Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014/15 Sun Belt Women's Basketball Conference Predictions

First I did the men's basketball predictions, so naturally it is the women's time.

The coach's poll is as such:
1. Arkansas State (9) - 118 pts
2. UALR (2) - 112 pts
3. Texas State - 93 pts
4. Georgia State - 82 pts
5. Troy - 70 pts
6. UL Lafayette - 64 pts
7. South Alabama - 49 pts
8. Appalachian State - 47 pts
9. UT Arlington - 44 pts
10. Georgia Southern - 27 pts
11. UL Monroe - 20 pts

1 UALR (7-2). They've looked the most impressive to me. They have wins against some name teams like LSU, Oklahoma and Memphis (though these schools didn't get their names from women's basketball. The two losses to South Dakota State and Tulane give me a little pause, but at least the wins were DI and not Southland or Southwestern Athletic Conference teams. They are third in the conference in scoring defense, field goal percentage and fourth in rebounding. They play a slow grinding game that isn't fun to watch, but is successful when the record is concerned.

2014/15 Sun Belt men's basketball predictions

Time for the conference predictions for the upcoming Sun Belt basketball season, and as usual, it is later than most because I like to let the non-conference portion play out. I feel that gives a better feel for the teams and avoids some shot-in-the-dark guessing that can be otherwise seen.

At the beginning of the year, the coaches thought the final Sun belt standings would be:
1 Georgia State 121 (11)
2 UL Lafayette 110
3 UALR 94
4 UT Arlington 75
5 Arkansas State 73
6 UL Monroe 69
7 Texas State 43
8 Troy 42
9 Georgia Southern 38

South Alabama 38
11 Appalachian State 23

Mine won't vary too much, but there were some question marks that did arise from a couple of teams, and some head turners from others.

1 Georgia State (7-4). The Panthers are the defending SBC champs and in some ways seem to be following the formula from last year. The non-conference record is better than the previous version, but for the top of the SBC, I'd hoped for better. Still, they have R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow, who can score. I still remember Markus Crider who killed the Mavs last year, and he's a role player for the squad. They are scorers from start to finish. The one weakness seems to be rebounding. Catch them on a cold shooting day and you can walk out with a W. There is no signature win and some losses to Colorado State, Old Dominion and Wisconsin-Green Bay, teams the top of the SBC could and maybe should beat, IMHO. However, the SBC is theirs to lose given what they did last year and with most of the cast returning.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

UTA Football Game 11: End on a High

I would have liked to spend more time on the 1969 team. It was the biggest transition season in the history of UT Arlington football. UTA won the 1967 Southland Conference title. The 1968 squad lost a one-point game at home against the Arkansas State Indians that would basically send the winner to the Pecan Bowl after winning the conference title. That also ended a 15-game home winning streak at Memorial Stadium.

A lot of the firepower from those two years were gone by 1969, but the offense was still quite potent. Offensively, UTA was still a force to be reckoned with, though they averaged the lowest points scored per game since 1966. The defense was near the same level, but again, like the offense, not as good as the 1967 team.

The main difference came from who UTA played. The Rebels had their sights on moving to the University level. Back then, that was the highest level in the NCAA and the way to join those ranks were pretty easy. Half your schedule had to be against other University teams, and UTA really began that process in 1969. UTA would play against three University teams in 1969, four in 1970 and six in 1971, completing their ascension to the highest level.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

UTA Football Game Eleven: The First in a Short Line

There's some similarities between the 11th game of this year's series of games and last year's 11th game. Both games feature a signature moment, last year's was the end of UT-Arlington's dynasty, while this year's was the first win at the new venue, against the same team, a long-time conference rival in Arkansas St. Though, the similarities aren't exactly the same. Last year's edition was for the conference title. This year's was to stay out of last place. Last year's 11th game was also one of the most exciting games in UTA's history. This one...no, not really.

But this is here for one reason and one reason only. It was the Mavericks' first win at Maverick Stadium, in the last home game of the 1980 season. The stadium opened to a 31-14 loss to UNT that wasn't as close as the 17 points deficit would indicate. It never got better. Mental mistakes, typical of a Harold "Bud" Elliott coached team, made certain of that. With five home games on the book in the 1980 season, UTA was 0-5 at the new place. 18,033 saw the first game. UTA would never get above 10,000 ever again. In fact, they'd never get above 8,000 in 1980, culminating in an all-time Maverick Stadium low for today's game.

The irony is, Maverick Stadium would be a better place for UTA in coming years. They would win almost 60 percent of their home games from 1981 on.
1981, 4-1
1982, 2-2
1983, 3-3
1984, 4-2
1985, 3-2

Saturday, November 8, 2014

UTA Football Game Ten: Domination Starts

For today’s installment of This Day in UTA Football History, we make a trek back and revisit the 1975 team. The second year of Coach Harold “Bud” Elliott’s tenure at UTA began with promise. A win over TCU was the marquee moment for UTA playing at the top level college football. But the team was fading in the results column afterwards, coming in to the Lamar game with a 2-6 record.

