OK…I’ve seen enough to make an educated guess at what kind of season we’re going to have.
I’ll start by saying that I’m excited… very excited…about the trajectory of the program. I feel that Muss will have us in the hunt for an SEC Championship in 2 years. Not saying we’ll win it that soon (but also not saying we won’t). This guy has a plan, not only for the team, but for each individual on the team. I’m really impressed by his approach and organization - which extends beyond our players into the scouting of the opposition. This guy is an Eddie Sutton for 2020. They’ll play very strong defense, run when the opportunity calls for it, and shoot the 3 as analytics indicate teams today should. Once he gets the recruiting where he ultimately will (IMO), we’ll be rocking and rolling.
This year? Well, we’re about to find out in the next few weeks. But I think we’ll be an interesting and fun team to watch. IMO, we will win 7-9 SEC games and end up in the NIT. I’d love to be wrong and see us get into the Big Dance, but I won’t be disappointed or upset if we don’t - so long as I continue to see the effort and improvement on the court that we’ve seen so far.
I know Arkansas fans well enough to know that some already are convinced we’ll be dancing in March (heck - I already know a few of them personally!). Sure, we’re 5-0. And the good news is, though facing teams we should beat (though some of our victims have surprised a little in what they’ve done in their other games, early), we have dominated them. That may sound like a small thing, but if you’ll look back the last several years, we have seemed to play down to the competition we’ve faced instead of rubbing our heels in their nose as we used to. This team does that, and I like it - a lot!
But we have a couple of obvious “flaws”, and I believe those will catch up with us several times once we play better competition. None of this is news, but the flaws I see are that (1) we’re too oriented on the outside shot. Some nights, when Joe, Jones and Desi (sounds like a 60’s pop band!) are hitting from outside (and we’ve had some of those already), we’re pretty good. But there will be other nights when they arent’; and then, where will our points come from?
Tonight was an example of that, and the answer - tonight - was Whitt. Jimmy was a mismatch for this opponent and killed them with mid-range jumpers. But if I were coaching a team against Arkansas, I’d do whatever it took to take Joe out of the game (by scheme, not hurting him) and then take my chances with the other shooters we have. I’d make THEM beat me…not Joe.
This leads to a discussion of flaw #2, which is lack of size - I know…another “bulletin”. When the 3’s are falling, this one isn’t as big a deal as when they aren’t. Or, if the other team has a talented inside scorer, we don’t really have an answer for him. But offensively, if your outside shooters are having an off night, the best way to get the O going is to go inside and get some baskets there to take the pressure off the outside shooters. We really don’t have a consistent option for that, offensively. I will note that Bailey is playing noticeably better, and that’s a plus. But we will face teams that can handle him (and Chaney) with sheer numbers and height advantage.
Getting back to flaw #1, I do find it a little worrisome that we’re only shooting 27% as a team from the 3 point line. Especially since most of those attempts have been “quality”; i.e., not closely guarded. I’d like to see it in the 33-35% range, and I think that’s attainable, but it’s a number to watch as the season goes by. This team cannot shoot below 30% from distance and do a lot of damage against the teams we will be playing during the meat of our season.
Yes, I know that Desi will pick it up, in particular. I hope Jones will. Joe is about where you’d expect him to be, and Harris is…well…Harris. He teased us a little by hitting his firs two 3 pointers of the season. Since then, he is 1 for 8…12.5%…about what he shot last year. He will finish the season no higher than 25% from 3 point distance - if I HAD to bet on the over/under, I’d take the under. Fortunately, I believe this head coach (if that percentage is close to right) will take the option out of Harris’ hands sooner than later.
Finally - flaw #3 - is that this team makes far too many unforced turnovers. They don’t make a lot of turnovers in the grand scheme of things; but of the ones they do make, too many are just bonehead plays and not due to good defense. I don’t know what their conversion rate is on fast break opportunities, but it’s not good.
The 3 strong points I see are (1) hustle/effort - especially on defense; (2) rebounding…this team hits the boards hard; and FT shooting. Curious, because our shooting numbers otherwise are very pedestrian so far against mediocre competition. but we’ve hit well at the stripe (78%). If that holds up, it will help in a couple of close games.
So, in summary, I foresee a 17-13, or 18-12 regular season that is very entertaining, with many close games that go both ways. Then a couple of games in the NIT. A good start to the Muss bus era…then we load up with some more new talent next year…and off we go.
I’ll check back in 3 mos. and see how well I did. Either way, I’ll own it.