New Players (rankings from PrepStars)
Quinnel Brown 6-5 Junior Transfer from Wabash Valley (IN) CC
Dwayne Curtis 6-9 Freshman Unranked
Ronnie LeMelle 6-5 Junior Transfer from Northeast Oklahoma JC
Steve Leven 6-4 Redshirt freshman
Ian Young 6-4 Freshman Unranked
(1) Experience. The Tigers have eight returning players. The 6-10 Davis was the premier shotblocker in the SEC during the two previous season (122 in 2002-03) and a defensive force, although not much of a scorer. 6-7 Marco Killingsworth is a 235 lbs powerhouse who can score inside from the high or low post. 6-8 Brandon Robinson, who missed the first 14 games last season, is a superior athlete, and can play a wing or go inside. 6-5 Lewis Monroe is steady and unspectacular but solved the point guard problem. 6-3 Nathan Watson can capably handle one of the wing positions. 6-8 Rodney Tucker, 6-0 Chris Lollar (backup point), and 5-11 Troy Gaines are all useful substitutes.
(2) High and Low Posts. Although Davis and Killingsworth are the starters, Robinson will see substantial time at high post, whenever Killingsworth needs to spell Davis. Tucker and freshman Dwayne Curtis add depth. Of Curtis, Coach Cliff Ellis says "Dwayne Curtis is one of the better players out of the midwest. He has great hands and is a great rebounder."
(3) Confidence. The Tigers made an excellent showing in the NCAA tournament, the best of any of the SEC teams that got to the "Big Dance." They defeated two well-regarded opponents (St. Joseph's and Wake Forest) and lost to national champion Syracuse by just one point on an upstate New York court.
1. Who will replace Marquis Daniels and Derrick Bird? No single individual is likely to replace Daniels, who led the team in scoring and assists and was second in rebounding. Bird was an outside shooter and a fine defender. Watson and Robinson will get more minutes and help take up the slack. 6-5 Ronnie LeMelle should play a great deal because he "has unlimited range" and "can beat you on the dribble." Redshirt Steve Leven, a native of Australia, JUCO transfer Quinnel Brown, and outside bomber Ian Taylor are all possibilities. Obviously Cliff Ellis knew the positions that he needed to bolster.
2. Can the Tigers improve the team free throw percentage? Last year they shot only 66% from the free-throw line and the best free-thrower, Bird, is gone and many of those that return did not distinguish themselves. This is an area that is especially critical in close games.
Overall Prospects for 2003-04
The Tigers should win the Western Division. They seem to have the pieces, but can they put them together? Last year's overall record was 22-12, but only 7-9 in conference play. Really, they were a surprise pick for the NCAA, taking a place that might well have gone to the Tennessee Vols. They were erratic but, once in the NCAA, they showed what they could do.