"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

Friday, October 30, 2020

Arkansas-Pine Bluff Preview, 2020-21

Arkansas-Pine Bluff Golden Lions

November 25, Fiserv Forum

Head Coach: George Ivory (136-248)

Three-Year NCAA Ranking Average: 326.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 330.0

Projected 2020-21 T-Rank: 219

UAPB will be counting on a strong return from Shaun Doss

Photo by UAPB Athletics

Projected Starters: PG Nicholas Jones (6'1" Sr), SG Dequan Morris (6'4" Sr), SF Shaun Doss (6'5" RS Sr), PF Markedric Bell (6'7" Sr), Terrance Banyard (6'8" Sr)

While life as a SWAC coach can be difficult, there's no doubt George Ivory hit a low point last year as his Golden Lions went just 4-26. It certainly hurt that expected contributors Shaun Doss, Nicholas Jones, and Robert Boyd weren't available for all but a small handful of games. That gave a heavy load to Markedric Bell, Dequan Morris, and Terrance Banyard. Looking at the Golden Lions' roster for 2019-20 is bizarre. Twenty-two players logged minutes for UAPB. Just 4 players logged 20+ mpg (not including Doss, who only played 3 games) but another 8 averaged double-digit minutes. They were rotating bodies at an alarming rate. While Ivory does tend to carry a lot of walk-ons, last year was an overstuffed roster even by his standards, and it didn't help the results.

Doss was projected as a First Team All-SWAC player last year before he lost his season to injury. In his absence, Markedric Bell took over the offense as his 35% percent of shots taken was 14th in the country but only resulted in 10.8 ppg. That's...not good. It's also a big part of why UAPB had the lowest ranked adjusted offensive efficiency in the country according to kenpom. Banyard and Morris both played major minutes last year and should benefit from Doss taking some of the pressure off. The point will be the wildcard. Jones seems to be the likely first choice, but if he falters Jordan McNair and Cameron Posey have both played the position for Ivory in the past.

Offensively, the plan last year was basically throw the ball inside to Bell and Banyard, and if there wasn't a way to do that, the guards would drive the paint. UAPB got a whopping 58.7% of their points inside the arc (10th in the nation). The Golden Lions only had two players with 50+ 3PFGAs last year (Marquette by comparison had five) and both graduated, so expect an even more interior-heavy attack. Even the returning Doss won't likely change that much as over 76% of his FGA as a junior came inside the arc. Defensively, the Golden Lions run an extended 2-3 zone that seeks to bait teams into risky passes and turnovers. In that respect, it works as they have been top-100 in turnover percentage each of the past 8 years and top-10 in 4 of those seasons. However in that same stretch they have been sub-200 in 2PFG% defense 6 times because the overextension leads to wide open driving lanes. Though I suppose when you carry a roster of 15-20 players you can afford to overextend and pressure because you always have bodies to throw out there. Bottom line, the key to beating them is protecting the ball and working it inside.

After being one of the worst teams in the country last year, T-Rank shockingly has UAPB as a top-220 team and projected 2nd in the SWAC. As much as I'd love to believe it, I'm a skeptic. Getting Doss back is a solid addition, but I have no faith in their PG play as all of their returning candidates had higher turnover rates than assist rates. This looks like a middle-of-the-road SWAC team that won't be worth much more than a notch in the win column. That said, I will happily take a few guaranteed wins in this non-conference for Marquette, and there's no team that looks to be a more certain victory than over the Golden Lions.

Marquette Connection: Arkansas-Pine Bluff has only ever played Marquette once, a 100-49 victory for the good guys on December 19, 2001. It capped a 10-game season opening winning streak for Marquette en route to the first of two NCAA berths for the Dwyane Wade-led team. Oluoma Nnamaka's 17 points paced the way as 6 Marquette players that scored in double-figures that night.