#123 Arkansas-Little Rock Men's Basketball 2016-2017 Preview

Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #123
Conference Rank: #3 Sun Belt
Little Rock was supposed to have a good team back in 2014-2015. Instead, they struggled and it cost former coach Steve Shields. The expectations were lower last season, but new coach Chris Beard led his team to a 30-5 overall record, including a win over Purdue in the NCAA Tournament. But Coach Beard turned that success into a coaching job at Texas Tech and once again UALR had to find a new coach. This time they grabbed Wes Flanigan, who spent last year as the team’s associate head coach. The transition should be smooth, but the pressure is on Marcus Johnson, Jr. to fill a bigger role this year. Johnson was second on the team with 12.5 points per game and connected on an amazing 46.6 percent of his attempts from long range. There may not be a better shooter in the Sun Belt than Johnson.
2015-16 Record: 30-5, 17-3
2015-16 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Wes Flanigan
Coach Record: 0-0 at Arkansas-Little Rock, 0-0 overall
Who’s Out:
But replacing Josh Hagins leadership and production will not be easy. Hagins led the Trojans with 13.2 points, 4.7 assists and 1.5 steals per game during the team’s magical 2015-2016 campaign. The points are replaceable, but finding another player who can be trusted to take the big shot or to make the big play will be extremely difficult. Also gone is fellow starter Roger Woods, a 6-5 forward. He was the only other player on the team besides Hagins and Johnson to average double digits in the scoring column. Woods also ranked second on the team with 4.3 rebounds per contest. Like Woods, Jermaine Ruttley was a part-time starter. The big 6-3, 200 pound guard failed to make a big impact during his lone season with the Trojans, averaging 3.2 points, 1.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds. Forward Mareik Isom transferred to Texas after his junior year. He started just nine games and averaged 5.9 points, but he did have a lot of potential as a big, athletic player who could shoot the ball. The only other departure is little used Daniel Green.
Who’s In:
This group of newcomers should be able to fill a couple holes. Most important is replacing Hagins at the point and that is where Florida State transfer Dayshawn Watkins should step in. Watkins did not play much at Florida State two years ago, but back in 2013-2014 at Holmes Community College, Watkins averaged 13.0 points and 4.8 assists. Incoming freshmen Andre Jones and Ryan Pippins will add more options on the perimeter. Jones is one to watch and the 6-4 guard is talented enough to push more experienced players for major playing time. The additions in the frontcourt will shore up any depth problems Little Rock may have with the departure of Isom. Oliver Black, a transfer from Mississippi State, and Corbyn Jackson, a junior college transfer, have the size and experience to step right into a starting role. Black earned four starts at Mississippi State as a freshman and should battle for a starting spot along with Jackson. At the least, both are likely to play big roles this season. The development of incoming freshman Shandon Goldman could decrease the minutes available for Black and Jackson, among others. Goldman is a big 6-9, 210 pound freshman, but he can handle the ball like a point guard. Sooner or later, Goldman will be one of the more interesting players to watch in the Sun Belt.
Who to Watch:
For now though, the frontcourt has some quality, experienced options. Jalen Jackson can play at the four spot, but the 6-6 wing will likely spend most of his time at the small forward position. Jackson was last year’s sixth man and averaged 8.5 points per game. He is not a shooter, but Jackson can score by attacking the basket. Maurius Hill was a part-time starter last season, averaging 3.3 points and 3.1 rebounds. Hill is an experienced senior, but being undersized this is where Black, Jackson or Goldman could find a way into the starting five. Lis Shoshi has a starting spot wrapped up in the frontcourt. The 6-11, 210 pound senior started all but one game in 2015-2016 and averaged 7.1 points and a team high 5.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks. Shoshi is particularly dangerous because he can step outside and knock down some three-pointers. With a little more strength, he could be in for a breakout year. Stetson Billings, a 6-5 senior, should again find a few minutes here and there because of his defensive ability.
Final Projection:
The frontcourt is full of options and pretty good options at that. The backcourt should be in good shape too though with Watkins joining Johnson and Kemy Osse. Osse started 25 games last season, but could also be used as a shooter off of the bench. Either way, Osse is an experienced player who can knock down shots. Depth is certainly not a problem with Little Rock, neither is talent. The Sun Belt should be tougher this year and there is little chance that anybody will go 17-3 in conference play like the Trojans did last year. The key for Little Rock will be replacing the leadership of Hagins. He did so much for the team that never showed up in the box score. Can Watkins create the opportunity for Johnson to hit the big shot? Can Johnson knock down that big shot? Hagins often did both. Without him this is still a good team and a team that can compete for a Sun Belt title, but probably not a team that is quite good enough to win the conference.
Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI / CIT / V16
Projected Starting Five:
Dayshawn Watkins, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Marcus Johnson, Senior, Guard, 12.5 points per game
Jalen Jackson, Senior, Forward, 8.5 points per game
Maurius Hill, Senior, Forward, 3.3 points per game
Lis Shoshi, Senior, Forward, 7.1 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 71.1 (224th in nation, 6th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 60.8 (4, 1)
Field-Goal Percentage: 45.3 (108, 2)
Field-Goal Defense: 39.5 (15, 1)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 7.6 (113, 4)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 38.4 (28, 1)
Free-Throw Percentage: 72.9 (62, 2)
Rebound Margin: -0.1 (192, 5)
Assists Per Game: 12.9 (199, 3)
Turnovers Per Game: 10.4 (20, 1)