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Basketball at its Finest

It's only been six games, but the Southwest Missouri State men's basketball team is looking like they could put together one of those special seasons that will live on in people's memories. The Bears won their fifth straight game on Saturday night, thumping Troy State University 110-63 at Hammons Student Center. Not only have they been winning, they've been winning convincingly, a sign of a very good basketball team. For the fourth straight game, they beat their opponent by at least 13 points.

Although I don't have the stats to back it up (my copy of Basketball Prospectus is hiding somewhere in the disaster known as my room), I think much of the Bears' success can be attributed to Ben Miller, a former Kansas assistant coach who came to SMS before this season. With him, Miller brought the fast break tempo that KU had used with much success for years. During almost every year of the Barry Hinson era, the Bears have focused on walking the ball up the floor, and trying to out-defend the other team. That's seen mixed results, as SMS has had several winning seasons during Hinson's tenure as coach, but not NCAA Tournament appearances. Picking up the pace does two things to help a team win: First, it forces the other team to get back on defense quicker than they want to, meaning they don't get to set a defensive strategy on the possession. Secondly (and most importantly) sprinting down the floor with the ball will tire out the other team if they aren't conditioned well enough to handle such a thing.

A faster tempo means more possessions for both teams, which, all things being equal, also means more points for both teams. But check out what's happened to the points per game so far this year, compared with the first six games of the 2003-2004 campaign:

SEASONBearsOpponent
2003-200469.558.2
2004-200580.061.3

Points have gone up for both the Bears and their opponents, but SMS is scoring 10.5 more points per game and their defense has remained suffocating despite the probable increased number of possessions.

SMS's incredible depth definitely has been a huge help in maintaining the defensive intensity. Hinson has the luxury of being able to substitute players in and out several times during a game without losing much if any talent on the floor. He has three legitimate inside players in 6'7 senior Tamarr Maclin, 6'9 freshman Drew Richards, and 6'10 freshman Sky Frazier. Richards is actually much taller than 6'9, which is scary considering he's only in his first year. Shooting guards? Sophomore Blake Ahearn's been on fire of late, nailing NBA-three after NBA-three. Deven Mitchell, Kellen Easley, Anthony Shavies, and Tyler Chaney are all also available to spell Ahearn if need be.

The bottom line is that this team is very young, and also very, very good. SMS hasn't had a more talented group of guys since the 1999 team that went to the Sweet Sixteen. Whether their 5-1 run to open the season is just a mirage because of a somewhat weak schedule remains to be seen, but I definitely like what I've seen so far. They're big, good shooters, fast, and smart, and only two of them -- Maclin and guard Trevyor Fisher -- are seniors. As long as the Bears don't blow it somehow, this is a dynasty in training.

Other stuff ...

  • Late Saturday night, reports were swirling that Tim Hudson was on the verge of being traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Edwin Jackson and infielder Antonio Perez. Since that time, Dodgers GM Paul DePodesta has denied that he ever made an official offer for Hudson, so that kills the speculation, at least for the time being. If the deal ends up getting done with Jackson and Perez being the central pieces, I can't help but go back to how the Dodgers acquired Perez in the first place. I thought it to be a steal then because of Perez's ability, but if he ends up being used to bring Hudson to LA, perhaps all the DePodesta haters will disappear.

  • Looking for a new baseball blog to read? Well, do I ever have the place for you! Check out my friend David Haller's writing at Knuckleball Sandwich, a page with plenty of insight about the Cleveland Indians.

  • I saw Closer yesterday, which was an incredibly good, but also incredibly strange film. I think this movie helped Clive Owen's chances of being the next James Bond, and certainly was Natalie Portman's breakout role. Speaking of Ms. Portman, she's now the official crush of Kevin's Royals Blog:


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