When Sean Woods entered the Morehead State program this past summer, he did so with a bang. He envisioned the Eagles as the “Gonzaga of the South” and said Murray State better be worried about Morehead State.
Some, including myself, wrote it off mostly as a new coach trying to generate a little press with his new team. Little did I know, that was just the beginning.
Woods truly is one of the most impassioned coaches in the game, which is easy enough to see on the bench. But that passion spilled over into controversy after a incident involving grabbing and yelling at a player went viral. The traffic from that video alone shut down this site for two hours.
But aside from that incident, Woods delivered much of what he promised. He brought a new, exciting style of basketball to Morehead, fitting a square peg: Donnie Tyndall‘s players recruited for a slower, methodical style of basketball, into a round hole: his up and down high tempo offense gleaned from his years with his former head coach, Rick Pitino.
It worked, at least mostly, as Morehead State was clearly a challenger in the tough East Division. But it was clear throughout much of the season there was a limit to what he could do with the players he inherited. Now that Woods is able to bring in more players for his style, will the Eagles continue to soar, or will the high pressure style explode in the competitive Ohio Valley Conference.
Last year’s team was…interesting to say the least. Woods wasted no time implementing his full-court pressure, or his run-and-gun offense, and especially early in the year it produced mixed results. The Eagles were able to push tempo and score in bunches, but were clearly playing much faster that they could handle at times, leading to turnovers and easy buckets for their opponents. As they season progressed, the team got more comfortable with the style, but remained inconsistent: The Eagles never had a winning or losing streak greater than 3 games all year.
During the last half of the season, the team did find two incredible bright spots: sophomore guard Angelo Warner and junior forward and rebounding machine Chad Posthumus. On a team that scored by committee, Warner was able to score double-digits in the team’s final seven games of the season, and 11 of the last 13. Posthumus, who was playing fewer than 10-minutes a game in November, became a regular starter by season’s end, posting five double-digit rebounding nights, including an incredible 19 against SIU Edwardsville.
While much of the rest of the team had great moments, none were really able to consistently rise above the field. As Morehead State looks to the future, Woods will need to find more players that can shine night in and night out in his high demand style of play.
Can Woods keep the focus his team about on the court play?
I used the word “impassioned” earlier, although I’m not sure that’s a strong enough word. He’s fiery, high intensity, and harkens back somewhat to old school coaches. Fact of the matter is, in this day and age, that kind of coach draws the occasional negative light. With stories about what happened at Texas Tech a few seasons ago, or Rutgers this past season, there are some in the media who look at Woods’ style and question if it still has a place in today’s game.
That’s not meant in anyway to be a condemnation of Woods, or his coaching style, simply an observation of the media surrounding college basketball in recent years.
Do I think Woods learned from last year’s incident? Absolutely. The bigger question is: will it absolutely prevent something similar from happening again?
Can you play high-pressure basketball without the mistakes often associated with it?
We know this style works. Louisville, coached by the man who taught Woods to play this way, just won a National Championship with it. The Cardinals turned over the ball just 12 times a game, compared to Morehead State’s 17. Given the right players, it absolutely can be done. The question is can Woods find the right players at the mid-major level? You have to have great ball handlers, and Warner is a good start. Woods will need at least two to three more to really find success in the system.
Can Morehead State repeat their outstanding rebounding performance from last season?
Their two big rebounders are back, although much like scoring rebounding was often done by committee a season ago. It helped that much of the OVC were not good rebounding teams last year, and one thing Tyndall really focused on in his recruiting was rebounding. This team should be a good rebounding team again, but it’s hard to expect them to be that good in back-to-back seasons.
F Drew Kelly
F Kahlil Owens (graduated)
G Devon Atkinson (graduated)
G Jarrett Stokes (transferring)
G Taariq Muhammad
G Bakari Turner
G Jared Ravenscraft
G Jordan Percell
C Chad Posthumus
F Bruce Reed (transferring)
F Maurice Lewis-Briggs (transferring)
G Angelo Warner
F Milton Chavis (graduated)
F Karam Mashour
G Jourdan Stickler (transferring)
G Brent Arrington
F Sawyer Williams
G Cordell James (transferring)
F Jason Holmes (graduated)
F DeAndre Leatherwood (JUCO transfer)
F Lyonell Gaines (Not eligible until 2014-15)
G Corban Collins (Not eligible until 2014-15)
F DeMario Mayfield (one year of eligibility remaining)
G Kareem Storey (JUCO transfer)
C Billy Reader (JUCO transfer)
F Jalen Courtney (Not eligible until 2014-15)
G Adonis Burbage (Not eligible until 2014-15)
When we did out “Losin’ Out” earlier in the spring for Morehead State, things didn’t look so bad. Only four players were graduating, and most of their production was returning.
