Every year, KSU Basketball Superfan WingMan draws up a preview for us. Here is the latest version!
About this time every year, I post a preview of Men’s basketball. The upcoming season marks the 13th year for Division 1 basketball for the Owls. The Owls posted a 14-18 record last year, which doesn’t seem much to write home about, but that is the best result for KSU Men’s basketball since competing in Division 1.
There have been a lot of changes to the roster so will this year continue the upward trend, remain about the same, or be a step backwards?
I will share my thoughts on the subject, and welcome your feedback and comments.
Who is gone?
Last season the Owls had a full roster of 15. I believe all 13 scholarships were filled and 2 walk-ons suited up.
Graduating Seniors Kendrick Ray who averaged 21 points per game and Aubrey Williams who averaged a double-double will be sorely missed. These 2 players had the most minutes for the Owls and toghether accounted for 45% of the team’s scoring and 40% of its rebounding.
Also gone to graduation is Cameron Neysmith, a walk-on who saw very little game action.
A pair of developing 6-10 big men left the program as well. Johannes Nielsen departed to pursue medical school in his native Denmark, and Zach Cameron transferred to a JUCO. While neither of these guys were stars, they did contribute in their freshmen campaigns and showed promise for the future.
Josh Burnett, a 6-5 guard who spent 2 years with the Owls and didn’t receive a lot of playing time, transferred to a D2 program, Shorter University.
I will break down the returning players by class. First the Upperclassmen.
This year’s seniors were not recruited by Coach Skinner and played their first season under the direction of previous coach Jimmy Lallathin.
Sharpshooter Nick Masterson is a returning starter who was one of the top in the nation in 3 point shot percentage last year. Nick converted on 54% of his 3 balls. After doing a little math, I calculated his 2-point shot conversion at 44.5%. So maybe Nick shouldn’t take any 2’s that are not uncontested layups.
More important than shooting percentage will be the need for Nick to score more points this season. If takes more treys and still converts say in the high 40’s that will be of more help to the team. If Nick takes contested shots and gets fouled, he is and 85% free throw shooter and that could result in a good outcome for the Owls.
Redshirt Senior 6-8 Jordan Jones has been a starter for the past 2 seasons. His stats in nearly every category have improved each year, but the Owls will need him to up his play to a new level to be successful as a team this year. Jones is an emotional player who is a good leaper and has excited the crowd with some nice put-back dunks.
JJ has shown a knack for score in spurts, his most productive outing was 16 points against North Florida last season. The Owls will need additional rebounding and interior defense for Jones for the upcoming season.
Two Juniors also return to the Owls from Coach Skinner’s first recruiting class.
Kyle Clarke started at point guard last year and came under some criticism on this message board for numerous turnovers. It has been observed that Skinner likes taller guards, and there have been times where Kyle has posted up smaller players down low and created steals by using his 6-5 stature.
Clarke is a streaky scorer and had his best outing against Lipscomb pouring in 16 points in 8 of 11 shooting.
Kosta Jankovic is a 6-7 slender forward from Serbia. Kosta saw more action in his freshman campaign than last year as a sophomore. He seems to be more comfortable shooting from outside rather than playing under the basket. Last season he was pressed into service to play inside when teammates were injured or accumulated fouls. Since KSU will be thin on bigs this year, I expect to see more of him a “big man” position and I hope he can improve his skill set in this role.
Whether as starters or reserves, I expect these players to get a lot of minutes in the upcoming season.
The Owls have 4 Sophomores returning from last season’s squad.
James Scott made a dramatic entrance as an Owls, scoring 16 points in the first game he played and 33 points in the first game he started. Sometimes called the “microwave”, this guy can get hot in a hurry. Although he played shooting guard behind all-conference player Kendrick Ray, many of the regulars on the board wondered why Coach didn’t find a way to work him into the lineup for more minutes.
With Ray gone to graduation, surely ‘Great’ Scott will be the featured player for the Owls. He can score in a number of ways could be one of the top players in the ASUN this year.
Tyler Hooker, a point guard from South Carolina, saw action in 27 games and averaged almost 19 minutes per game as a freshman. Hooker struggled with scoring early on, but progressed as the season went on and ended with 6 games in double figures. Many do remember his trips to the Free Throw line were often difficult for Owls fans to watch.
Tyler showed me enough improvement over the course last season to give me some encouragement. As a point guard you will handle the ball during the end of the games, and if it is at all close you much be counted on to sink those free throws. I hope that Tyler has upped is game and particularly free throw conversion rate.
Isaac Mbuyamba is a solidly-built, 6-6 forward. He only played 3 minutes last year and everybody questioned why he wasn’t redshirted instead of just making such brief appearances. Isaac certainly will get more opportunities this year, as the Owls have a scant supply of big men. Isaac drained the only shot he took last year, and was the only Owls perfect from the field.
