This was going to be a post about how badly Sun Belt basketball sucks, based totally on this dismal chart Erik Haslam of Haslametrics.com posted on the Twitter last week:
Sun Belt hoops still grandly sucks, but the performance of Red Wolves men’s basketball in recent weeks has compelled me to write something more cheerful. It was only about a month ago when I pronounced A-State basketball an “endangered species.” It may well still be endangered. But something has happened to Arkansas State hoops since dropping two to ULM in Monroe: they’ve become hugely entertaining.
This could easily be an article just about Norchad “Double-Double” Omier, the 6’7″ freshman from the rich basketball nation of…Nicaragua (WTF). Funny thing, when I first met Coach Mike Balado, he suggested that his Spanish-speaking heritage could help Red Wolves recruiting. I smirked inwardly at that. But here we are, with a recruit hailing south of the border that has totally transformed the team.
But Norchad Omier isn’t the only freshman and sophomore giving us an open window to the program’s promising future. Sophomore guard Caleb Fields is averaging 12 points a game is appears to be shifting upwards. Freshmen Avery Felts and Malcom Farrington are providing the outside shooting consistency the floor sorely needed. Sophomore forward Antwon Jackson isn’t pouring on the stats, but at 270-lbs, the big man plays a tough inside role.
Speaking of roles, everybody seems to suddenly know theirs. Junior guard Markise Davis and junior forward Keyon Wesley have provided dynamite minutes for the Red Wolves. The 6’9″ Wesley, averaging 8 points and nearly five points per game, is especially valuable to a team that could really use more size.
The most important role may belong to senior Marquis Eaton, the Jonesboro product equally known for his on-the-court sloppiness as he is for his flashes of brilliance. These last four games, Eaton has carried the Red Wolves on his shoulders, dropping 32 points in one game against the Cajuns and taking care of business at the free throw line. When Eaten and Fields are playing well, the team is difficult to beat.
Lastly, credit Mike Balado and his staff. The loss to UAPB was horrendous. The defeats to ULM were inexcusable. The criticism he’s absorbed is earned. But he’s pushed through the din of negative social posts and is currently coaching a team bearing all the traits of a winning program. There’s nothing monumental about winning three out of the last four. But damnit, it feels almost like something is finally happening.
It’s difficult to believe that Arkansas State has a legitimate shot at a winning season this year. But it may have enough in the tank to make some noise in the Sun Belt tournament. The freshmen and sophomore class certainly have enough talent and promise to keep Balado at his post. If he can keep these guys focused – and together – Red Wolves basketball may yet claw itself off the endangered species list.
PHOTO CREDIT: mine