#107 Arkansas-Little Rock Men's Basketball 2013-2014 Preview

Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans

2013-2014 Overall Rank: #107
Conference Rank: #1 Sun Belt

Arkansas-Little Rock Team Page#107 Arkansas-Little Rock Men's Basketball 2013-2014 PreviewBuy Arkansas-Little Rock Basketball Tickets

No conference is in the midst of more turnover than the Sun Belt. Three new teams enter the fray this season alone. Next year, a couple more come along. Through it all, recruitment will be tough, consistency will be near impossible and whichever teams are able to focus on what they do well, almost ignoring whoever is on their schedule, may do the best. What may shake out as the most important factor to a Sun Belt team's success these next few seasons is experience and confidence playing together. As the best team heading into the season, no one fills those columns up any better than the Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans under Head Coach Steve Shields.

2012-13 Record: 17-15, 11-9
2012-13 Postseason: none
Coach: Steve Shields
Coach Record: 147-128 at UALR, 147-128 overall

Who’s Out:
Last year's squad was not the best team in the conference by any stretch. They struggled a bit on the road and seemed to hit a lull late in the year, losing four straight games in mid-February. Going into the 2013-2014 season, they will be playing without a couple contributors, most notably guard John Gillon. Gillon, who led the team in three point attempts and makes, has decided to transfer to a school who's program better fits his style of play. While attempting the most free throws on the team, he also led the Trojans in free throw percentage, and finished second in scoring, all as a freshman. The scoring responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the team's best player, Will Neighbour. Also absent from this year's squad are junior forwards Michael Javes and Taggart Lockhart. The two combined for 42 starts as sophomores. Javes especially will be missed as he helped protect the rim on the defensive end, leading the team in blocks.

Who’s In:
A cavalcade of men are lining up for Coach Shields this season. The team's leading scorer, senior forward Will Neighbour, is back. Neighbour shot rather poorly from all over as a junior (44 percent from the field, 30 percent from three, 69 percent from the line) but his sophomore splits are tremendous at the big money spots, threes and free throws (41, 41, 81). It remains to be seen which is a better precursor for how he will shoot as a senior but Sun Belt foes should watch out if the threes start falling. Backing up Neighbour are a slew of capable players. This team did a wonderful job of spreading around the basketball last season. For a team that only tallied a shade over 66 points per contest, nine guys averaged between 4.7 and 10.7 points, with no one topping Neighbour's 10.7 mark. Also in the mix this season will be lengthy guard Mareik Isom, who redshirted as a freshman, and North Arkansas College transfer Mike Evans. UALR will have no problems with depth or bench production in '13-'14.

Who to Watch:
The player to keep an eye on is sophomore point guard Josh Hagins. As a freshman, Hagins came in and led the Trojans in assists by a healthy margin. After getting off to a slow start the first 10 or so games of the season, Hagins picked it up. He grabbed 18 starts on the season, but that number should jump this year. The youngster will have to cut down on the turnovers if he wants to become a truly effective floor leader but his first try was a pretty good one. Besides, the Trojans' offense was a hard one to have run through one man anyways. If Hagins can settle into a more confident player with the ball in his hands, it may also open up more of those three point shots for Will Neighbour, who saw his outside makes go from 43 as a sophomore, all the way down to just 21 as a junior. Some of the other big men, like Gus Leeper and Andrew Poulter, may find more room to maneuver inside as well if Hagins is able to step up his court presence.

Final Projection:
In a wide open, lower tier conference like the Sun Belt has become, there will only be one NCAA Tournament berth up for grabs. Arkansas-Little Rock has as good a shot as anyone to nab it. A lot will depend on the maturation of some of their young players but nearly the entire roster last season was young players. Coming into this year, UALR will expect big contributions from a handful of seniors, a couple juniors, some sophomores, etc., rather than relying on so many underclassmen like they were forced to in 2012-2013. The incoming freshmen are not expected to make large impacts on the squad this season. However, pairing their new guys (transfers, redshirt sophomores) with everyone else should give Steve Shields a reliable core once he settles into a rotation. Last year, freshmen logged more than 2600 minutes, over 40 percent of the total. Expect all the Trojans to have a better understanding of the game this time around.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Josh Hagins, Sophomore, Guard, 8.1 points per game
Ben Dillard, Junior, Guard, 6.4 points per game
Leroy Isler, Senior, Forward, 7.4 points per game
Will Neighbour, Senior, Forward, 10.7 points per game
James White, Sophomore, Forward, 7.2 points per game

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 66.5 (198th in nation, 7th in conference)
Scoring Defense: 66.6 (172, 4)
Field-Goal Percentage: 42.2 (232, 7)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.2 (145, 6)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.1 (286, 10)  
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 33.7 (183, 5)
Free-Throw Percentage: 67.6 (228, 8)
Rebound Margin: -0.7 (202, 7)
Assists Per Game: 11.6 (255, 3)
Turnovers Per Game: 15.3 (307, 9)


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