How do you get ready for an opponent you know very little
That's the question Johnny Dawkins and Co. will have to figure out in their season opener tomorrow against the Central Arkansas Bears.
Watching film is the single-biggest key to familiarizing yourself with the opponent. But there's a problem in this department when it comes to Central Arkansas: this is their first game of the year. Not just as in first regular season game, but "first game" as in the first time they have done something other than practice. They didn't scrimmage anybody, nor did they have an exhibition game. This is it.
You could always go back and watch game film from the 2010-11 season to get a feel for the Bears, but again, an issue arises: they only return five out of 12 players who suited up for them last year, and three of their top four scorers are gone. Good luck using their season finale against Texas A&M Corpus Christi (a 76-69 loss at the hands of the Islanders) as the recipe for taking down the Southland Conference's version of the Bears.
Corliss Williamson's (yes, THAT Corliss Williamson who played for more than a decade in the NBA and won a title with the 2004 Detroit Pistons) squad features seven new faces, four of whom are JuCo, NAIA or Division I transfers. The newbies' bio pages are of no help; no information is provided besides height, weight, position, hometown, last school and a nice red X for their photo. Finding decent information on this team takes a Lester-Freamon-from-The-Wire-type effort.
So, what DO we know about Central Arkansas?
• The Bears are in their sixth year at the Division I level and the second year in which they are eligible for postseason play (all schools have to undergo a four-year transitional phase whe moving up to the Division I level during which they cannot play in the postseason).
• In their first year of postseason eligibility, the Bears failed to make the Southland Conference tournament, finishing 5-24 overall and 1-15 in conference play (the top of eight of the 12-team conference qualify for the conference tournament). Only two of their wins came against Division I opponents, with their conference win coming against Southeastern Louisiana. 15 of their losses were by double digits.
• Central Arkansas is picked to finish fifth in the East Division of the Southland Conference (out of six) in one poll, and tied for fifth in another.
• Their leading returning scorer is Mark Rutledge, a senior guard who averaged close to ten points per contest. He came to Central Arkansas by way of Connors State College, a JuCo that is responsible for fostering the talents of three Bears on the 2011-12 roster.
• Chris Henson is the Bears' leading returning rebounder, grabbing almost five boards per game. His uncle is Tony Battie of NBA fame.
• At least two of their three incoming freshmen appear to have a knack for putting the biscuit in the basket - Carlin Bremner and Darius Singleton. Bremner averaged 20 points per game his senior year in high school in one of the best conferences in the state of North Carolina, and if this video of Darius Singleton in his AAU days is any judge, it appears as if the kid is incapable of missing a shot: Singleton lights it up!
Obviously, this list isn't exhaustive, but a team with a lot of unknowns like
Central Arkansas can be scary. A common perception about JuCo transfers is that
they are guys who can ball out of control and fill it up; they just PLAY BALL,
and that alone can make them dangerous. They do have BCS-type talent on
their team: one such transfer, Anthony Borden, was the #19 center in his
recruiting class and committed to Arkansas before having to enroll at Holmes
This was a squad in 2010-11 that followed up a 53-point loss to Missouri by dropping a three-point decision at Oklahoma less than two weeks later. Granted, Missouri was an NCAA team and Oklahoma was falling apart at the seams, but the Sooners are still a Big 12 team.
Defeating the Bears shouldn't be a problem, but don't be surprised if Central Arkansas makes this a game for a little while, or a long while even. There's just not much of a way to tell how competitive the Bears will be.
P.S.: Here are some other fun facts about the school, completely unrelated to basketball:
• They recently put in a purple and gray-colored turf for their football field, with the endzones painted black. I must admit, it looks pretty spiffy: Nice turf!
• The school has gone through a few name changes. It was founded in 1907 as the Arkansas State Normal School, before changing names to Arkansas State Teachers College in 1925, State College of Arkansas in 1967, and then finally University of Central Arkansas in 1975 (a special thanks goes to Director of UCA Archives Jimmy Bryant for confirming these names for me).
• School nicknames have a similar history. The school didn't have an official mascot until 1920, so local sportswriters called them names such as the Normalites, Normal 11 (for football), Pedagogues, Pea-Pickers, Tutors and Teachers before Bears became the name (again, shouts out to Mr. Bryant).
• While Scottie Pippen is the most famous alum of UCA, William Harrison wins the award for most infamous. The former Bear-turned-obstetrician performed 20,000 abortions in the state of Arkansas before passing away in September 2010. You don't see news reported like this in California: LifeNews.com article. Anti-abortionists apparently had a field day with his passing: YouTube Look-in
• Their women's teams are called the Sugar Bears. Up until 1976 however, women's teams went by "Bearettes."
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