Ever wonder why sportswriters often talk about how good teams are “on paper,” only to watch them struggle on the court? That’s been Southeast Missouri basketball over the past two years. You look at their roster, see two forwards that should be the most ferocious frontcourt in the league, you see guards that can shoot and handle the basketball.
But at the end of each of the last two seasons, you see the team finish within the vicinity of .500.
So what do I see when I look at this year’s roster. The same. The same frontcourt returns, albeit a year more experienced. AJ Jones is that hot-shooting guard in the backcourt. Lucas Nutt is a great ball handler. So should we expect anything different from another talented, at least on paper, roster?
Call me an optimist.
…Or a fool. Your choice.
I don’t even remember how many times I harped on that “key stat” last year. It was often. The scary thing is that over half of their five steals a game have graduated. That number can’t actually get worse, right? Fact of the matter is, even when you hold teams to 40% shooting from the field, if they’re getting shots off on every possession, they’re going to score a lot of points.
As well as this team could score, their defense, and surprisingly rebounding, held this team back to being just a .500 team in a weakened division. If there was a year for SEMO to take the fight to Murray State, last season was a perfect time to do so.
In the end, they didn’t. Murray could still be weakened this year. Can the Redhawks take advantage and win the division?
What should we read into head coach Dickie Nutt’s one year contract extension?
That faith in him is running low, which is a shame really. Nutt brought this team back from a winless conference campaign not that long ago, but there’s a feeling that he might have plateaued. There’s also that “on paper” argument again: why is a roster that looks so strong actually so middling? Some are blaming the coach, and if he struggles again this year, that seat could be on fire come March.
What can this team do to be better defensively?
It has to start at the guard position. The OVC has for quite a while been a guard-heavy league. While SEMO has two quality bigs, some teams don’t have one, which means they expect their guards to do the scoring. Having two enforcers down low doesn’t do a whole lot of good if teams aren’t taking the ball to the block. Putting pressure on ball handlers will help as well, as you can force teams into mistakes.
Better forward: Nino Johnson or Tyler Stone?
I expected Stone last season to explode. The season before, he proved to be the more consistent between he and Leon Powell, and I truly thought Stone would be the best forward in the league. He really wasn’t. Johnson on the other hand had a terrific sophomore season, and while he’s not as much of a scoring threat, his defense and rebounding put him a slight step above the rising senior, in my book.
F Nino Johnson
G A.J. Jones
G Nick Niemczyk (graduated)
G Corey Wilford (graduated)
F Wayne Martin Jr. (eligible in 2013-14)
G Matt Floyd
F Michael Porter
G Lucas Nutt
F Jacob Tolbert (transferred)
G Marland Smith (graduated)
G Jared White
F Tyler Stone
C Colin Ferguson
G Josh Langford (Auburn transfer, eligible in December)
G C.J. Reese
G Antonius Cleveland
G Darrian Gray (JUCO transfer)
The changes are far from numerous, but significant. The Redhawks are losing three quality scorers in the backcourt, all of which started (in stints, at least) last season.
Lucas Nutt will return as the team’s primary ballhandler, and AJ Jones is essentially a lock for the other starting guard position. With there being no changes in the frontcourt, that just leaves one starting position open.
What’s more interesting is who comes off the bench, as depth could be somewhat of a concern. There are five rising sophomores, including three that played somewhat significant minutes. The most promising of the bunch appears to be Jared White. White played in 25 contests for the Redhawks last year, and was a solid shooter the few times he did so. (17-35 from the field, 4-5 from 3-point range) He put up a double-digit scoring performance late in the season in a blowout against Austin Peay.
In the frontcourt, Colin Ferguson is a fairly highly touted local product listed as 6’9″, but he’s likely playing behind Michael Porter, assuming he isn’t in the starting five.
Guard C.J. Reese was academically ineligible for the fall semester last year, and last we heard was “on track” to join the team in the spring. Assuming he is with the team this fall, he’s expected to be a talented point guard option.
Predicted Starting Five
G Lucas Nutt
G AJ Jones
G Michael Porter / Josh Langford (December)
F Tyler Stone
F Nino Johnson
Not a whole lot of surprises, eh? The one thing I could see change is the third slot, which could go to Gray instead. But for the most part, the starting five appears pretty well set.
A lot of people are extremely high on the Auburn transfer, Josh Langford. Most people I’ve talked to think he’ll start when he becomes eligible in mid-December. For now, I’ll pencil him into the third spot. (although a lot can change between now and December)
SEMO clearly wants to be taken seriously in the OVC. They’ve shown they can find talent, they’ve shown they know how to play exciting basketball, all that’s left is the winning.
Not just winning 20 games, (which would be great, don’t get me wrong) but showing they’re not “second fiddle” to Murray State in the West Division.
I don’t think that happens this year, but I think they get a step closer.
I would be surprised if the Redhawks score 72 points a game again this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Over the past two years, SEMO hasn’t been losing games because they couldn’t score, it’s because they couldn’t stop their opponents from doing it. Another year of experience for this very talented frontcourt has me encouraged, and I think the guards will be better defensively.
I’m setting the bar high once again. I can’t help it if they want to limbo below it.
2nd in the West
(Note: I incorrectly put EIU as 2nd in the West in their preview. They’re 3rd in the West in my predictions.)