1. Lone Star Stars
Last year, Sam Houston State was 40 minutes away from being the experience-laden Southland Conference team based in Texas that would cause an upset of the apple cart in the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Instead, the Bearkats lost in the Southland Conference Tournament title game to Stephen F. Austin, who then became household names when they upset No 4 seed VCU in the second round as a No 13 seed.
One year later, the Bearkats have been picking up where they left off, starting conference play 6-0 and joining the defending champion Lumberjacks as an undefeated atop the SLC standings. SHSU, at least statistically, is something of an anomaly in college basketball. The Bearkats score 75.8 points per game, which ranks in the top 30 in D-1. But belying that gaudy number, the Bearkats’ shooting percentage from the field is a shade under 43 percent, and their effective field goal percentage currently ranks 261st in the country. So why the high number of points despite the lack of shooting efficiency?
Sam Houston State crashes the boards. Relentlessly.
Going into Monday, the Bearkats have rebounded 253 of their 605 missed field goal attempts, getting a second chance at the basket more than 41 percent of the time. The main glass eater is 6-11 senior center Michael Holyfield, who leads the team at 8.1 rebounds per game, with three of those per game coming on the offensive glass. Overall, the Kats outrebound their opponents by 9.2 boards per contest, a stat made even more amazing given the fact that four of their five starters are 6-4 or shorter, with two of them – Kaheem Ransom and Paul Baxter – stand at just 6-1.
Speaking of their starters, four of their regular starters are seniors, giving this team an edge and a sense of urgency to get the school back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 before the end of their eligibility. No player averages more than 11.1 points per game, with Houston native DeMarcus Gatlin setting the scoring pace and Brooklyn, New York native and Texas Southern transfer Jabari Peters just behind him at 10.4.
All this has allowed the Bearkats to hold their own against teams from power conferences this season, as included in their four losses is a two-point setback at UNLV, a three-point loss at Texas A&M and a 76-67 defeat at LSU in a game which was a four-point margin with less than two minutes to play.
If you’re looking for an under-the-radar game to keep a close eye on this coming Saturday, give Sam Houston State a look, as they host the defending Southland champion Lumberjacks. More on this game later.
2. Scratching and clawing back to respectability
Six of the top seven teams in the Big 12 standings were ranked in latest edition of the Top 25 of the Associated Press Poll on Monday. Then there’s Kansas State, the outlier at 4-1 going into Monday.
Kansas State, the team that lost to Long Beach State and to Pittsburgh by 23 points. The team that lost to Texas Southern at home. The team that lost its next two games after the Texas Southern game to drop its record to 7-7.
But here they are at the top of the Big 12 standings, hoping that they can put aside their rather horrid non-conference Act I and provide a Lazarus-like revival in Act II during conference play.
After taking out TCU to end its three-game losing streak, the Wildcats stunned Oklahoma in overtime in Norman, using a game-tying layup to force overtime and a game-winning three-pointer in overtime by Marcus Foster to really start generating momentum in the positive direction. One week later, K-State defeated another ranked opponent, taking out then-No. 21 Baylor in overtime to improve to 4-1 in Big 12 play. The momentum was stopped in Ames on Tuesday, as Iowa State held on for a 77-71 win to move a half-game ahead of the Wildcats in the conference standings.
The non-conference black eyes suffered could indeed be too much to overcome to make the NCAA Tournament, and, even more daunting, the Wildcats’ remaining schedule sees nine of their final 12 games against the other ranked Big 12 teams. But that may be an advantage to the Wildcats, as it seems they have a penchant for rising to the occasion when the stakes are higher.
3. Acts of Piracy
Last Sunday, the highest-scoring team in women’s basketball, the DePaul Blue Demons, scored 87 points – just three points below their average of 90 per game.
They lost by 20.
The victors, the Seton Hall Pirates, have built upon their WNIT appearance from last season and are now the cream of the crop so far in the Big East Conference, improving to 6-1 in the league after pulling away from their then Big East co-leader with a 17-2 run in the second half and post an impressive 107-87 victory.
If there were questions a couple of years ago when legendary player and coach Anne Donovan left her head coaching duties in South Orange to return to the WNBA, second-year head coach (and Seton Hall alum) Tony Bozzella is providing all of the exclamation points to any of the doubters.
The Pirates’ first win of the season arguably came well before the actual season started, when guard Daisha Simmons finally completed a transfer to Seton Hall when the University of Alabama initially – and unfathomably – denied her request to transfer after she completed her eligibility in Tuscaloosa. She now is one of three players averaging at least 16 points for the Pirates, with junior forward Tabatha Richardson-Smith leading the way at 17.9 points per contest.
After defeating one of the top tier teams in the league in the Blue Demons, the Pirates have the national spotlight to themselves on Friday, going to Philadelphia to take on the Villanova Wildcats, who sit just one game behind Seton Hall at 5-2 in Big East play.
Interview of the Week: Anthony Bozzella & Ka-Deidre Simmons
Continuing with Seton Hall, our Interview of the Week comes from Big East Media Day when we had a chance to talk with Pirates head coach Anthony Bozzella and senior guard Ka-Deidre Simmons. Seton Hall was coming off a 20-win season in 2014, and we discussed how they were going to build upon last season for a better 2015, as well as the mentality of the high school basketball players in the New York-New Jersey area, as a number of Seton Hall’s key contributors hail from the area. Enjoy…
Game(s) of the Week:
Men: Stephen F. Austin at Sam Houston State, 5:30 PM ET, Saturday: Although the stakes aren’t as high as last March, Sam Houston State can get a little share of revenge for their conference title game loss when they host the ‘Jacks in the Southland Conference’s game of the year. After its win on Monday vs. New Orleans, Stephen F. Austin is currently on a 14-game winning streak, and also has won 27 consecutive games in conference play. Sam Houston State’s winning streak is at nine after a road win vs. Nicholls State on Tuesday. Jabari Peters, who scored 21 points in each of the last two games prior for SHSU, was held scoreless on Tuesday, but did lead the team with seven rebounds.
Women: No. 9 Oregon State at No. 13 Arizona State, 4:00 PM ET, Sunday: The Beavers may be the biggest surprise in all of college basketball, with a Top 10 ranking and a win at North Carolina to boot. Despite winning in Chapel Hill, Oregon State’s most impressive win may have come last week, overcoming a 14-point deficit to beat a much improved Washington State squad. Arizona State is off to its best start in school history at 17-1. Promise Amukamara – the sister of New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara – is second on the Sun Devils in scoring at 12.3 points per contest.
[Cover photo (Ka-Deidre Simmons/Seton Hall) courtesy of nj.com]