2008-09 Team Capsules
By Kyle Whelliston
UCA has two more years to go before it becomes eligible for the Southland and national postseason, but until then the Bears will sharpen their claws against a full league schedule. Last season's squad registered the same 4-12 league record as its inaugural D-I season in 2006-07, but it took a step backwards on offense. Central eked out just 66.6 points per game, and was among the country's worst shooting teams at 39.7 percent. Wichita State transfer Chris Brown
, a 6-8 lefty, will be counted on to move those numbers up after getting limited minutes in the Valley.
The 19 wins were the most since the program joined the Southland, but a shocking quarterfinal loss as a No. 2 seed to Texas-Arlington sandblasted all the luster off Lamar's co-regular season championship. This was the best 3-point shooting team in the SLC (38.2 percent from behind the arc). But the Cardinals' Achilles' heel was their shoddy field-goal defense, which allowed 47.5 percent of shots to connect, a weakness that Texas-Arlington exploited to a 53.6 percent tune in the 81-75 eliminator. Two key starters return as seniors: 5-9 Kenny Dawkins
and 6-6 Justin Nabors
, who combined for 25.8 ppg last season.
Hanging around the .500 mark all season, the Cowboys turned in a virtual carbon copy of their previous four seasons. It turned out to be a major disappointment for the five seniors with increased expectations. On the plus side, McNeese was tough around the basket, leading the conference in 2-point field goal defense and blocks -- but the primary source of the team's bulk, 6-11 Kleon Penn
, is among the departed for 2008-09. A .500 follow up would be quite an achievement.
The Colonels, perhaps the most impressive 10-win team in the nation last season, were blown out only twice during a 5-11 Southland campaign. The 2008-09 squad has a legitimate chance to make it back to the eight-team conference tournament for the first time since 2001, as coach J.P. Piper's Down Under project looks like it's ready to pay off. Senior Ryan Bathie
and sophomore Anatoly Bose
are both 6-6 Aussies who combined for 24.4 ppg last season, and Nicholls will retain the services of 6-2 senior and a Melbourne product Michael Czepil
. Czepil suffered a season-ending knee injury in late December, soon after scoring 13 in a 10-point loss at North Carolina.
Turnovers did in the Demons last season -- only three teams in America coughed up the ball more often than their 19 times per game. If Northwestern State reaches its fifth straight SLC title game next March, head coach Mike McConathy will have found suitable replacements in his heavy-rotation system for Trey Gilder
, Colby Bargeman
and two other outgoing seniors. One might be Aramie Brooks
, a 6-8 PF transfer from two-year school Arkansas-Fort Smith.
Sam Houston State
Before an upset loss in the league semifinals ended their season at 23-8, the Bearkats achieved their third straight season with at least 21 victories. That era coincides with the last three years of 6-6 standout Ryan Bright
's career, who averaged a double-double in his senior season. The post-Bright period at Sam State may someday be referred to as the Bootle Era, in honor of Scouts Inc.'s top Southland recruit. Antoine Bootle
is a 6-7 small forward who played his prep ball at Saint Thomas High in Houston.
Since storming to the 2005 Southland title, the Lions have been erased in the conference quarters three straight times. Southeastern will lose three starters from its 17-13 (9-7 SLC) team from last season, but the cupboard is far from cleaned out. Patrick Sullivan
, a 6-9 junior from Orlando, more than doubled his scoring output as a sophomore (4.5 ppg to 10.0), led the team in rebounding (6.3 rpg) and collected five double-doubles.
Stephen F. Austin
Roster churn is an annual tradition at SFA, in good years and bad. Only three seniors depart from the breakthrough 26-6 squad that earned the school its first postseason appearance since the 1987 NIT. But coach Danny Kaspar signed a total of six players, four of them juco transfers. Among the new pieces Kaspar has at his disposal are Oklahoman 5-8 point guard Jarrod McDaniel
, former Idaho Vandal 6-8 PF Aaron Smith
and Zach Williams
, a Dallas-area shooting guard who'll be groomed to be an eventual replacement for reigning Southland POY Josh Alexander
Replacing six seniors from the team that gave Wisconsin a scare in the 2007 NCAA first round was a contributing factor to the Islanders' on-court crash, as was the less-than-dominating senior season for 2007 Southland POY Chris Daniels
. The 7-footer saw his production slip considerably, but the real difference between the two teams was the perimeter game. In 2006-07, Corpus Christi shot a blistering league-best 40 percent from 3 and only managed a Southland-worst 28.8 percent last season. Freshman point guard Terrence Jones
, a 6-2 Marylander, will get every opportunity to fix the failing offense.
The Mavericks might have had an even better season if not for a December injury to shooting guard Brandon Long
. After starting UTA's first nine games and scoring 12.3 ppg, the 6-1 junior suffered a thumb injury that forced him to miss the rest of the season. The Mavs were 8-1 at the time and struggled to regain their form before sprinting to the tourney title. Head coach Scott Cross applied for a redshirt for Long, and the Illinois native will be back at full strength this season.
This could be the season that everything comes together, if only because this team is overdue for a run of good luck. A year after 6-7 juco transfer Travis Gabbidon
was sidelined by a foot injury, he broke his leg 14 games into the 2007-08 season. Gabbidon was leading the team with 13.9 ppg at the time and will redo his junior season. In all, 10 members of the 12-man roster missed games with various injuries. Despite all that, exciting first-year point man Devin Gibson
led the nation in steals (3.3 spg), and the team forced turnovers at a NCAA-leading 26 percent clip. If they stay healthy, the Roadrunners will definitely contend.
No team burns as little shot clock as the Bobcats, proud to be the fastest team in Division I. You can afford to miss a few shots when you play that way, but a lack of defense meant no conference tournament for a third straight year. But third-year head coach Doug Davalos has overseen improvements from three wins to nine to 13 -- in part because of the extra possessions afforded by being the third-leading rebounding squad in the country (42.2 team rpg). Seniors Brandon Bush
and Brent Benson
, who combined for 27.3 ppg, will try to run and gun their way to a top-eight finish.