Sunday, December 22, 2013

Two for one, basketballs wrap up non-conference play

It was a good Saturday for UT Arlington basketball. Both teams wrapped up the non-conference schedule with wins at College Park Center. In a long overdue post, I'll give my thoughts on the first section of the season.

On the men's side, the Mavericks wrapped up one of the toughest schedules in the entire Sun Belt. While the 5-7 record looks a bit rough, but a closer look at both who they played and how they lost gives hope to the team when Sun Belt play comes around.

Excluding the two wins against Dallas Baptist and Howard Payne (they don't count in the RPI ranking) the average RPI ranking - as of this morning - of the teams UTA played is 141. Three of the teams are in the top 25. With another in the top 50 and another in the top 100. Oklahoma rests at 19 had all they could handle from the Mavs. The two point UTA loss could have been a win. Texas-Austin sits at 28 and that should have been a UTA win.

Before I go on, let me say, sooner or later, these types of games have to be won if the program is to be elevated to where the Athletic Department, boosters and alums want it to go. Some are happy with the showing, claiming moral victories but I am getting antsy for these wins.

Early season losses that may not be so if they played again include Cleveland State (146), Robert Morris (214) and Eastern Michigan (76). Really, only the opener against Boise State (25) and the road game at Kentucky (24) were games the Mavericks weren't in. And to find the silver lining, UTA was competitive with UK for 30 minutes.

With the influx of new players who didn't just not start on this team last year, but didn't even suit up, the learning curve was huge. I was somewhat discouraged by the lack of defense early in the season, but have generally been pleased with what I have seen lately. The offense was better by a large margin than last years from the get go, so if the team could get it together on the opponents end, then they will give most any team a challenge, especially in conference play.

Most other Sun Belt teams still have some non-Sun Belt games remaining, so my conference predictions will wait until then. But I will say, I am pretty sure UTA will perform better than most prognosticators have given them credit.

As for the women, it has been a rough go. It is hard to tell why the team is 1-10. They have been in many games, but just haven't been able to put forth a full 40 minutes. UTA has held second-half leads against Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, Virginia Commonwealth, North Texas and Texas-Pan American. They lost every one of those games.

Now, I'll preface this by saying that I don't know for sure. Looking at the profile, it would appear that the previous coach, Samantha Morrow was a great field general, but a sub-par recruiter. Her win total her career is as follows: 19, 22, 15, 8, 8 and 4. Three of last years win came under interim coach Karen Blair.

Now I don't know any of this for sure; none of it has been confirmed by those in the know. It just fits that form fairly well, good coach, bad recruiter. Krista Gerlich played for a national championship team and had a pre-UTA record of 168-53. That tells me she can succeed on game days. The fact she hasn't won with the players from the previous year fits that form as well.

The team has been largely propelled by Briana Walker, Laila Suleiman, Malaika Green and Desherra Nwanguma. Sadly for a team that is rebuilding, they are all seniors. I'd like to see a little more offensive oomph from some of the underclassmen, but haven't yet. I think the rebuilding process will be longer than we all hoped it would be, but this team still has a chance. While I absolutely hate losing to North Texas in anything and losing to not one but two DI transitional teams is a kick to the midsection, the team still plays game in and out. It would have been easy to give up, even yesterday when they were down 14-3 to start the game.

Instead, they went on a 26-0 run and the team found a way to win. I don't know if that win will be the one that shows the team how to win and gives them the confidence to win more. But I am happy that Coach Gerlich got her first one out of the way and the team got the monkey off their backs.

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