Season Review: Kennesaw State (So Far)
The first half of the Kennesaw State Owls 2013-2014 campaign is complete with the 66-90 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall. The Owls end their non-conference schedule with a 3-10 record. Make no mistake, Head Coach Lewis Preston isn’t satisfied, but this is by far the most difficult non-conference schedule that Kennesaw State has ever played. Kennesaw State played teams from the Horizon League, Ohio Valley Conference, Conference USA, SEC, The Summit League, Southern Conference, American Athletic Conference, Mid-American Conference, Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Big 10. The Black & Gold hold the 102nd most difficult non-conference schedule in the country. KSU also has the second most difficult schedule in the conference just behind Florida Gulf Coast. Notable games for Kennesaw State were Youngstown State (8-6, 144 RPI), Eastern Kentucky (8-4, 135 RPI), Florida International (8-5, 264 RPI), Mississippi State (8-1, 185 RPI), IPFW (10-4, 168 RPI), Cincinnati (9-2, 57 RPI), Kent State (9-2, 128 RPI), Georgia Tech (8-4, 138 RPI), and Indiana (10-3, 83 RPI). Although Kennesaw State didn’t defeat any of the these powers they only lost by an average of 15.7 points. Coming into the season Owl Nation looked at the early schedule and knew it would be a tough road to hoe, but with the talents of transfers Drew McGhee, Willie Kouassi and Bernard Morena, JUCO transfers Nate Rucker, Tanner Wozniak, Orlando Coleman, and Charlie Byers, joining returners Delbert Love, Myles Hamilton, Yonel Brown, and Andrew Osemhen a win wasn’t out of the question. The big question was how would they play as a team? With a season ending injury to McGhee in an exhibition game, the post game of KSU came into question. Plus the loss of having a leader like McGhee on the floor would be mean Osemhen and Kouassi would need to step up. The team has had its share of issues and that is evaluated here in preparation of the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Coaches and Program:
Kennesaw State Head Coach Lewis Preston had an impressive resume when he was hired. His National Championship ring with Florida (2007) and his tenure in elite programs of Notre Dame and Penn State brought an expectation. Some believe an unrealistic expectation of immediate success as he took over a program on probation that was coming into just its second season of eligible D-1 basketball. Just one recruit, Delbert Love, had signed to be a KSU Owl joining a hodge podge of players brought in by former Owl coach Tony Ingle. There was talent on the roster, but could they grasp what Coach Preston was selling. Coach Preston’s right hand man would be former Miami of Ohio assistant coach Jimmy Lallathin. Coach Lallathin had been on the coaching staff of Charlie Coles at Miami of Ohio for four seasons. Several other assistants have come and gone, which has not been good for the reputation of the program with the mounting losses. Assistant Coach Brian Lawhon joined the staff as a player developer. His previous position was with the John Lucas Player Development Center, which groomed players for the NBA. Kory Keys, who was a volunteer for Basketball Operations, was hired full time to help with the team. Mike Scutero joined the team several games into the season, just in time to watch KSU earn its first D-1 victory of the year over Chattanooga. Coach Scutero spent four seasons at Middle Tennessee State University. The coaching staff is experienced at many different levels and there is no doubt their basketball I.Q. is significant, but how will they turn the individual talent into a team is an unanswered question thus far.
The program as a whole is in a gray area. There is no secret if Coach Preston doesn’t start winning his job is in jeopardy. Over the past five seasons, the Owls are 30-108 (.278) and the program is desperate to attract a solid fan base. The season tickets for the men’s basketball program tripled this season (thanks to football being added) and there is excitment surrounding Kennesaw State athletics, but winning matters. Even with 10 losses against three wins (one from an NAIA team and one from a USCAA team) there is optimism with the talent level in a conference like the Atlantic Sun. What is in the past, remains in the past, but the Owls played a lot of very good teams and learned from the battles. Kennesaw State should be competitive in conference and finish top five with the talent they have and a tournament win or two should be attainable. Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast, and USC Upstate are the strongs in the ASun and the Owls are on the cusp. But, they need to show that they know how to win to get any respect. Advancing to the tournament should put the KSU program back on the right track. If they fail, expect big changes to come to the program.