However, there was hope in the UT Arlington Athletic Department. After a combined 12 wins in the previous five years, where the wins were close and the losses weren’t, the 1975 squad was competitive. With an extra score against McNeese State and Southwestern Louisiana (now Louisiana-Lafayette), the Mavs would have come into the game with a .500 record, something not seen since 1969.

And rightfully so. The mid-to-late 1970’s Maverick teams were not short on talent. The UTA football program had put over 30 players into the pro’s, a good portion from this era. Leading the way was fullback Derrick Jensen, a Maverick Hall of Honor member and long time Oakland/Los Angeles Raider and two-time Super Bowl winner. Really can’t write enough about what this guy did at UTA, but I’ll keep it as brief as I can: third Team All-American in 1976 and ’77, Offensive Player of the Year in the Southland Conference in 1976 and ’77, first team All-SLC in those same years, second team SLC in 1975, retired as UTA’s and the SLC’s all-time leading rusher (still first at UTA), retired as UTA’s second all-time total yards guy (still fourth and this is a stat quarterbacks usually occupy), is first in UTA’s leaders books in total carries and at the time was the highest Maverick taken in the NFL draft, 57th overall in 1978. The short version is this guy was a beast. But he wasn’t alone.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

UTA Football Game Eight: What Coulda Been

Today's game is more or less like last week's, chosen for the opponent, rather than anything significant about the game itself, though it was the first win of the 1980 season. Remember, this was the year of big expectations, a 9-2 finish in 1979 and a new on-campus stadium were supposed to be signs of better days ahead for the UT Arlington football program. Instead, the ultimately disappointing football season of 1980 saw its first win come on the road, in the last week possible of October.

I highlight this week more for Louisiana Tech and to make a broader point. At first glance, the Bulldogs were clearly the superior team, owning a 13-5 mark against all time against the Mavericks. However, it really isn't that dominant as it would appear.

La Tech won the last four meetings, of which they were Southland Conference champs twice. They were a dominant team in the mid '70's when UTA struggled and again in the '80's right before what I believe was about to be a UTA surge (hard to argue that a team which was a combined seven points away from a league title and returning 20 of 24 starters in '86 would not have been). In both '84 and '85, La Tech eliminated UTA from a conference title. In reality, the gap between the teams was quite small.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

UTA Football Game Seven: Overpowered

For today's installment of This Day in UTA Football History, I did something a little different than normal. I picked the entry based on the team, rather than game or year. I have said many a time that one of the big causes for the attendance decline was a tough non-conference schedule. The UT Arlington Mavericks played away almost every game in September during the 1970's. They played tough teams. By the time they came back, they were two to four games below .500. Fans then didn't want to come to games. Today is a great example of the tough non-conference competition.

The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles were an independent team during their contests with UTA. The series began in 1961, but the teams met seven times in the 1970's, with coach Harold "Bud" Elliott manning four of those. It would have been at least one extra in both categories but a 1979 affair was canceled when USM had a chance to add an SEC team. The series was never renewed past that.

Southern Miss, up until a two years ago, was a powerhouse. They own dozens of wins against today's P5 schools, and really could have fared well against any team from the SEC in that time. In fact, they were often better than Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Despite two SEC schools in the same state, it wasn't uncommon for the Eagles to be the best team from Mississippi. On occasion, they were also a top 25 team. And UTA squared off against them repeatedly.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

UTA Football Game Six: Bumblin' instead of Movin'

Prior to the October 11, 1980 home game against the West Texas State Buffaloes, the UT Arlington Mavericks 1980 preseason expectations seemed to be a millennia away. The new home smell had worn off, the 1979 record of 9-2 was a very distant memory and the team was 0-4 heading into the third home game of the season. On top of that, the team just looked generally uncompetitive at times and mistake prone at the worst of times.

A loss to a team like SMU and the Pony Express was understandable. But the previous week was a home loss to the Drake Bulldogs. The Mavs held a halftime lead but lost three fumbles and threw three interceptions en route to a 30-20 loss in front of a paltry crowd of 6,300.

At worst UTA should have been 2-2, but untimely mistakes, a hallmark of Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott's ten-year career, really cost the team. The same would ring true during this game

Saturday, October 4, 2014

UTA Football Game Five: End of the Line

The October 4, 1969 road match-up versus the East Texas State Lions, now known as Texas A&M-Commerce, was a milestone game for UTA football for many reasons. The main one being this would be the final game the two schools would play. The Lions and Mavericks first met in 1962 and played virtually every year until this one. Wherever the game was played would be one of the highest attended games of the season for either team. The UT Arlington Rebels were 4-2 all-time headed into this one.

The series would end as UTA sought University status, the equivalent of DI by today's standards. To attain that status, a team would have to play half its games against other NCAA University status schools. ETSU was a NAIA school. Unfortunately, this rivalry would end as UTA would try for the higher status and achieve it for the 1971 season.

