I know I care about Arkansas State basketball – a program that hasn’t seen a post-season since 1999 – because I become immersed in a terrible chagrin every time I think about the program. I desperately want it to succeed. There aren’t enough fingers to point to the problems plaguing the Red Wolves, and not all of them are within the university’s control. (For example, how does one prevent a wealthy and privileged coastal university from looting your once-in-a-generation star player you spent years developing?)
As Coach Mike Balado admitted in his preseason press conference, the many new faces on the team makes it difficult to assess strength and weaknesses. There are clues, and there is promise. Omar El-Sheikh, the 6’8″ forward from Cairo, may not be Norchad Omier, but he appears to be the lead candidate for The Man. For El-Sheikh to shine, he’ll need the space to operate afforded by reliable perimeter shooting. Malcolm Farrington and Avery Felts are said to have vastly improved their games in that regard. Lastly, Coach Balado has expressed pleasure in the way the team has improved their defense, which wasn’t bad last season but it’s always nice to know that defense is a priority.
What do I expect from this team? “Expect” is not quite the right word. “Wish” is too weak. “Demand” requires strength I don’t have. So here is what I’d like to see:
No End-of-Year Collapse
You can set your Rolex by A-State’s year-end collapses. Last season, the Red Wolves lost six of nine regular season games, continuing a grim tradition of running out of gas. For once, I would like to see the Red Wolves entering the Sun Belt Tournament hot.
Can We Win 20 Games, Please?
Grant McCasland delivered 20 wins in his one season in Jonesboro, but twenty wins in for Arkansas State is as rare as finding a dollar in ULM’s athletic budget. Every year, twenty wins is my benchmark for the team. Never seems to happen, tho.
A Return of Fan Support
Even with Norchad Omier delivering the most dominating season of basketball in Red Wolves history, fans continued to be disengaged from the program. Man, I get it. The litany of end-of-year collapses and sub-twenty win seasons have taken a tremendous toll. It doesn’t help that the Sun Belt itself is without a true basketball bell ringer – we don’t have a Kentucky or Kansas or Duke to stir our competitive blood. Perhaps the expanded Sun Belt will bring more interest?