UALR's season of questions ends with more questions

For UALR, a season that began with so many questions ended with more questions after Saturday’s loss to Florida International in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Tournament.
John Gillon

Playing one of the youngest rosters in NCAA Division I, UALR finished with a 17-15 record and tied for fourth in the Sun Belt Conference. UALR has no scholarship seniors and could return everyone. That should be a reason for tremendous optimism.

But, considering where this team was in January, the finish is completely disappointing. UALR was on pace for a second place finish before a four-game collapse that saw the Trojans have to scrap in the final week just to get a tournament bye.

It wasn’t a bad season. UALR finished above where they were predicted. But an early exit from the conference tournament for the second consecutive year will leave a sour taste throughout the summer.

The biggest positive was the play of the freshmen point guards. They weren’t always consistent, but Josh Hagins and John Gillon developed nicely throughout the year. Both showed they could run the team and score a little more than expected. If both return, as expected, they could develop into the league’s best point guard tandem.

The 2 guard spot is probably the most perplexing. We’ve seen positive moments from sophomore Ben Dillard and freshman Kemy Osse. But it remains to be seen if either will develop into the type of scorer needed from that spot. The type of scorer that torched UALR several times this season.

Junior Leroy Isler was a positive at the 3 spot. He played good defense and scored a bit more than expected. There is a major question mark after that. Sophomore Taggart Lockhart didn’t have a great season statistically, but when he went down with a concussion the Trojans slide began. Perhaps Lockhart was bringing intangibles to the court that were sorely missed when he went out. With his concussion, you have to wonder if Lockhart will return next season. Concussions are a serious deal and can’t be taken lightly. Freshman Stetson Billings is also a question mark here. He didn’t get a lot of opportunity, but he didn’t take advantage of what time he did get.

A big question going into the season was how junior Will Neighbour would respond after shoulder surgery sidelined him all summer and throughout the fall. Clearly, Neighbour’s shot wasn’t sharp. But opponents also figured out that they could take Neighbour out by applying constant pressure on him. And, far too often, they were able to do that without getting hurt by others on the UALR roster.

Freshman James White is another question mark. White started out so positively and looked like he might even contend for Sun Belt freshman of the year. But White hit a wall in January. His production went down. Then his minutes went down. Was he hurt? Did he just hit the freshman wall? He got plenty of chances throughout February and just didn’t perform.

Sophomore Michael Javes showed tremendous improvement at the 5 spot. But Javes has a major flaw in his game. He struggles from the free throw line. As a result, he couldn’t be used late in games. If Javes could even get to 60 percent from the free throw line, he’d be a monster.

Sophomore Gus Leeper is another question mark. Leeper never regained the form he showed in the 2010 Sun Belt Tournament.

There were three redshirts this season. Shooting guard Mareik Isom would have definitely got a chance this season if he wasn’t hurt. Isom is a good shooter who can provide size on the perimeter. It remains to be seen if he’s the missing piece on the perimeter. Big man Andrew Poulter will provide more size inside. If Poulter can become an above average rebounder, he’d be a major asset. And combo guard Jalen Washington also sat out. Washington is quick and could add to the mix.
The Sun Belt will change a bit next season. But UALR won't be the only team returning much of its roster. Louisiana-Lafayette, Western Kentucky and Arkansas State also played young teams this season.