Coaches and Program Overall: D
The question that was most asked about the Owls program in the off season was, “Who will start at point guard?” The question was raised on blogs and web sites. The options were junior Delbert Love, sophomore Myles Hamilton, sophomore Yonel Brown and walk-on junior Charlie Byers. Love is considered the leader of the team, but he is a traditional shooting guard who had been tested at the point and it didn’t fit his game. Hamilton, who is a very vocal player, was the front runner according to most sources, but again he is a traditional slashing guard. Brown started at point guard as a true freshman at the start of the 2013-2013 season and showed potential, but the speed of the game really gave him fits and he eventually lost his starting job. He has all the tools on paper, but they just didn’t translate to the floor. Byers was unknown, but there was potential there. The answer came on November 1, as the Owls opened the season with Brown at PG. On the season, Brown is averaging 2.5 assists per game. Fellow point guards in the Atlantic Sun Brett Comer (FGCU) and Langston Hall (Mercer) have 5.4 and 5.2 assists per game, respectively. Although Brown has shown spark and leadership, the Owls need a point that can distribute the ball. Love has stepped in to lead the team in assist with 2.6 Assists/G, but no Owl has taken the reins and won the PG spot, exclusively. Therefore, as the season continues the one position will remain a question mark, but with several options for players to step up. Hamilton may have worked his way into the PG position as he had 7 assists against Indiana and played with great vision and energy.
The #2 position has been filled by Delbert Love and Tanner Wozniak. Love is clicking at 10.6 Points Per Game and hitting 35.6 of his shots. Wozniak is averaging 5.6 PPG and his hitting 33 percent from beyond the arc. Wozniak has been as advertised from outside the arc, but inside he has needs to improve. Offensively, the shooting guard position should include your best shooters, but the guards for KSU are only shooting 24 percent from the field. This is an area for KSU that they have struggled with in recent years.
Analyzing the Owls defensively from the back court prospective, there are a lot of questions. The Owls are giving up an average of 71.7 PPG and 45.3 PPG outside of the paint where the guards are traditionally tasked with protecting. KSU has decent size in their guards averaging six-feet-three-inches, which includes Jordan Montgomery, who can play the two and three, at six-feet-five inches. They should be able to defend at a better pace, especially with a defensive minded coaching staff. Kennesaw State is defending the three decently as they are 60th in the nation by only allowing opponents to a 30.2 percent clip. One aspect is how many early fouls Kennesaw State’s frontcourt is picking up forcing the team into a zone, instead of man-to-man. They have struggled against the quick athletic guards, including Youngstown State’s Kendrick Perry who scored 20 against KSU and Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell who had 25 points (15 from three point range and free throw line) and 5 assists against the Owls. They won’t have the same level of guards to defend in conference play, but they still have some really good ones left to face. Mercer’s Langston Hall (PG) is leading all A-Sun guards with 15.1 PPG followed by FGCU’s Brett Comer (15.0 PPG) and Bernard Thompson (14.5 PPG), USC-Upstate’s Ty Greene (14.5 PPG), and NKU’s Jordan Jackson (14.3). The guard play will be key moving forward. In this one area alone, the Owls can significantly improve there competitiveness if they can get more baskets to drop.
