Roundtable: Expectations for basketball in upcoming season
The basketball team is set to tip-off their season Saturday when they play their first game action of the season with an exhibition game against the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Building off of a 22 win season last year, here is what The Cougar sports staff expects from basketball in 2016-2017.
Senior staff writer J.D. Smith
Coming off a 22-10 season where they reached the first round of the National Invitational Tournament, the men’s basketball team looks poised for its first berth in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010.
Playing their final season at Hofheinz Pavilion, the Cougars are retaining three starters and five lettermen from last year’s squad, including preseason All-American Athletic Conference selections redshirt senior guard Damyean Dotson (first team) and redshirt junior guard Rob Gray Jr. (second team).
Now in his second season with the Cougars, Gray comes off a year in which he was second in the American Athletic Conference in scoring despite averaging 26.9 minutes per game while coming off the bench in most games.
As the only Cougar to start every game last season, Dotson comes off a season in which he shot over 50 percent from the field. The Houston native was the only player last year to rank in the top-11 in the conference in both points and rebounds.
The Cougars will aim to improve their record for the second straight year under head coach Kelvin Sampson by returning two of the top three scorers from a team that scored 77.4 points per game in Gray (first, 16 ppg) and Dotson (third ,13.9 ppg).
Redshirt senior forward Danrad “Chicken” Knowles needs to have a breakout season if the Cougars are to return to March Madness. The senior will need to bounce back from a junior campaign that saw career lows in both rebounds and points to be a leader.
Knowles is the only three-year letterman on the team.
Staff writer Mervin Wright Jr.
This year’s basketball team will improve on some of the success that it had last season.
Head coach Kelvin Sampson is finally at the point where he has all his recruits. He has also been able to implement a system that’s given him success at other schools.
Sampson is showing that he’s taking extra steps to take the team to the next level and into the NCAA Tournament. This, along with the return of the veteran leadership of guys like Rob Gray Jr., Danrad Knowles and Damyean Dotson, is why I’m optimistic about this season.
These players were on the team last season, one that defeated every conference opponent, including the powerhouse programs of Southern Methodist University and the University of Connecticut.
Last year’s team also had to experience a heartbreaking defeat to Tulane University — the first game of the conference tournament. The Cougars then were on the cusp of being a tournament team, and the returning veterans will have a fire that will propel them to improve further.
Based on media-day observations, the team looks like they’re taking steps to get better in areas that cost them close games, such as free-throw shooting and general production down the stretch in a close game.
I think the team will improve on their 22-win performance last year, squeezing out a few more of those close games and improve to 25, maybe 26, wins.
The team’s improved non-conference schedule will give them a better resume this season. With a livelier performance in the conference tournament, I predict the Cougars will make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Sports editor Reagan Earnst
With added experience in depth for the upcoming season, the Cougar basketball team could surprise a lot of teams around college basketball this season.
Basketball did not have a bad season last year by any stretch of the imagination, and I expect nothing but improvement from a year ago. After going 22-10 in 2015, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for them to increase their win total to 25.
In order to truly build off of last season, the team will need to perform better down the stretch of not only the season but also in individual games. Having more experience in 2016-2017 will greatly aid this endeavor.
Last season, a largely youthful team struggled to find offensive consistency down the stretch of games. At times, the offense looked completely mundane, especially in the team’s first round loss to Tulane University.
The seniors will be key for the team this season.
Returners like shooting guard Damyean Dotson, forward Danrad Knowles and Rob Gray Jr. are all providing experience on offense. I expect the Cougars to score with ease in the upcoming season.
Overall, I believe the Cougars return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009-2010.