And then transfer season started.
Now, nine players in all are leaving the program, and despite a busy signing season, just half of the announcements effect this next season. Most of the transfers are players who didn’t see much production over the past year, with Maurice Lewis-Briggs being the exception to that rule.
What’s not clear is why so many players are transferring. Make no mistake, even in the transfer-filled world of college basketball, having five players transfer out the year after a new head coach takes over the program is far from normal. But, it could (and ultimately should) hasten Woods’ ability to bring his style of players into the program.
One new addition you should absolutely pay attention to is DeMario Mayfield. Mayfield will join the Eagles program as a senior, having played previously at Georgia and Charlotte. With the 49ers, Mayfield averaged 11 points a game in back-to-back season in the incredibly tough Atlantic 10 and pulled down seven rebounds a game.
The one thing not answered yet: who joins Warner in the backcourt. Bakari Turner was an alright scorer, but that was about all he could do. Kareem Storey didn’t light up the stat sheet in the JUCO ranks either. For a style that is so reliant on great ball handlers, I’m curious where they come from on this year’s squad.
Once next year comes around, and the next batch of transfers are eligible, that question will be solved.
Predicted Starting Five
G Angelo Warner
G Bakari Turner
F DeMario Mayfield
F DeAndre Leatherwood / C Kareem Storey / F Drew Kelly / Third guard?
C Chad Posthumus
As you can tell, I’m struggling a bit with this one. While I’m not 100% sold on Turner, I don’t see another option in the backcourt, much less a third option. But if one of the younger players that didn’t play much this last year (and are still around) have a solid summer, I could absolutely see Woods going three guards.
Without that, it’s going to come down the the best remaining forward. Kelly really seemed to struggle to stay in Woods’ lineup throughout last season, which means the two JUCO transfers at forward could have a shot at a starting spot.
By The Numbers
|Category||Rank (Nat'l out of 347)||Rank (OVC)|
|Field Goal %||43.6%||154th||9th|
|3-Point Field Goal %||32.1%||252nd||11th|
|Free Throw %||69.1%||184th||7th|
|Points Per Possession||0.968||208th||9th|
|Turnovers Rate (% of possessions with a turnover)||23.5%||337th||11th|
|Assist / Turnover Ratio||0.878||244th||9th|
|Defensive Field Goal %||46.3%||305th||9th|
|Defensive 3-point Field Goal %||36.0%||271st||11th|
|Defensive Points Per Possession||1.029||260th||9th|
|Forced Turnovers Rate||22.0%||25th||4th|
|Fouls Per Game||24.7||347th||12th|
Here’s what last season taught us: If you’re really good in one or two areas, (in this case, rebounding, and forcing turnovers) it can make up for being below average in others.
What’s really interesting is the offensive numbers. Sure, Morehead State score points, but that was more a product of their tempo than efficiency. Even when the Eagles weren’t turning over the ball, Morehead State wasn’t a strong offense. Second-chances played a huge role in Morehead State’s success last season, and they’re poised to have another strong rebounding year.
They need scorers. Warner has that ability, as does Mayfield.
The defensive numbers weren’t much better, although could have been much worse if it weren’t for the Eagles pressure forcing turnovers. Only one team in the conference was worse at defending the 3-point line, and the OVC as a whole last year wasn’t exactly known for their defensive production to begin with.
As Woods enters his second year, it will be interesting to see how some of those “out of control” numbers change. Do the fouls come down, especially with the new emphasis on foul calls. Can they reduce their own turnovers? Those small changes could have a big impact in what many expect to be a tight conference next season.
When I first set down and did my initial rankings, I had Morehead State high, possibly even a top four team again. But as the transfers continued to pile up, and only one really standout addition to this year’s roster, I started wavering.
A lot. I wavered a lot.
Every team this time of the year has question marks, but Morehead State’s tend to be more big picture, which is troubling: Where does the scoring come from? Other than Warner, who can handle the ball? Where are the guards in general to run this pressure defense, and high-tempo offense?
I love the intensity Morehead State plays with under Woods, and it will help them win some games. But it seems like they’re still another year away from having a full roster that can best compliment that style.