Backcourt Overall: C-
The frontcourt for the Owls has been well below expectations. The three and four have been up and down, but the five position has been a struggle. It wouldn’t be fair to lump Orlando Coleman, Bernard Morena, Nigel Pruitt and Nate Rucker in with the play of the five. The forwards have shown some spark. Coleman is scoring 10.9 PPG and seems to be getting more comfortable with his role. He brings a significant spark offensively and in just thirteen games in he has had some serious highlight reel-dunks, but more importantly he is hitting 55.8 percent from the field, a team best. Coleman has also lead the team in rebounding in nine of the 13 games. Morena is also one who has provided Owl fans with optimism as he comes in as a redshirt-freshman. He is shooting 42.2 percent from the field, scoring 8.9 PPG with 4.3 RPG. An area that Morena needs to really improve is his ball handling. He leads the team in turning the rock over with 35. Morena has missed a couple of games after being injured versus Georgia Tech, which may have allowed Coleman to open up as he did against Indiana, but the Owls want Bernard back. With Morena and Orlando playing well, Nigel Pruitt has struggled offensively. The young sophomore from Potomac, MD was a player whose development appeared on track as he progressed last season. This year he began 0-15 from beyond the arc and it may have rattled his confidence, but since he is hitting 39 percent of his 3-pointers (16-41). Pruitt is another element on the Owls bench that Coach Preston needs to perform for the Owls to reach its potential. Pruitt started the season in the starting lineup, but is seeing less minutes recently. In the last four games, Pruitt is just 5/13 (.384 FG). He has shown he can fill it up from all over the floor, so the expectation should be for him to continue to improve. The much anticipated Nate Rucker stepped into the Black & Gold uniform for the first time 10 games into the season and had an immediate impact. He is scoring 7.7 PPG with 5.0 RPG. He is quick and agile on the defensive side of the ball and should bring a great presence during conference play. Rucker needs to stay out of foul trouble to be effective as he is averaging over three personal fouls per game.
Forwards Overall: B
Kennesaw State’s center play can be summed up in one word….”Oy.” Let’s start with the good…The Owls had 50 blocks all of last season. This season, thirteen games in, they have 43 blocks, but that is only good enough for 7th in the Atlantic Sun. The blocks have become a part of the KSU defense, which is beneficial overall. Osemhen has really shown on court leadership and offensive ability shooting 51.4 percent of his shots, which most are in the paint and high percentage. Kouassi on the other hand is an enormous presence in the paint, but offensively he has really struggled. His ball handling is below average and his ability to hit the high percentage shot is a real concern. Kouassi has been able to put himself in position for an easy two points, but his ability to dump the ball in the basket on a consistent basis hasn’t been realized. A top talent coming out of high school and as an SEC transfer, Kouassi was the player most Owl fans were excited to see on the floor. Thus far he hasn’t lived up to the billing and appears to have lost his starting job to the senior Osemhen. Another issue for the bigs at Kennesaw State are the amount of fouls picked up early. Kouassi has picked up 39 personal fouls, while Osemhen has earned 37 personals. Give walk-on center/ forward Kris Dress credit for stepping in and helping out the Owls, which is one big reason why he was named the 2013 Iron Owl after last season. Coach Preston was considered a post specialist, so it will be interesting to see how he coaches up his big men to clean up their games.
Center Overall: D-
The most glaring deficiency of the Owls so far has been their turnovers. KSU has turned the ball over 220 times this season, which ranks them 3rd most in the country in the turnover category (Howard , Austin Peay ). Valuing the basketball on every possession is something head coach Lewis Preston preaches. Ball handling as a whole will need to improve for the Owls going forward. Another area of concern is the amount of fouls KSU is picking up early. Defensive schemes go out the window when your starters pick up too many early fouls. That has been the case for the Black & Gold thus far. KSU has 56 more fouls than there opponents leading to a free throw deficit of 75 points. With the new hand-checking rules, players understanding how not violate the new rules and how to draw the fouls on the other end is critical. Kennesaw State is 30th in the nation (Tied with Citadel) in personal fouls against them (278). Drawing the fouls and limiting the fouls called against them, especially on Kouassi and Osemhen, is another key moving forward.
All of the above mentioned deficiencies are fixable and should make a huge difference in the competitiveness of Kennesaw State. After thirteen games, there is still great potential for this team. Delbert Love is consistently solid all over the floor. The Owls have Bernard Morena and Orlando Coleman that appear to be the real deal. These names will be the engine behind turning the Kennesaw State program around. Osemhen has been improving since his freshman season, so there is reason for optimism or… Osemhism.
The bottom line for Kennesaw State is there is definite room for improvement, and the tools are there for the Owls to make an impact in the conference. The coaches have their work cut out for them as they will be tasked with organizing and motivating the team that has lived through a lot of losing. Keeping the team together, playing hard, and continuing to grow will be no easy task. Opening the ASun Conference play on the road with two very winnable games could be key. Back-to-back wins on the road and then a home stand against a tough ETSU and USC Upstate might be exactly what KSU needs to get them headed in the right direction.
Team Overall: C- (with a strong potential to be a B-)