Strap in, SIUE fans. This isn’t going to be pretty.
Last year, I had the Cougars as a team on the rise. They were a fairly young squad with a solid core of experienced players, they were surprisingly strong the year before, and seemed to have a talented group of scorers. In my view, this is the formula for success in the OVC.
Either it time to rethink the formula, or I simply read SIUE wrong last year. I’m going with the latter.
That being said, the Cougars weren’t the worst in the league. In fact, they were just one game from making the OVC Tournament. They were far from awful, but equally far from being great. For a team just in their second year of full Division I play, that’s really not a bad place to be.
So why am I so gloomy for the year ahead? I can answer my question with another question: Who is the leader of this team next year?
Not so easy, is it.
The Cougars were an interesting case last season. They won games you didn’t expect (against Murray State, really starting the Racers late-season freefall, and SEMO) and lost games they really shouldn’t. (Swept against UT Martin, losing at home to Austin Peay)
The team was every bit as up and down as their record: Jerome Jones sudden departure, Maurice Wiltz and Mark Yelovich‘s injuries. Honestly, things could have been much different.
The offseason has been no less tumultuous. Michael Birts and Charles Joy, who really seemed to come along after Jones’ ouster, have transferred. Three more seniors have graduated, and information about new players has been…slow.
So where to from here? That’s really the question for this young team.
So, do you want to answer your own question from earlier? Who is the leader of this team?
I’d have to say Kris Davis. After a lights out freshman year, the rising junior struggled from the floor last season, but he’s a solid floor general. He need to get to the basket more and rely less on jumpers, but he’s a solid option in the backcourt. Honestly, it could just as easily be Michael Messer or Wiltz. One of them, if not all of them really, need to step up this year for the Cougars to be successful.
You put Lennox Forrester as a 5/10 on the hot seat. Why?
This is a really interesting case. Many of the fans I’ve talked to don’t think too highly of the SIUE coach, but I have to think that the he has a bit of leeway as making the jump to Division I isn’t easy, and winning is rarely immediate in these situations. This simply may come down to his contract: has he done enough to earn another extension? He earned a three-year extension last June, meaning he likely has two more seasons to state his case.
Last season, a player is kicked off. Two are transferring this year, on a team in need of talent. What’s behind all this?
The transfers are somewhat concerning, to be honest, but I don’t think it’s a major situation. Transfers happen, although I am especially curious as to the “why” behind them. Joy, especially, appeared to be in line for a lot more minutes next season. Maybe he’ll get even more at Cameron.
On the Jones’ front, some times things happen, and it’s good to see Forrester willing to take drastic action. It’s not concerning unless these things start happening year-in and year-out.
G Kris Davis
G Maurice Wiltz
G Tim Johnson
C Grant Fiorentinos (eligible after sitting out last season)
G Reggie Reed (graduated)
F Derian Shaffer (graduated)
F Michael Birts (transferring)
F Charles Joy (transferring)
G Kyle Heck
F Ray Lester
G Michael Messer
G Donivine Stewart (eligible after sitting out last season)
F Mark Yelovich (graduated)
C Zeke Schneider (graduated)
F Jerome Jones (left program)
G Rozell Nunn (JUCO transfer)
G Cameron Craig (JUCO transfer)
F Keaton Jackson (JUCO transfer)
F Deangelo Stewart
Okay, there’s a lot to work out here. The good news is, there does appear to be a full roster, which has actually been a bit of a worry this off season.
The first thing to note is the two transfers eligible this year, Grant Fiorentinos and Donivine Stewart. Fiorentinos, a 6’10” transfer from Tulane, should be a much needed anchor inside, although I’m curious about his touch at the rim. Stewart, a Bradley transfer, is another option in the fairly crowded field of point guards, although I’m of the persuasion that there’s no such thing as too many ball handlers.
The frontcourt is thin, to say the least. Keaton Jackson is another tall forward, listed at 6’9″, and if starting alongside Fiorentinos, would easily make the tallest starting forwards in the league. (Height isn’t everything.) But, can you really afford to start both? Who comes off the bench? There is Ray Lester, a regular starter at North Carolina A&T before transferring to SIUE, who isn’t a bad option, and although listed as a guard, Michael Messer could probably play the four-spot in a pinch.
The backcourt is a different scenario all together. Davis, Wiltz, Stewart and Cameron Craig are all options at point, with Rozell Nunn and Tim Johnson options at the two or three spot. This is where the battle will take place for playing time this season.
Predicted Starting Five
G Kris Davis
G Maurice Wiltz
G Michael Messer
F Ray Lester
F Grant Fiorentinos / Keaton Jackson
I’m not sure if there’s a predicted starting five I’m less sure of than this. I think the returning players, at least initially, will have the edge over the newcomers for the starting roles, although that could change in a hurry. The better of the two true big men will likely start, but I think the other will come off the bench, else 6’6″ Lester and Messer might have to play the 5-spot in spells, and I just don’t see that happening more often than absolutely necessary.
I’ll go ahead and put the “year away” sticker on this team, for now. They’ve got some nice pieces, but I feel like they’re still missing the corner pieces: i.e the most important pieces in a puzzle.
(If you’ve ever put together a jigsaw puzzle, I’m sure you understand.)
Next year’s team will be full of senior leadership, and this year we’ll find out who will truly rise to the occasion. A first ever trip to the OVC Tournament is far from out of the question this season, but with the West Division appearing to get stronger, the Cougars road to the tournament could be much tougher.
If there’s anything you can take heart in, SIUE fans, it’s that I’m often wrong in July. I was wrong about your team just last year.
Although it was a different kind of wrong, I guess.