At one point during Saturday’s game against Mississippi Valley, the Delta Devils deftly picked the ball from the Red Wolves and exchanged it for a two-point bucket. Coach Mike Balado, seeing his ten point lead whittled to two, called a time out. “Calm down, guys.” Upon the time out’s conclusion, the Red Wolves inbounded the ball, and two second later, the Delta Devils had stolen it again.
Mississippi Valley would convert 31 points off of 16 turnovers from the Red Wolves, who rank a dismal 316th in the nation by coughing up the ball 15.8 times per contest. The TOs come in all forms and varieties, but an alarming number come from steals. The Delta Devils picked the ball 14 times from the Red Wolves. The game before, UAPB recorded 12 steals from Arkansas State. Either the SWAC is proficient in ball-stealing, or Arkansas State has a real problem protecting the ball.
The Red Wolves are 7-2 (3-1 away from home) and feature some of the most interesting weapons in the Sun Belt. Norchad Omier – the Human Double Double – is averaging his usual double double (13 points, a Sun Belt leading 10 rebounds). Desi Sills, who’s becoming more comfortable as the team’s primary scorer, ranks 4th in the Sun Belt with 16 points per game. Caleb Fields rates second in the Sun Belt for assists, clocking nearly 5 per contest. Oh, and you know what else? The Red Wolves rank 31st in the nation for free-throw percentage, led by Marquis Eaton at 93.55% (10th best nationally). That’s actually really cool. The ingredients for goodness are in the pantry.
But is this team even remotely ready for Texas Tech in Lubbock on Tuesday?
Perhaps. Maybe. I mean, look, we weren’t ready for Illinois. But consider this: Texas Tech has played one true road game all season – a 72-68 loss to Providence on December 1. The Red Wolves are 3-1 on the road (albeit against some soft competition), so a game in Lubbock isn’t exactly a weird experience for Arkansas State. Also, the Red Raiders haven’t played a dribble since a comically inept 57-52 OT win over Texas on December 7. The Red Wolves have maintained the momentum with two games in that time.
But here’s what’s worrisome: Texas Tech averages nine steals per game. If UAPB and Mississippi Valley presented a problem for Arkansas State, the Red Raiders present a catastrophe.
Additionally, the Red Wolves will have to deal with some top level talent, too. Tech’s 6’6″ guard, Kevin McCuller, leads the team in both points (13) and rebounds (6.5), but he’s not even the guy to worry about. It’s not Bryson Williams either, the 6’8″ forward. He’s been held to single digits in three of his last four games.
Nope, the guy the Red Wolves have to neutralize is freshman Daniel Batcho, the 6’11 forward from Paris, France who lives large in the paint by eating rebounds and pooping blocks. The Red Wolves aren’t terrific at subduing big men. I fear that Norchad Omier may have five fouls in the opening five minutes.
Are the Red Wolves ready for Texas Tech? You can read the performance against Mississippi Valley in any number of ways. Yes, not blowing out a SWAC opponent who had only one win on the year is alarming. But let’s look outside the boxscore. Lazar Grbovic played more than a usual amount of minutes on Saturday, signaling that maybe Antwon Jackson won’t be 100% ready for Tuesday. Mississippi Valley could be a tune-up for Grbovic – who had his moments both good and bad on Saturday. Also, it appeared at times that the Red Wolves were experimenting with strategic concepts these last two games. I’m not sure the Red Wolves are good enough to use Mississippi Valley as a practice session, but I could be wrong.
Obviously, I have no idea of the Red Wolves are ready for the Red Raiders.
Photo Credit belongs to me