Any time you talk about Arkansas State mens basketball with an older alum, the words “The games used to be fun!” eventually rise to the surface. I can confirm. The atmosphere at the Convo Center (Now FNB Arena) used to be charged with something I can’t easily describe. For now, let’s call it the “Expectation to Compete.” Nobody expected a national championship. We just wanted buckets.
Today, the Red Wolves rank 173rd nationally for buckets, and as of Wednesday boasts the worst RPI in the Sun Belt. In fact, at #336, Arkansas State is ranked among the very worst programs in all of college hoops – right there with Alabama State and our old conference foe Denver.
Watching today’s Red Wolves generates the opposite charge from watching teams it has fielded in the past – call it an “Expectation to Fail.” There is literally nothing to watch: no exciting three-point marksman, no thunder-dunker, no ball-handling wizardry, no clairvoyant teamwork, no selfless defense. The biggest statistical talking point for this team? It gets to the free throw line. In the final minutes against ULM, when the Red Wolves really needed the free throws, Arkansas State was all brick.
It’s not all bad. Norchad Omier appears to have real potential. Caleb Fields appears to have real potential. Antwon Jackson is a truck in the middle. There are some interesting pieces floating on the floor. But there are far too many stretches when the team fails to record a basket. The perimeter defense is too soft. There isn’t a victory gear.
Sun Belt basketball, in general, is pretty stagnant this season. Still, only Arkansas State and ULM have losing records. Programs like Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State are actually giving fans some optimism. Meanwhile, the Mike Balado Era has produced a 43-62 record. This year, the Red Wolves have wins over Champion Christian College, Crowley’s Ridge College and Central Baptist College. I’m not familiar with those institutions. However, I am familiar with UAPB, who beat us on our home court.
On Friday, the Red Wolves host the Warhawks, who have already soundly beaten us twice. ULM, for all its frugal spending and lack of fan support, has a seven-foot-one center. That should give Warhawks’ fans something to watch.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy Harper
Jeremy Harper is an Arkansas State grad and currently serves as Chief Instigator for Storm the Castle.