Note: The following piece was prepared by Dean Keener, who provides commentary on Southern Conference men’s basketball broadcasts.
Keener played collegiately at Davidson before embarking on a successful 20-year coaching career. He served as head coach at James Madison from 2004-08. You can follow him on twitter: @DeanKeener1
The Dean’s List
February 15, 2017
I. Inside the SoCon
The Super Bowl is a distant memory and sports fans can now focus on March Madness. To me it’s the best time of the year and for the third consecutive season, I’m going to go on record saying this will be the most competitive Southern Conference Tournament in recent memory. I’m of the opinion that you rank the completeness of a league from the bottom up, not the top down. With this logic, the SoCon ranks as good as any in Division I. If you’re a fan of Southern Conference basketball and you don’t plan on traveling to Asheville, then you’re saying you don’t like to have fun.
The league held an RPI of #14 for most of 2017 and with good reason. It’s currently #15 (out of 32 Division I conferences). Four teams solidly rank inside the top 150 and Samford has been in and out of the top 150 all conference season, which speaks to the strength of league. Every night is a war and requires a team to bring their “A-game”, yet many times that’s not even good enough, particularly on the road. This season has given us everything we could have asked for during the regular season. As an example, the Wofford/Samford game on February 9 was an instant classic and led Sports Center on a night UNC played at Duke. The four overtime affair had 17 ties and 22 lead changes. Wofford finally won 131-127! Yet, through all of this madness, I don’t believe there is a clear-cut favorite, especially on a neutral floor where everyone is vulnerable.
A quick glance at each team suggests that Furman looks to have the best chemistry and certainly tons of confidence. They can guard and really score with great efficiency. Chattanooga is by far the most experienced team in the Southern Conference with five senior starters. ETSU may have the best overall talent. And UNCG and Samford are also talented and looking to reach the tournament finals on Monday night. Wofford is as well-coached as any team in the league, and looks to be peaking at the right time. The Citadel can beat anyone with their high-scoring offense and fellow military institution VMI has QJ Peterson which gives them a chance every time they step on the floor. Just ask Chattanooga whom he dropped 40 on in The Roundhouse and The Citadel as he exploded for 37 points! And you simply can’t forget about Larry Hunter and his Western Carolina Catamounts in the Asheville Civic Center. While they are challenged offensively at times, the will have the confidence to do well in Asheville.
No doubt, the long weekend in Asheville is sure to be tons of fun for all Southern Conference basketball fans. That said, there are still two weeks of regular season action that will determine seeding.
II. Practice Planning
It’s not very often that a teacher goes into the classroom without a plan – without a daily and/or weekly lesson plan. The same holds true in coaching.
Much of a person’s success as a coach depends on how they plan practice, because players do in games as they do in practice. Erratic or inconsistent play in games is due to practice planning problems. Improving the quality of practice is the bottom line because that helps lead to winning.
Coaches generally have a master calendar/plan for:
o Non-conference play
o Conference play
o Post-season tournament play
As I reflect back on my coaching days as well as what I have observed the past several years, here are a few items that coach’s plan for:
1. Always have a plan
a. Long term know how many practices there will be in the preseason, etc.
b. Short term (daily): Plan things to the minute
2. Have a “Thought of the Day” This is motivational. A program can’t just be about ball. This is a small way to improve team chemistry
3. Have an “Emphasis of the Day”. This is basketball related. But is this a reaction to what your team is not doing?
4. Use a silent stretch where you rehash the daily emphasis for increased focus
5. Be practical
a. As an example – practice things / do things that make sense
6. Spend less time talking & more time doing, especially as the season progresses
a. Ex.: How many whistles? If it’s blowing a lot, then bad practice
7. When possible, make everything competitive
a. Players need to compete
8. Learn to move on
a. The overall flow is critical to a successful practice
10. No good teams are quiet
a. Encourage talking / communication
11. Skill work is critical
a. Early practices: 2/3 skill and 1/3 team
12. Close out drills – everyday
a. Avoid dribble penetration and a team will have a chance to win
13. 15-20 minutes of shooting – everyday
a. A coach can rehearse his offense which will put kids in place, but they must be able to make the shots
14. Evaluate drills
a. Do the drills “fit” the system of play?
15. Make sure assistants are engaged
a. With specific assignments
b. Teach them to be a head coach
16. Practice special situations everyday
a. A team should be able to run a last-second play & out of bounds without a timeout (More games are lost in the last 2 minutes than won)
b. Practice how to foul / Practice an effective timeout
17. End on a positive
a. Kids picked up a basketball b/c they love the game; don’t continually take that love from them or you will lose them
18. Spend 5 minutes after practice and take notes
a. Write down things that were good and bad (helps you reflect year over year)
19. "Open" or "closed" practices
20. Bring someone in to evaluate practice
I believe is being organized in all you do. Regardless of your endeavor, the leader of a company must be prepared. With that, a coaching staff must be prepared during all phases of the year.
III. Did You Know?
Stats can be Confusing
The Citadel has led the nation in scoring offense most of the season and is currently second to UCLA. But the Bulldogs are just fourth in the Southern Conference in scoring offense in league games. Wofford leads the league in scoring in conference games.
Free Throw Shooting
Nik Cochran (Davidson 2009-2013) is the all-time free throw percentage leader in SoCon history. For his career, he shot 89.3 percent. Currently, Wofford sophomore Fletcher Magee is shooting 90.5 percent for his career. This will be an interesting stat to watch over the next couple of years.
QJ Peterson became the latest 2,000-point scorer in SoCon history and just the sixth in VMI history. If Peterson continues at his current average (20.3 ppg), he will enter the SoCon Tournament with 2,210.
Steph Curry is the all-time leading scorer in SoCon history with 2,635 points – and he did it in three years!
IV. The SoCon Ladder
This is the final regular season SoCon Ladder. While the top slots are beginning to solidify, there is still a fight for seeding as well as the all-important sixth slot:
1. Furman – The Paladins are for real. Winners of nine straight, they are playing at a very high level. First things first, but my eyes will be watching their February 22 game at ETSU
2. ETSU – The Bucs are talented and are playing with a real focus. Even with a difficult last few games, I would not be surprised to see them win the regular season
3. UNCG - The Spartans got a much-needed win (on the road nonetheless) at Samford on February 4. They also have a tough finish to the regular season. Think that February 27 game at home against ETSU will be a war?
4. Chattanooga – I still believe the Mocs will be a tough out in Asheville, but they would be well advised to finish out the regular season with some strong performances
5. Wofford – The Terriers earned a signature win when they beat ETSU at home February 6 and then followed it up with a four overtime classic against Samford. Four Terriers played 56 or more minutes. In fact, Eric Garcia played point guard for 58 minutes and did not have a single turnover
6. Samford – The Bulldogs are very much a threat as we head to Asheville. I like everything about this team. That said, they’ve lost three in a row and there is nothing easy for them down the stretch
7. Mercer - The Bears haven’t proven they can win a close one, but they are still playing very hard. They are also still in a fight for the sixth spot. The February 27 home game against Samford looms very large!
8. Citadel – The Bulldogs have lost nine straight. Three of the final four games are at home, which should help provide some positive momentum before they get to Asheville
9. VMI – The Keydets got a much needed win at home against The Citadel last Saturday, but then couldn’t repeat that performance against Furman on Monday, losing at Home
10. Western Carolina – While still slotted last, the Catamounts are by no means an easy out. I have a feeling they are going to pull a few upsets down the stretch
Until the next “Dean’s List” on March 1, follow me on twitter: @DeanKeener1