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With some of these smaller D-I basketball programs, it sometimes seems like they turn over an entire roster from one season to the next. Almost half of Jackson State's borderline-excessive 18-man roster is new for the 2014-15 season, one obvious sign of a program with a second-year coach in full rebuilding mode.
The Tigers finished last year 11-20 (7-11), which was only good enough for seventh in the 10-team SWAC; the program has not had a winning season since 2011. They bottomed out in 2012 with a seven-win campaign that somehow did not cost ninth-year head coach Tevester Anderson his job. The following season did, though.
JSU tabbed Wayne Brent to replace Anderson in 2013. Brent has spent the majority of his career coaching at the high school level, though he did have a stint as an assistant at Ole Miss for a few years. His roots in Mississippi are deep and he's won big at multiple high school stops, but now his challenges are on an entirely larger, more headachey level.
Jackson State's top scorers in 2014--guard Julysses Nobles and center Brandon West--which leaves the team with zero returning double-digit scorers, plus a rag-tag bunch of junior college and major-college transfers. Who will play when and where? Great question, and I have almost no idea. Like maybe 3% of an idea.
Nobles should prove more replaceable than West, whose efficiency level in 2014 makes him stick out amid an otherwise dreary collection of sub-par shooting percentages and offensive ratings. West posted a 112 offensive rating despite a high workload and hit 57% of his twos; meanwhile, the team's offensive rating was 93.5 and they hit on only 45.6% of their two-point tries. Actually the more I talk this out, the less convinced I am West really existed. Guy's a unicorn.
In addition to the weak two-point shooting, the Tigers were also poor from beyond the arc, where they shot 29.3%. They were one of the least-frequent three-point shooting teams in the nation (way to recognize your limitations, fellas!), so they were getting very little to speak of from the ol' bonusphere.
There is no indication from their exhibition games that they are suddenly shifting into a three-heavy offense heading into 2015. Oh, and another thing: one of those exhibition games was against Tougaloo College, a tiny private school that plays at the NAIA level. Jackson State lost by 21.
Starteryish guys maybe who knows
Yettra Specks (5-10, 160) -- Specks spent his freshman season at Southern-Shreveport, where he averaged 16.1 points and 7.2 assists per game.
Javeres Brent (6-3, 195) -- He is the team's leading returning scorer, and last year was essentially the Tigers' only three-point threat. With 201 attempts from deep (he hit about 35%), he accounted for nearly half of the team's three-point tries by himself. That was about all he did, too--he tried only 75 twos and hit horrifyingly few of those (Twenty-eight percent. I mean, good god, man!) Brent also rarely went to the free throw line. This is not a guy who will create much offense off the dribble.
Dontaveon Robinson (6-4, 180) -- Robinson apparently lacked any sort of range last season since he only attempted one three-pointer all year. He managed to hit just 35.2% of his 122 two-point attempts. Eek.
Janarius Middleton (6-8, 215) -- Middleton was one of three players to hit 50% or better from two for JSU last season, and the Tigers will need him to keep up such relatively high scoring efficiency. Middleton was also a solid offensive rebounding threat, but frame clearly made him a liability on the defensive glass. He did try the occasional three-pointer, and these experiments did not go well.
Treshawn Bolden (6-8, 235) -- West departure puts added pressure on Bolden, because in addition to all that scoring in the pain, West was a tremendous rebounder at both ends of the floor--he finished in the top 20 in both OR% and DR%. (Seriously, West had massive value for this club last year.) Bolden rebounded well at the offensive end, too, but he must be better defensively. He also needs to stay on the floor; dude averaged more than seven fouls per 40 minutes in 2014.
Bench? Sure, bench. How much ya bench?
Derell Taylor (6-6, 200), Kaven Bernard (6-5, 195), Jaleel Queary (6-2, 200), Gerrald Maddox (6-5, 175), plus assorted mystery men. Since he is the Tigers' lone returning upperclassman (and one of five upperclassmen total), Taylor is a good bet to end up being one of JSU's leaders. By JSU standards, he was a big asset as a secondary option offensively in 2014, hitting a shade over half his twos and almost 73% of his free throws. Rebounded well at the offensive end, also. Turnovers were a problem but if he's able to keep up the efficient scoring, there oughta be plenty of court time for him this season.
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Two-thirds of Jackson State's nine-man rotation averaged 4+ fouls per 40 minutes last season, so it looks like that defensive turnover rate came at a significant cost. Their opponents got 873 free throw attempts in 31 games, or about 28 attempts per 40 minutes. I guess it's a good thing Brent is willing to rotate a bunch of guys while he tries to figure out where they all fit. He may need every last one of 'em.
The Pomeroy Predictor, which is based entirely on preseason projections at this point, has NC State by 20.