This is the first in a five-part review of the 2009-10 Tiger basketball season.
A HOLE IN THE MIDDLE
Not since Chris Massie in 2003 have the Tigers been able to suit up a low-post scoring presence. (Joey Dorsey managed to play in 149 games — the second most in Tiger history — without reaching the 1,000-point plateau.) Shawn Taggart averaged 10.4 points a game in 2008-09, but was better suited to the power forward position.
This season, though, that offensive vacuum at the center position became especially evident. Pierre Henderson-Niles played in 23 games before being dismissed from the team in early February, and reached double figures but four times. (He scored more than 11 points only once.) Will Coleman, like Dorsey, is built for the part, but not until March arrived did he become the kind of presence that might force an opponent to sag into the middle. In 34 games, Coleman scored as many as10 points eight times, and four of those performances came this month.
Considering the Tigers won 24 games with an offense driven by long-distance shooting and Elliot Williams’ ability to get inside, it’s scary to consider what this team may have been with an inside threat. Had opponents been forced into a zone more often, Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie would have had that much more elbow room from beyond the arc.
The Tiger offense was an outside-in attack this season. In their 10 losses, the center position (for seven of those games Henderson-Niles and Coleman, the last three Coleman alone) averaged 8.8 points. Particularly in a league like Conference USA — hardly known for its bruising or size — 8.8 points per game from your big men simply won’t cut it.
But there’s reason for hope. Over his last four games, Coleman averaged 13.5 points and 10.7 rebounds. If 6’11” Angel Garcia returns healthy for the 2010-11 campaign, he’ll boost the interior attack by himself (as long as he doesn’t fall in love with his long-distance shooting, which should be a complementary weapon in his arsenal). Then there’s Tarik Black. Ranked as the seventh-best prep center in the country by Rivals.com, Black is a more developed offensive player than Henderson-Niles . . . as a senior at Ridgeway High School. Nothing like a little competition for playing time to raise the intensity level at the center position. You can bet coach Josh Pastner will be looking at this trio’s ability to “score the ball” as his predecessor often emphasized.