It’s been awhile since the Arkansas State Red Wolves have seen this type of attention in basketball.
But under first-year head coach Grant McCasland, the Red Wolves, who face Cleveland State tonight, have forged a 6-1 start to the season that includes victories over a pair of conference favorites and another over one of the biggest name in the college game.
And this week the Red Wolves received a vote in the Associated Press Top 25 after the start that included victories over Chattanooga (73-67 on a neutral floor) and 97-89 Lehigh at home and an 78-72 victory at Georgetown. All of this has come after a season-opening 76-66 loss at North Dakota State, a game without Deven Simms.
“You have to give Grant credit,’’ said Lehigh coach Brett Reed. “He’s done a good job with Arkansas State. They play hard; they play aggressively. He is maximizing the athleticism that they have.
“Of the teams we have played they have been one of the hardest working, one of the most bought-into and I think that is a testament to the culture Grant is trying to build here at Arkansas State. You have a group of individuals who what it looks like has bought in from the beginning to play in a style that is aggressive yet controlled where they support each other on the defensive end. Offensively they play to each other strengths. Thomas really sets the tone, he finds everybody, and Carter can drill shots but there are a whole lot of role players who are maximizing their roles.
The Red Wolves have played well in two areas, building big leads in the first half and having a major advantage in bench scoring. They led Lehigh, the favorite in the Patriot League 53-32 and a 39-25 advantage on bench scoring.
“The exciting part is that we beat a team that has a chance to go to the NCAA Tournament with some really good players and scheme,’’ said McCasland after the win over Lehigh. “I’m proud of our team for finding a way to win and I’m excited about the fact that we are getting a lot better.”
In 7 games the Red Wolves’ bench has outscored the opponents bench 219-105 (16.3 pts game). They have also led at the half in every game in the winning streak, from two points against Army to 21 against Lehigh. Against Georgetown it was a 19-point lead and 14 vs. Chattanooga, a NCAA team last year.
The 6-1 start is the best since 2008.
The Red Wolves conclude their home stand tonight against Cleveland State. The Vikings, once a rising power among the mid-majors have struggled this season posting a 1-4 record so far. The Vikings have played twice at home losing to Kent State and defeating Canisus, while they are winless on the road. They've lost at UT-Martin, Kentucky, and Duquesne.