A look at the bigs and the smalls

It's never over regardless of any rotund diva hitting the high decibels, but the expectations are that the comings-and-goings are done for the San Jose State men's basketball team. With all that in mind, let's take a look at who is on the roster. The Spartan coaching staff breaks the squad down between 'bigs' and 'smalls', so we will do likewise.

SMALLS

These three players man the point position in the 'smalls' category:

Junior Justin Graham
Freshman Aalim Moor
Junior Lance Olivier

Considering he declined to shoot for the most part beyond 12 feet or so because of a broken bone in the wrist, Graham shot remarkably well -- 47-percent overall for the season, 46-percent in league play -- and also set a school record for steals in a season with 51. He will be an upperclassman athletically come the fall of 2009 and now he needs to achieve a greater differential between his assists and turnovers. It was 142/112 overall and 66/51 in WAC games last season. A 2/1 ratio is what to shoot for and the best in assisting go beyond that.

Moor will be in learning mode this coming season but is already comfortable in handling the ball -- having done so for his high school team the past four seasons. Like any frosh but especially those charged with handling the ball so much he'll need to adjust to the constant speed and physicality of college play.

Olivier is a walk-on who knows the system well but will only see time during routs and other circumstances.

*** Senior Mac Peterson can also fill in here when a calming influence is necessary. He's not the type who will create with dribble-drives, being used more at the point when turnovers are hurting the Spartans.

At the two and wing spots:

Junior Adrian Oliver
Senior Robert Owens
Senior Mac Peterson
Freshman Anthony Dixon
Freshman Chris Jones
Senior Jerelle Wilson

What's left to be said about Oliver barring lighting candles and offering prayers for him remaining healthy throughout the upcoming season? Actually, we want to see a positive assist-to-turnover ratio. His 'rust' came off as the season went along but he still finished WAC play with 30 assists and 42 turnovers. Better picking his spots on dribble-drives will help achieve this. San Jose State -- the other four players on the court -- also need to do a more proficient job of taking advantage of the defensive attention paid to Oliver.

Owens' play also got better as the season played out. His shooting went up (39% to 41% overall in non-conference versus league play, 38-percent to 40-percent on three-point shooting, 85-percent to 87-percent on free throws). Owens also picked up his passing, transforming from a negative 20 assists and 25 turnovers in pre-season to 14/10 during WAC action. Two items we would like to see from him next season: a more effective mid-range game and better defensive play.

Petersen practices in the 1, 2 and 3 spots and therefore has to know the offensive plays from multiple positions -- a harder task than most think it is. To his credit, he went from 42% in non-WAC play to 48-percent during league in overall shooting plus 27-percent to 37-percent in three-point marksmanship. He's more an opportunistic offensive player and, given how teams focus on Adrian Oliver, it will be a major plus if Petersen can continue with his 'better' numbers throughout next season.

Dixon will be the most athletic of the 'smalls' group. Look for him to primarily play at the wing spot and really help on the boards -- at least initially. He may be the one who benefits the most on the offensive end from the defensive attention Adrian Oliver generates. We envision him eventually as a Malik Cooke-type, Cooke being the Nevada player who does a bit of everything and well for the Wolf Pack.

Jones is another tough competitor whose defensive prowess will be put to immediate and good use by San Jose State in taking on the ones, twos and threes of opponents. He is solid with dribble-drive penetration but needs to demonstrate the outside-shooting improvement he has supposedly made during his prep season in Arizona.

Wilson hasn't played much throughout his walk-on tenure but he is a favorite of the coaches for the effort he offers during practice.

What also applies to each 'small' is the need for better defensive play than occurred last season. It's impossible to extinguish penetration into the paint -- the players today are too strong and quick -- but it was too easy too often for opponents on dribble-drives in 2008-2009.

BIGS

Here are the San Jose State bigs:

Junior C.J. Webster
Senior Chris Oakes
Sophomore Kyle Thomas
Junior Moses Omolade
Freshman Joseph Henson
Sophomore Garrett Ton

We like the description "junior C.J. Webster' much better than 'senior C.J. Webster' for obvious reasons. In case you haven't come across this, Webster was granted another season of eligibility by the NCAA because of being injured and ultimately playing so little while a freshman at Texas State. He anchors the frontline and is the best inside scorer SJSU has enjoyed in decades.

Oakes' numbers from last season look fine -- 61% shooting in conference games, plus 7.4 rebounds a game -- but what the senior must do in 2009-2010 is fight harder at establishing and maintaining defensive position. That is, not allowing his opponent to come down the court and spot up where he (the opponent) wishes. There are many components to good defensive play but a vital one is pushing an opponent out of his comfort zone. Ultimately, less shots are successful when an opponent is aiming from unfamiliar territory or doesn't quite have his normal balance.

Thomas is a redshirt who will offer the versatility of playing at the wing and the 4 position. Whichever he spend the most time at will likely depend on which position he is most productive and proficient as well as that of his playing time competitors. In the past, he has displayed an inside/outside game and a degree of determination and toughness. But he rarely played as a freshman at Loyola of Chicago and is coming off a redshirt season here so there has to be some rustiness to his game.

Omolade is someone we are waiting to see this summer in the West Valley league. He lacks bulk but possesses the best athletic ability of any of SJSU's frontcourters. Omolade led the California junior college ranks in blocked shots this past season and, very interesting to us, loves to run the floor in transition. That will be a new offensive element for the Spartans.

Henson will be 'learning the ropes' as a freshman. There's definitely promise there but we want to see more dominance from him.

Ton is a superlative student who needs greater poundage in order to see more court time. But he works hard during practice and makes matters as difficult as he can when matching up with his teammates during practice.

In summary, on paper this is easily the most talented team during Coach George Nessman's tenure. There is also far greater depth with some freshman and newcomers pushing a few of the holdovers for playing time. Omolade and Jones will especially positively effect the defensive tenacity of the team but it will still be important for Chris Oakes to become a consistent, game in-game-out defensive factor.




Kevin McCarthy is the Basketball Editor for Inside Sparta. You may contact Kevin with any questions, comments, or tips at kevin@insidesparta.com

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