That's part of the reason for UTA's decline in attendance in subsequent years. Replacing the likes of closer, smaller schools with a decent traveling fan base with games against Southwest Conference, Big Eight or even Mid American Conference schools hurt. Many of those schools never played UTA in the DFW area and those that did had few fans travel with the team. For a University that cited poor attendance as the major reason for disbanding the team, it isn't hard to think that playing a team like then-ETSU would have brought more fans than Angelo State (San Angelo, TX-four hours away) or Wichita State (Wichita, KS-5.5 hours away) did in 1985.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

UTA Football Game Four; Humbleness

Back to the 1980 season as we begin the fourth installment of this year's This Day in UTA Football history. If you recall from game one, UT-Arlington had opened the year with high expectations and a brand new home. After dropping the home opener to North Texas State, the Mavericks went on the road and lost a close affair to Northwestern State, losing a one-point lead after a 97-yard drive that began near the two-minute warning that put the Demons over the top. UTA then had a bye week to prepare for the Southern Methodist University Mustangs.

A history lesson on the Mustangs, the early 1980's squad was one of the best eras in SMU football history. After a dormant period in the late 1970's, five straight losing seasons, the Mustangs would post their first winning season in 1980, eventually going to a bowl game, a much harder feat then than it is today. You'll see some familiar names in a moment. Most of the core of the 1980 team would return in subsequent years, including the 1982 squad that was a national championship caliber team.

I choose this game to illustrate two real issues with how UTA ran their program. These two things, in my humble opinion, were big contributors to the eventual demise of the program.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

UTA Football Game Three; No Options

Today's edition of This Day in UTA Football kicks off the 1969 season. Recall from last year that the 1968 campaign ended on a down year as the Mavs came up just shy of repeating as Southland Conference Champions and another Pecan Bowl appearance.

The big question for the 1969 season is would this be an avenging year and the team would stay competitive in the Southland Conference or would this be the start of a decline.

Gone was all-everything quarterback Mike Baylor, UTA's career leader in total yards (4,685), passing yards (4,441) most plays (1,014), most passing TD's (31), Completions (322) and attempts (768). In was Ronnie Faulkner, a capable if occasionally erratic QB. One of Baylor's favorite targets had graduated. Jimmy Thomas was a big play wide receiver who is UTA's career leader in TD's (17) and yards (1,906) and is second in receptions (94). All-conference guard Greg Bailey also needed to be replaced. But make no mistake, the offense was still potent.

Returning was fullback Danny Griffin, tight end Dick Hill, T Don Morrison and C Billy Kornegay. Also returning was perhaps UTA's greatest special teams player of all-time Skipper Butler, first team all-conference in 1967 and 68.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

2014 Sun belt Volleyball Predictions

For those new to the Maverick Rambler, I don't make preseason predictions. There are just too many unknowns. To try and predict the order of finish with teams I haven't seen before, new starters, new players, sometimes new coaches all without seeing any action is just a guess, in my opinion. So my MO is to go through the nonconference portion of the schedule and then take a stab at predicting the final standings.

This is a great example of why. The following is the how the coaches saw things shaking down at the beginning of the season.

Sun Belt Preseason Coaches' Poll
Team (First Place Votes)- Points
UALR (4)- 110
Texas State (3)- 99
Georgia Southern (2)- 95
UT Arlington- 83
South Alabama (1)- 76
UL Lafayette (1)- 63
Appalachian State- 62
Arkansas State- 58
Troy- 41
Georgia State- 28
UL Monroe- 11

Appalachian State has gone undefeated with a win over a previously ranked squad. Think they'd like a redo, especially for a team not having played the conference last year?

Without further ado, here's the Maverick Rambler's predictions for the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Volleyball season.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

UTA Football Game Two, A Milestone Victory

If you recall from last year's This Day in UTA Football History series, UTA made the jump to the highest level of football (Football Bowl Subdivision or FBS today) in 1971. In that time, there had been few wins, 12 in four years, an average of three a year. West Texas State (1971 and 1972) and North Texas (1973) were the programs marquess wins. In short, the UTA program needed a major shot in the arm.

1975 saw the start of Head Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott's second year. At ten years total, he is the longest serving coach in program history at the four-year level (ten seasons). He also has the most wins (46), but has the second lowest winning percentage (.418) of the five candidates on the list. His first year was his roughest at a 1-10 record. The first game and the ninth of that season can be found here.

The  1975 season started out in typical fashion for the Mavericks, a loss. In fact, the 1970's, which laid the groundwork for apathy at the school and the program's eventually demise, was a dismal decade for season openers. UTA was 2-8 in season openers from 1970-79. And the month of September was worse. The Mavericks had seven wins during the decade for the entire month of September! 7-29. You want to kill a program. Get rid of enthusiasm at the very beginning of the season every season by being out of it before it begins. Out of those 36 games, only five were at home, where they were 2-3. Two wins at home in the month of September in the entire decade! Geeeeeeezus! Wanna know why UTA had no fans. Look no further. Never play at home, come back with losing record every year for the month, play off campus and then wonder why no one comes to games.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

UTA Football Game One: A New Home

We begin this seasons edition of This Day in UTA Football History with one of the biggest milestone in program history. On September 6, 1980, UT Arlington football reached something that campus leaders and the Athletic Department had worked towards for a long time, returning football to the campus. UTA left Memorial Stadium, the long-time campus home where the Maverick Activities Center is now, following the 1969 season. The Athletic Department was worried the small size and age was a detriment to the program and started looking for something bigger.

Turnpike Stadium, a primarily baseball facility, was the first destination. The Rangers had strict control over events surrounding their games, forcing few home games in September. Texas Stadium served as a neutral site for games against North Texas, when in reality they were alternating home and home, since UTA couldn't play at their home. The Rangers control over scheduling forced one home game at the Cotton Bowl. When the place was remodeled, it became a baseball-only stadium and UTA relocated to Cravens Field, an Arlington ISD stadium. While not a terrible stadium, it still was a high school facility and not up to the standards of what should have been a Division 1-A college stadium.

All that finally hanged and the University had a home stadium they craved when they opened a new on-campus stadium 39 years ago.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Baseball homer or fair gripe?

First, let me say, the UTA Mavericks baseball team earned their postseason spot, or lack thereof. They solidified their status with ugly early-season losses to Stephen F Austin (20-35), Incarnate Word (18-32) and Abilene Christian (18-36). Losses to other Southland Conference schools McNeese State (30-28), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (31-27), and Houston Baptist (23-28) meant the Mavs had to win the conference tournament to get in to the NCAA tourney, despite three top-25 wins and a late-season 10-game winning streak.

Consider UTA had a better record against Sun Belt schools (22-12), Big 12 teams (3-5) and Pac-12 foes (1-1) than the Southland competition (3-7). I'm convinced had UTA beaten SFA, IWU, ACU and HBU, you'd be looking at an at-large team. But, as I said at the top, UTA played their way to their postseason destiny.

What I offer for consideration is the lack of recognition UTA has failed to receive two years in a row within their own conference(s).

In 2013, UTA finished tied with Cal State-Bakersfield for first in the Western Athletic Conference. Then, similar to now, the team played poorly in non-conference and had to win the tourney to advance, which they didn't. But neither the Bakersfield, who still landed five players on the All-WAC first team and another on the second, as well as Player, Pitcher and Coach of the Year.

UTA, again finished tied for first in the standings, had one first-team and two second-team selections. Meanwhile, Dallas Baptist (3 1sts-2nds), New Mexico State (2-2), Sacramento State (3-1), Texas State (1-4) and  UTSA (1-3) all had more selections while eighth-place San Jose State (0-3) had the same amount. Seattle and Louisiana Tech, who occupied the last two slots in the standings, had less selections than the Mavs.

So if it were true, and UTA did have less talent than the other teams, should Coach Thomas have received Coach of the Year?

This year, they finished second. To be fair, Louisiana-Lafayette was one of the top teams in the nation, finishing the season ranked number one in one poll and played in a three-game Super Regional before ending the season. Unlike Bakersfield, ULL would be in the NCAA's no matter what. They were far and away the best team in the SBC. Their five first-team selections and four seconds were deserved. Yet, the number two team still only had two selections, both first-teamers. Georgia State (3-0), Texas State (1-3), Troy (0-3) and Western Kentucky (2-2) had more all-conference picks and finished lower in the standings. Arkansas-Little Rock (1-1) didn't make the tournament and had as many picks as UTA. Now, consider that Arkansas State finished third and had zero selections total and it seems to be a greater case of one team being so good that it drowns everyone else out.

But that once again begs the question, if UTA finishes so high in the standings and has by far fewer all-conference picks, shouldn't that earn coach of the year honors? I could coach ULL to success if they have that much talent. I don't buy that argument that it includes a coach's work in the off-season, for example recruiting. A first year coach who wins with players recruited by the previous coach still gets Coach of the Year honors.

It didn't bother me terribly much at first. I think I just muttered "typical" when I saw it, but it was draft day that made me gives this another look. UTA had a banner year for players drafted with six, including three in the top ten rounds of the forty-round draft. ULL had seven. So the league winners put nine all-conference players up and have seven drafted, while UTA has two All-SBCers and six draftees? That ratio is out-of-whack.

I completely understand that MLB teams don't draft on numbers and stats, but potential, needs and other intangibles. That's how a guy like Jess Amedee, who went 1-4 with a 6.52 ERA in 48.1 innings gets drafted. Those numbers will never win an NCAA postseason accolade, but scouts could see something and take him in the 27th round.

Devil's advocate says that had UTA won more in non-conference, it is a moot point. The naysayers say if Thomas had that many drafted, he underperformed and didn't deserve any Coach awards. There may be some merit to that. There have been times I have questioned his calls, like holding a runner at third, or his pitching moves and strategy (I would have started Chase Weaver against the Cajuns instead of Amedee in the SBC championship).

In the end, I am rarely a critique-the-coach kind of guy. I know my passion for UTA can cloud things. I can look at an individual season and say ehh. But after two years, one first and one second place finish among ten teams, UTA deserves more than five total all-conference picks.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Too Much to Discuss

When I last left, the UT-Arlington men's basketball team was preparing for a conference tournament berth, the women were wrapping up a rebuilding season which showed promise but ended in disappointment, the baseball and softball seasons were beginning, the men's indoor track team was prepping for an eventual conference championship run and various other sports were on the verge of competing in or starting their seasons.

Sadly for this blog, but thankfully for personal reasons, I started a new job at the end of January that requires an extensive amount of training, all away from a computer, much of it on my own time. Come the end of October, there will be more time to get these reports consistently out there, but til then, I will try to get out what I can.

Baseball had a fan-frustrating year. At the beginning of the year, the team was receiving votes in the pre-season top 25. They had several poor showings early in the year, losing to two D-I transitional schools and having a 3-7 record against old Southland Conference foes, supposedly inferior competition to the new Sun Belt Conference. These losses ruined their chances for an at-large spot, despite winning three games against top 25 competition.

The odd thing was it was never the same MO in losses. One day the offense wouldn't show (they have the second best offense in the conference), the next it was the starting pitchers. Then the starters would pitch well and the offense would give them a lead, then the bullpen would blow it. The only consistent thing the team displayed was their inconsistency.

They started conference play by getting swept in San Marcos and losing the series to Arkansas State. I really wrote the team off at that point.

However, they have gone 15-6 since then and have beat everyone in the conference at least once, including UL-Lafayette, who was #2 in the country at that point. They are now in sole possession of third in the SBC after tonight's win against Texas State.

After this weekend is the conference tournament, and after tonight's game against the Bobcats, they have to win one of the final two games, both at home to clinch third in the standings.

The softball team was disappointing, but there is no question this years SBC was the toughest conference lineup UTA had ever been a member. ULL and South Alabama were top 20 teams all year and Georgia State and Western Kentucky fielded really competitive teams. They struggled and finished last, but unlike baseball, UTA won enough non-conference games to not hurt the league's overall RPI.

The Offense was much better than the 2013 version, but the pitching was really lacking this year. Callie Collins just didn't deliver her potential. As a freshman, she carried a 1.72 ERA and was the pitcher of the year. Not freshman, but pitcher, as in the best in the conference. As a sophomore, the ERA ballooned to 3.28. Last year, it was 2.64, but she had a lot of hard luck losses where the offense just didn't show. This year, after spending time behind Shannon Carrico, who would eventually leave the team, her ERA as a senior was again over 3. For those that don't know, an ERA of 2.5-2.75 in softball is average at best. An ERA of three needs a lot of offense to compensate. It just wasn't there.

Her numbers are probably inflated more than they would have been otherwise because at the end of the season, she was it in the circle. Collins started 30 games. The rest of the team combined for 24. 19 of that was Carrico earlier in the year. Hopefully second year Kristie Fox will have a better showing next year with more of her recruits.

Since it is so out of season, I don't really want to get into the basketball teams, except to say for the men, just read my critiques of the team throughout the year and you'll see what got the men in the tournament. The women recently announced their recruiting class was the highest rated in the SBC, so here's to better results in the future.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Women's Basketball's Missed Cigars

Same story for the UT Arlington women's basketball team after another close loss, 54-49, to Texas State yesterday. I won't spend any time repeating myself, read past posts if you want to hear me talk about how the team doesn't have depth or have come so close to having more than a handful of wins or any other cliche.

As it stands now, UTA is 3-20 on the year and 2-10 in the Sun Belt Conference. So what I will do today is list all the second half leads UTA has held and the point in which the opponent took the lead for good (I will note if that took place in regulation or OT).

11-8 at Houston Baptist, 15:07
11-14 Incarnate Word, 2:06
11-24 Virginia Commonwealth, 4:56 in OT
11-27 Abilene Christian, 14:54
12-4 North Texas, 10:15
12-18 at Texas-Pan American, 13:16
1-2 Arkansas State, 2:52
1-11 at Louisiana-Lafayette, 1:30
1-25 South Alabama, 0:09 in OT
2-12 at Louisiana-Monroe, 2:10
2-15 Texas State, 1:32

That's 11 games where they were in it. A couple of other games finished within a couple of possessions but they never had a second half lead. In the end, a loss is a loss. Yet, the silver lining is that they may be the best 3-20 team in the country.

Rise of the D

I mentioned last post that after UT Arlington dropped games against teams at the top of the Sun Belt Conference standings, they really needed to pick up wins against Louisiana-Monroe on the road and Texas State at home. While not every minute of the two games were great, the outcomes of the two games were what they needed to be for the Mavs, UTA wins.

Against the Warhawks in Monroe on Thursday, the Mavericks played one of the best all-around games of the season. It was reminiscent of the Troy game where UTA never gave up big runs, never let up the intensity and did what this team is capable of, beating any team in the Sun Belt conference.

With the win, UTA did something not often done. All-time, UTA was 4-28 in Monroe entering Thursday. Fant-Ewing Coliseum has never been friendly to the Mavs. Even with Thursday's win, UTA has just won 15% of the time there But for this season, they are undefeated in Monroe, and that is all that matters.

UTA has played ULM more than once quite often in their history, most as conference mates, some being just single-season home-and-home's. ULM had swept UTA during the regular season 17 times. The teams have split five times. With Thursday win, UTA has now swept Monroe for the fourth time.

Now understand these are two different teams then from now. ULM was a regional power, especially in the 80's and 90's. But due to various reasons, they just aren't what they once were. They haven't had a winning record at home for the last three full seasons. So far this year, though they are 5-5 with winnable games against the eighth and tenth (last) place teams left at Fant-Ewing.

Conversely, UTA is no longer the pushover it once was either. ULM's first season in the Southland Conference was UTA's first losing season after three winning years under Coach Bob "Snake" LeGrand. UTA would then embark on a streak of 14 losing seasons out of 17. Things would get better around the turn of the century and ULM would start a small decline, but they would leave the SLC before Coach Scott Cross andd his five winning seasons in seven years. In short, ULM is worse than they have been historically and UTA is better.

Nevertheless, UTA's win in Monroe was a rarity and kept the hopes of the Mavericks season alive at least until Saturday when UTA played rival Texas State.

There has always been something between UTA fans and Danny Kaspar, primarily because he was the coach at SFA, which was UTA's primary rival during the mid '90's and '00's. But with Texas State now being the Mavericks most continuous opponent as conference realignment moved the Mavs and Bobcats into two new conferences since their departure from the SLC two years ago, the SFA rivalry has cooled. Kaspar was a good hire for his basketball acumen for Texas State, but it will help the UTA-Texas State rivalry too.

Moving to Saturday's game, UTA's offense looked very flat to start the half, but luckily their defense was playing well. Going into the half, UTA scored just 25 points and trailed by eight.

The offense finally found their groove after the break. UTA hit 59% of their field goals in the second, compared to 30% in the previous half. In addition, the Mavs were hitting shots from behind the arc, 70% in the second after a 1-5 performance in the initial half.

Despite brief lapses periodically, the D won the game for UTA. They kept the score close in the first, despite the lack of offensive output. In the second, the pressure during the early part of the period was a key in the run that would give UTA the lead permanently. If UTA can keep the defensive intensity they showed this past week up, they will be poised to make a good run to end the season.

That run starts with a very big road trip this week. Thursday is a visit to Jonesboro to take on the fourth-place Red Wolves. The team is geared up for this one after a close first half at CPC turned into a laugher as Arkansas State embarrassed UTA.

After that is the fifth-place and slumping Arkansas-Little Rock Trojans. They beat UTA at CPC on a buzzer beater and were poised to be an upper level SBC team. However, they have lost four in a row, three to the current top three teams in the league. They will also have a week off before they see UTA on their home floor.

These games are crucial to seeding in the tournament. Two wins and UTA is guaranteed to move up a slot to fifth, and possibly a tie for fourth. When it comes to the conference tournament, the top two seeds get a double bye, meaning they only have to win two games for the NCAA auto-bid. The next two get a bye, while the fifth through eighth teams have to win four games against increasingly tougher competition.

After that, road games at Troy and South Alabama and home contests against Georgia State and Western Kentucky close out the season. Nothing is guaranteed, but I sure would like to have some positioning secured before the top two teams in the conference come to College Park Center.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Talent but not Team

Before I get back to it, I need to get a disclaimer out. I just started a new career at the end of January that will require extensive training both during work ours and after. I will still attempt to crank out a weekly synopsis, but can't guarantee anything.

That said, wow, what a tough couple of weeks for the UT Arlington men's basketball team. They lost a game at Western Kentucky after having a large second half lead. Then at Georgia State, same story. GSU hit a wide-open three just before the buzzer to send it to OT. There the Panthers just put UTA to the wood chipper.

Then, back at College Park Center, you'd think UTA, which was so close to beating the top two teams of the conference on the road, would put up a better performance against a middle of the pack team in Louisiana-Lafayette. Nope. UL-L turned a 13-13 game into a 40-15 affair. UTA would get it close at nine in the second half, before the Cajuns put two three's and a layup on the board. Don't be fooled by the 92-89 score. It was a furious rally late, helped in large part by many missed free throws from UL-L, UTA was blown out.

This has been the most confusing of seasons. How can UTA come up just short against numerous types of teams. Single digit losses to Oklahoma and Texas, both recently ranked, Robert Morris, Eastern Michigan, Arkansas-Little Rock, WKU, GSU and now UL-L. The only common factor is what I have mentioned before. The Mavs will play solid for 30 minutes, but the missing ten are so poor that it leaves them just out of range of a comeback. The last minute three that Reger Dowell hit was in a tie game and one where they never trailed by a large margin.

Meanwhile UTA's opponent has trailed by large margins many times this year and completed a comeback. I think part of the issue is that UTA doesn't have a large presence underneath. 7'0" Stuart Lagerson is no longer on the team. Even when he was, he was ineffective. Junior Anthony Walker (6'9", 210) and Brandon Williams (6'10", 200) don't have the mass to effectively battle underneath consistently. Each has shown flashes of talent, but not enough to sustain it over the course of a full game. Brandon Edwards  is effective, but at 6'6" he has to hustle for everything. Without help, I believe his potential is lessened.

UTA is talent heavy at the guard positions. However, I see a lot of individuality at times, especially when the other team makes a run. Instead of staying in team mode, they try to shoulder the load themselves.

Bottom line, this is a group full of good to great talent, but this is not a good team.

Up next is the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks in Monroe on Thursday. Saturday is the getting warmer rivalry between the Mavs and the Texas State Bobcats. With Danny Kaspar, already a favorite target of the UTA students, moving to Texas State, it seems that both geography and history will keep this one going.

These are needed wins for UTA. The Mavs are sitting at 4-6, ties with Monroe at 4-6. They played at CPC earlier and UTA won it in OT. However, UTA is only 2-9 on the road this year. A game back in the standings is Texas State at 3-7. UTA won in San Marcos, and have had the 'Cats number in recent years. Kaspar has the team playing much better of late, but he is still lacking players to fit his system and depth.

A loss to these two will not only hurt UTA in the standings, it will give a win to teams beside them and at their heels. Losses could put a berth in the conference tournament in danger.

Monday, January 20, 2014

That's what rivals are for

UT-Arlington men's and women's basketball teams played one game last week, but if you are going to have a week with one game, pick your rival. The Mavericks traveled to San Marcos to play Texas State and the outcomes for both games were expected, even if how they got there wasn't.

The men played to a 56-48 win over Texas State. Reger Dowell returned to action after missing a couple of weeks, but it was actually the defensive play that set the tone for the Mavericks. In giving up 48 points to the Bobcats, UTA gave up a season low while also scoring a season low. It was also a season low offensive output for TXST. That's very encouraging to see the defense rise to the occasion and win a game, rather than engaging in a shootout. I don't want this to seem like I am proclaiming this the second coming of last years UTA defense, the Bobcats rank 334 in points per game out of 351 DI teams, it sure was nice to see something from them.

Make no mistake, in scoring 56 points, UTA won this game on the defensive end. UTA allowed the Bobcats to shoot 32.1% from the floor and 25% from three-point land. UTA had 30 defensive rebounds and 36 overall. I do have a slight concern with giving up nine offensive rebounds to the 'cats, but that is it for me when critiquing Saturday's defensive performance.

UTA's offense was struggling, hitting only 39% of their shots and 31.6% of their three's. Three players did score in double figures with Dowell leading the way with 16. By the way, he's scored in double figures every game he has played this season.

My big problem still comes from the lack of consistent play. I didn't get to see or hear the game, as I had family obligations, but when I kept checking the status, UTA would build a six-eight point lead, then Texas State would match. UTA still hasn't played 40 solid minutes of basketball against DI competition. If UTA is to beat the upper echelon teams in the Belt, they'll have to figure it out. I don't know that the defense can shoulder the load when a team like Georgia State with their big three comes to College Park Center.

Under normal circumstances, I would say this team lives or dies by the three, but at least for this one game, they only made 6 of 19. I can say they weren't hitting all that well, but still won. That is the power of defense.

Up next for the men is the Alabama twosome, Troy on Thursday, South Alabama on Saturday. Troy comes in with a 2-4 SBC record and is 7-11 overall. They lost at home to Western Kentucky and Georgia State, two of the favorites before the season, then went to Arkansas and beat both UALR and stAte. They dropped homes games this weekend to the two Louisiana schools, Lafayette and Monroe.

So that means...I have no idea what this game will bring. I don't know which UTA or Troy team will show up. Troy nailed 14 of 27 three's in their upset of Arkansas State. They do that against UTA, which has traditionally struggled in defending the three and it will be a long day. However, if it is the team that lost to Central Arkansas, UTA will have it easier. I do know the game will be available on ESPN3, if you can't make it to CPC.

As for South Alabama, they are really struggling with a new coach. 1-5 in SBC play. Losses to Western Kentucky, Georgia State, UALR, stAte and ULM with the lone win against UL-L. That doesn't really tell me a lot. The five losses are to the teams in the top six. UTA has lost to two of those same teams, lost to the one that USA beat and beat a team USA lost to. Of course, in a ten-team conference, what does that mean. Nothing. Augustine Rubit is their star, who is .1 rebounds away from averaging a double-double. Otherwise, USA is an average team.

If UTA is to improve on its 7th place n the SBC standings, these two at home are the best chance in a while as both occupy spots lower than where the Mavs are.

As for the women, I just don't have much to say, another close loss on paper, 68-60, their fourth conference loss by single digits. The game wasn't as close as the score indicated, as the Mavs had to rally to get it to that point. I just don't think experience or depth are there right now.

At 0-5, they reside squarely in the cellar of the SBC. Troy comes in with a 5-12 record and is 1-5 in SBC play. They are in ninth place. South Alabama is one spot ahead of them and sport a 5-11, 3-3 record. Like the men, if the women's team is to make a move in the standings, now is the time. With UTA in clear rebuilding mode, it will be interesting to see how they do.

Friday, January 17, 2014

UNT in the clear

So forget the first half of the previous post. The NCAA is granting a blanket waiver to all of DI who had issues with the DI-transitional schools counting as non-DI games. A large part of it was due to conferences like the Southland and America East who have these transitional members in their ranks.