Anthony Wilson appeared in 17 games last season, and averaged about 3 points and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes of play per game. Those are pretty good numbers for a freshman. Word on the board is that Wilson may miss this whole season due to an injury. I will look forward to seeing him join the roster when he is healthy again.
The New Guys
I find it hard to evaluate a player until I have seen him play. So here is a summary of what I have read.
Bryson Lockley is a 6-8 Big Man who comes to use from Panola College in Texas. He originally signed with Santa Clara. He listed as a sophomore, so I guess he only played 1 season before becoming an Owls. He is the only big man we landed in this recruiting class.
Tristan Jarrett is a 6-4 freshman guard from Brownsville, TN. He averaged 21.8 points per game in high school which indicates we might have another good scoring guard on our team.
Another freshman guard, Fred Yana, signed with the Owls but he is not on the roster and rumor on boards indicate he is gone.
Senior Arthur Gray and Freshman Markus Smith have recently walked their way onto the roster.,
The entire coaching staff remains intact from last season: Skinner, Cotton, Owens, Cox and Brinson (sounds like a law firm). I am glad to see the stability.
Here is what I like about the coaching under Skinner:
The team is ready to play. You rarely if ever seen the team blown out by a team they should be competitive with. I did see inexplicable blowouts under the 3 previous coaches, including the legendary Tony Ingle.
The teams seem to get better as the year progresses.
There is relatavely little drama noticeable to fans. No suspensions, players leaving mid-season, players getting into big trouble, etc.
Here is what I would like to see changed or improved:
More flexibility. Barring injury or foul trouble. Coach seems to stick to the same starters and pretty close to the same player rotation. If a guy gets hot, I would like to see him earn more minutes and a chance to start.
Also, more flexibility in style of play. This year’s player mix will not have many true big men. Perhaps a small, quick lineup may be in order at times. I think some schemes will have to be experimented with the see what works best with this bunch.
I am also disappointed with the recruiting this year, I think Jarrett and Lockley are good signees, but we do not have enough players to fill the scholarships. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a couple of redshirt transfers on the bench that could help us next year.
Using a technique that was employed in last year’s preview, I looked at the Sagarin computer rankings for the Owls’ non-conference opponents. While this method has limitations, it’s about the best look at the upcoming season that can be done without extensive research.
Here are our opponent’s rankings from best to worst
FL State – 23
Butler – 26
Texas Tech – 43
Washington – 127
Yale – 135
Tenn. State – 163
Mercer – 179
Hofstra – 183
Samford – 186
GA Southern – 197
Tenn. Tech – 258
Kennesaw State – 268
Seattle – 275
Bethune- Cookman – 342
Piedmont – not rated
Carver Bible – not rated
If this ranking holds true, the Owls will be 4 -11 in non-conference play. Let’s say KSU is worse than last year as some have suggested, then maybe we drop the game to Seattle making us 3-12. but let’s not forget that Bethune-Cookman got the better of us last year.
Non-conference upsets have been few and far between for the Owls, but I will give some reasons for optimism. Last year KSU beat Tennessee State on the road and their final ranking was 100 places higher than the Owls.
The best team in our conference, FGCU, ended up ranked at 112 which is higher than all but 3 teams on the list. While we haven’t beaten FGCU in a while, we have given them close games, so I think every opponent from Washington on down the list could be beaten if we have a good game.
As far as the Atlantic Sun conference schedule goes, I think the Owls may fare well in the final rankings, based more on the overall weakness of this year’s conference opponents than the strength the KSU squad.
Coach Skinner did not vary his starters much last year. Ray, Williams, Masterson, Jones and Clarke each started at least 30 of the 32 contests. When they didn’t start it was usually due to a minor illness or injury.
Who will be dialed in as starters this year?
I expect for Jones and Masterson will be a lock as they are returning starters from last year. I also expect James Scott to take the slot vacated by Kendrick Ray.
There should be some healthy competition at the forward and point guard position. While I don’t know much about Bryson Lockley, it’s not too much of a leap to predict he will beat out Kosta Jankovic and Isaac Mbuyamba as a starter.
At point guard, it’s a horse race between Kyle Clarke and Tyler Hooker. While Clarke started most of the games last year, in ASUN play they each averaged very close to 20 minutes per game. Looking at last year’s stats, I saw more improvement in Hooker’s stats during conference play when compared to his overall stats. That shows the second half of the schedule Hooker improved in most categories. Clarke’s comparison was a mixed bag of improvement and decline.
Clarke’s Achilles heel, was turnovers. Clarke’s assist to turnover ratio was 1.16 for the year, while Hooker’s was 1.36, improving to 1.59 for conference play.
Hooker’s weakness was Free Throw shooting. 60% during conference play as compared to 78% for Clarke.
For the starting Point Guard, I give the nod to Hooker, with the hope he practiced a lot of free throws over the summer.
Wingman’s predicted starting lineup: Jones, Lockley, Masterson, Scott and Hooker.
It tips off on Sunday, Nov. 5 with an exhibition game. I am anxious to see what this group will do.