Round table: Can the Cougars make a run for the conference title?
The men’s basketball team has shown improvement over the last season, but do they have the potential to make a run at the conference title or even a postseason berth? The Cougar sports staff debates in this weeks’ round table.
How would you rate the men’s basketball team’s play this season?
Staff writer Adam Coleman: So far, I would give the basketball team a solid B. There were a few games I bet they wish they could have back, but they also have some nice wins. Most importantly, they have been competitive in all of these games. At this time last year, they were in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. They’ve lost their last three, but they’ve been competitive; they recently gave undefeated No. 8 Southern Methodist University a run for their money.
Sports editor Bryce Dodds: They’ve been showing flashes of being a really good team, but they’ve also shown that they haven’t quite moved passed some of the problems they had last year. The added depth this year has really helped, but they have also displayed that they still have some growing to do together. They’ve still surpassed my expectations for the year.
Do you think they have a chance to compete for a conference title?
Staff writer J.D. Smith: While SMU and University of Connecticut will prove to be very tough opponents, anything is possible come tournament time, especially given how tough they played against SMU in Dallas. Going on a streak and winning the AAC Tournament is not out of the question.
AC: Continuing on my last point, right now they’re on a three-game losing streak. (A losing streak) can’t happen again if they want to compete for a conference championship. These next few games against the University of South Florida, the University of Tulsa and East Carolina University are crucial to gain momentum. After that, SMU and the University of Memphis are coming to town, and you don’t want to be on a losing streak facing those teams.
Do you think they have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament?
AC: Sitting at 13-5, the Cougars could be considered a stretch bubble team. However, they’ll have plenty of opportunities to play their way into an at-large bid on selection Sunday. With SMU, Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati still on the schedule, the Cougars can gain some credibility from the selection committee. Also, with SMU being banned from postseason play due to NCAA sanctions, that opens the door for the Cougars to win the American Athletic Conference tournament and secure an automatic bid to participate in the March Madness.
BD: This is a bit more interesting. If they start picking up some big wins down the stretch, including in a home game against SMU, they might be able to state a case for sliding in the lower seeds, maybe around No. 14 or 15. But, they need to start winning the close games and make some more noise in the AAC.
What area do you think is the Cougars’ biggest strength this year?
JS: The Cougars rank in the top 55 in the country in both fewest turnovers and turnover margin. This team’s strength lies in forcing turnovers while maintaining possession and playing smart with the ball, creating more possessions for themselves, which has been leading to more points.
AC: For me, the guard play has been real strong asset for the Cougars. Rob Gray Jr. and the two transfers, Ronnie Johnson and Damyean Dotson, have been having good years. Dotson, who’s coming in from Oregon, leads the team in rebounds with 7.4 a game. Senior LeRon Barnes is the team’s second leading rebounder, while also holding the highest 3-point percentage on the team.