While I disagree with them taking on these members day one - there used to be a time when these schools would sit in independent status until the transition was over - I can at least see the reason for conferences getting the waiver. But UNT?

Here's a school that had a DI school scheduled, dropped the DI school in favor of a non-DI school, ran afoul of the rules and then gets a waiver for something they did to themselves. On the one hand, the NCAA took criticism for its apparent over-zealousness in looking for rule breakers, now they have done a 180 in the other direction. Ignorance of the rules shouldn't be an excuse to break them.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Bummer Green, but...

For those that know me, you know what I am trying for with this blog. While I am shooting for some level of professional, journalistic integrity, I make no bones that I am a UTA alum and fan. While I aim for standards that apply when I worked in media, I am still a fan first. With that said,I give you this targeted toward the University of North Texas:

There's a crisis brewing in Denton with their men's basketball team and it has me feeling there is justice in this world. Their basketball team has run afoul of one of the NCAA's myriad and obscure rules (ever tried to read the NCAA guidelines?).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The women's team should pick up horseshoes or hand grenades

As disappointed as I am in the UT Arlington men's basketball team, you'd think I'd be done with the women's squad, who is 1-14 on the year and 0-4 in Sun belt play. Yet I think it is the women's team that has given me some sense of competitiveness.

It also helps that the expectations were low. In the underwhelming Maverick Rambler pre-conference poll, I picked the team to finish last. Yes, that is where they are in the standings, but look closer at the results gives me some hope that new coach Krista Gerlich is on the right course.

In the 14 losses the Mavericks have on their ledger, the average margin of defeat is just under 16 points. While that is a high number, if you exclude the Power 5 Conference schools, a 39-point loss to Oklahoma State and the 53-point loss to Oklahoma, the average margin of defeat is not quite 11. Anytime you can be within 3-4 possessions, the game was close.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The merits of team play

I have a confession to make. I may have drank the Kool-aid of the UTA Men's basketball team. After a tough non-conference slate that saw numerous close losses to progressively better teams, I thought UTA would be a force in Sun Belt play.

That hasn't happened. Last week I was very disappointed in their 0-2 start. This past week, they picked up their first win in conference, 83-79 in OT to Louisiana-Monroe, but are now 1-3 overall, good for 9th place. Remember, they have played 3 games at home to one on the road and only the top eight make the conference tournament.

I think I have finally figured it out. This years team has a lot of talent, but they don't seem to play well as a team. They have good-to-great individual players, but aren't integrating their skills into team play.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Vote for the Mavericks

The NCAA is holding what is nothing more than a popularity contest. Basically, anonymous internet users are asked to vote for their favorite team. I found this on the Sun Belt Conferences twitter feed, so I don't know how old it is.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Clunker of a start

I normally try to get my opinion of the previous week's games out by Tuesday. However, the motivation for this one is real low. UT-Arlington men's basketball looked terrible.

I wonder how much of the disappointment is based on expectations versus what happened on the court. At this stage of the UTA basketball's development, I think fans are expecting more winning. The coaching staff is pretty stable. They have a state-of-the-art arena to recruit. While the budget - higher end of the lower half of the Sun Belt Conference -  isn't large, it is enough to compete at our level. While there was some turnover in the roster, as there usually is every year, there isn't a lack of talent on the team. So when they come out of the first week of conference play at 0-2, both at home, it is disappointing. Reflecting what Coach Cross said in the post-game presser after the first loss to Arkansas State, it was embarrassing (more on why in a bit).

On the flip side is the women's team, preseason last place team in the preseason poll, as well as the less prestigious Maverick Rambler poll. They went 0-2, but there is far less disappointment because they competed in both games and could have been 2-0 had a couple bounces gone the right way. For both genders, the SBC Arkansas schools are top half of the conference teams. So a tough performance in both games for the women actually is a bit of a cause for optimism. That just isn't there for the men right now.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Basketball conference predictions

If you followed me during the volleyball season, you'll recall I don't like making conference predictions before a game has been played. There are just too many unknowns going into a season that making those kind of prognostications nothing more than talking points. For example, no one in the Sun Belt Conference gave Reger Dowell much consideration, but has been a huge part of the team for the Mavericks. However, I feel that watching games in the non-conference portion does lend some insight into predictions for conference play.

And in the end, for a conference like ours at this point in time, conference play is all that matters. The conference champion is likely the only NCAA Tournament participant. Maybe some teams will get at-larges into other postseason, but only one into the NCAA's.

For the men, the top two seeds get a double bye into the semi-finals of the conference tournament while the next two get a bye into the quarters. The next four teams play in the opening round. That is huge. If you will recall two seasons ago, the Mavs were upset in the semifinals. In this format, McNeese would be playing their third game, had they won two that point, whereas UT-Arlington would have played their first. Would that have meant a win? No guarantees, but it helps the odds.

On the women, the tournament is a standard single-elimination bracket, but eight teams get in, leaving two at home.

For the men, here's how I see the order of finish.