potential to be an immediate difference maker as a sharpshooter with size. This is a team that has a lot of length on the bench, with six additional players between 6'5" and 7'0". The tools are there to improve defensively, the question will be if Pennell can get that out of this team.

UCA runs a five-out motion offense. Even Koval can hit threes when called upon, though don't be surprised to see a heavy rotation on the wings as Pennell searches for someone to replace Unruh's long-range efficiency and scoring. This is an up-tempo offense that moves the ball well, puts up a lot of threes, and when attacking inside, gets to the line. They don't run many set plays but do a good job of creating for each other. At the other end, they simply haven't been good. They don't do much well at all. Pennell has only had a top-300 defense once at UCA and that was a team ranked #268 in efficiency in 2017-18. What that defense did well was block shots (thanks to Koval), force turnovers (thanks to Jones), and forced teams inside with tenacious perimeter defending. They have the players and length to make that work, but that team was also much better at putting the ball in the basket which allowed them to get back and play in a set defense. The better they are at scoring, the better they will be at defending.

When I originally composed this, UCA looked like a dud on paper but I felt they had potential to be better than the pundits were predicting. With the addition of Bergersen, I'm even higher on this team. Their T-Rank jumped from 294 to 281 after that addition and he provides a replacement for Unruh. Their 8-10 record in the Southland was also the second best in program history. Most of the teams in the Southland lost more than the Bears did and after prohibitive favorites Sam Houston State, the league is wide open. I expect them to finish over .500 in league play and contend for a top-half finish. While they will likely be one of the low points on the schedule, when the worst opponents on your schedule look like NET 250-275 opponents, it's a lot better than the 3 average sub-300 opponents MU has faced in Wojo's first 5 seasons.

Marquette Connection: Single season scoring average record, Howard. Single season points scored record, Howard. Single season field goals made, Howard. Single season three point attempts, Howard. Career points scored record, Howard. Wait a minute...Markus doesn't have that one yet! That's because those records come from the Central Arkansas record book, where Markus Howard's older brother Jordan was a star for four years and shattered many of their all-time records. The elder Howard was one of the most prolific scorers in the nation as a Bear, as his 25.3 ppg as a senior ranked 3rd in the country. But there's one record that neither brother could accomplish on their own, and that's the all-time record for points scored by two brothers in NCAA history. In 2013, Seth and Stephen Curry took that record away from Tyler and Ben Hansbrough. Their record stands at 4,736 points. As of the preseason, the Howard brothers have combined for 4,479 points, third best in NCAA history. They are 6 points behind the Hansbroughs and 257 points behind the Currys. There's a chance that by the time this game tips off, the Howard brothers will stand alone atop this list, providing a connection between Central Arkansas and Marquette that remain etched in the NCAA record books for a long, long time. If Jordan is available, a pregame ceremony featuring both Howard brothers to celebrate the cross-program record that will likely be broken either before or during this game would be pretty darn cool.

No comments: