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2006-07 Preview: Army Black Knights

2 November, 2006

by

Army fans hope the worst is over. The Black Knights went 5-22 last season, with just one conference win, and it feels like there’s nowhere lower that they can fall. Army finished last in the league in scoring offense and field goal percentage. But Jim Crews returns four starters, boasts a deep backcourt and brought in a freshman class that addresses Army’s size deficiency. Army seems primed to improve, but can they pass also-improving Navy and Colgate squads? The Black Knights are stocked with players who have shown flashes of brilliance but have yet to put it together consistently. If a few of those players find themselves this year, Army could make a rare venture out of the bottom of the Patriot League.

Point
Marshall Jackson is the most point-like player in the three-guard system, but not a true point guard. He’ll be asked to defend the opponent’s point guard, as he’s the best defender of the three, and to bring the ball up. Not very good at finding his own shot, Jackson shot 31 percent from the floor last year for 2.2 points per game in 22 minutes per game. His biggest contribution will likely be on defense, where he has the quickness and on-ball skills. Army’s offensive scheme this year calls for a sharing of the point guard duties, because of a lack of a true point player. A system like this can work, if the players in the mix are good enough offensively. But unless Jackson is a better offensive player than he was last year, the Black Knights will be overmatched by the rest of the point guards in the league.
Rating: 1/2

Wing
The strongest part of Army’s team is the wing position, where they have Matt Bell and Jarell Brown. Last season, Brown scored 14.3 points per game and Bell added 13; the next-highest per-game average was 6.5 points. They will again be asked to carry the load offensively. Bell had offseason foot surgery after playing injured a lot of last season. Both Brown and, when healthy, Bell are good shooters from the floor, the arc and the charity stripe. Neither one was particularly adept at drawing fouls last season, though. If the two wings can force more inside action and get opposing frontcourts in foul trouble, it would force opposing coaches to bring in less talented or undersized frontcourt players and minimize Army’s natural disadvantage down low. Because the Army frontcourt is so undersized, their only chances to win games are to shoot the lights out from beyond the arc or get other teams into foul trouble. Either way, it will be up to Brown and Bell, and opponents will know this. Almost unfairly, their production will be below their talent level because opponents will be so keyed in on stopping them.
Rating: O1/2

Post
Corban Bates, Army’s starting power forward, is one of the toughest, most clever interior players in the Patriot League. That said, he’s only 6-4 and there’s no masking it. Bates was criticized for inconsistency last season, but it’s hard to tell if it was because of anything Bates was doing or simply the difference in matchups. Bates had two of his best games back-to-back in early February, scoring 10 against Bucknell and then putting in 11 points and 14 boards against Navy, but he followed that up with 12 total points in the last six games of the year. It’s hard to expect consistency when Bates’s ability to score and defend is almost entirely dependent on the size of the player lined up against him. His tenacity and creativity mean he will continue to be the Black Knights’ best rebounder, no matter where he is on the court.

At 6-11, Jimmy Sewell is by far the most imposing presence on the Black Knights. However, the big center struggled when given big minutes early in the conference schedule last year, and ended up not playing in Army’s final three games. Sewell enters the year with 59 career blocked shots, six away from the school’s record. However, he also often found foul trouble, even in limited minutes. Army can steal games from other undersized Patriot League squads if Sewell can play a disciplined, fundamental game on both sides of the ball. If he plays like he did last year, though, other teams will still be able to go over, around and through the Army frontcourt.
Rating: 1/2

Bench
Army has options this year in mixing up the backcourt. Cory Sinning, who started 10 games last year, is a good shooter and passer when he gets a chance to play, but also has a habit of disappearing in some games. If he earns the coaching staff’s trust, he may steal minutes from Jackson at the point. He’s one of several Army backups who, if they step up offensively, can take a lot of pressure off Brown and Bell. Another is Grant Carter, a dangerous three-point shooter two years ago (43.2 percent) who played very little last year due to injuries. Sophomore John Moonshower is another potential backcourt scorer. The 6-5 Moonshower came on strong at the end of his rookie year, scoring 6 points per game in 9 minutes per game in the final six games of the year. Army is likely grooming Moonshower slowly to become a big scorer next season after Bell’s graduation. Freshman Marcus Nelson, the closest thing to a true point guard the Black Knights have, will see some backup duty.

Kenny Brewer is, like Corban Bates, undersized at 6-5 but occasionally very effective in the post. Doug Williams offered little scoring last year as a freshman but proved himself to be a tough and strong rebounder. The Army frontcourt obviously needs all the help it can get, and if Brewer or Williams turn a corner and start consistently giving opponents trouble, it would significantly improve Army’s chances of staying close with league opponents. Untested sophomore Curtis Koszuta and freshmen Will Schuh, Chris Walker and Eric Zastoupil bring size to the team (all are between 6-7 and 6-10) and whichever of them end up on the 15-man roster should get chances to prove they can contribute to the team this year.
Rating: O1/2

Coaching Track Record
Jim Crews is entering his fifth year at West Point, and it would be fair to say the team hasn’t progressed as he’d hoped. Crews has had a full recruiting cycle to stock the roster as he wants; this year will be a test to see if his players can begin turning the program around. His use of the USMA Prep School has not worked out as well as a similar prep program at Navy worked for Don DeVoe. Recruiting is never a level playing field when you’re a military academy. Crews’ coaching and player development have to make up for that for Army to compete. Jackson and Sewell are going to be Crews’ biggest jobs this season. If he can turn Jackson into a reasonably good offensive point guard, and get Sewell to use his size properly, then suddenly Army is a feisty team that can hang with the better teams in the league. If those two play the way they did last year, then the final result for Army will also be similar to last year.
Rating: O

Schedule
Army battles big-conference schools Notre Dame, Michigan and Missouri all on the road. They have three Ivy League showdowns, welcoming Cornell to West Point and then traveling to Brown and Dartmouth. They also mix in home matchups against Hartford and Sacred Heart, neutral-court games with Stetson and North Carolina A&T, and some games with other academies. The second and third weeks of the league schedule is Army’s big chance to surprise people, with a trio of home games against Lehigh, American and Navy followed by a trip to Lafayette. The schedule after that stretch does them no favors, cumulating with a regular season finale against Bucknell just like last season.
Ratings: O1/2

Overall
The pieces seem to be there, but there are too many question marks to expect much improvement. Johnson, Sewell or Bates could put it all together, but Brown or Bell could easily struggle or get injured and cripple the team’s offense as well. Jim Crews is going to have to show that he can start to turn the team around before fans will begin to trust him.

Best-case scenario: The guards shoot the lights out all year, Sewell develops and some of the freshmen give quality frontcourt minutes, as Army pulls a few upsets and goes 6-8 in the league.

Worst-case scenario: Defenses clamp down on Bell and Brown, no one else can score consistently for the Black Knights, and they get shut out of league wins.

Most likely scenario: Long-range shooting carries the team a few times, Bates and Sewell show flashes, and Army goes 2-12 in league play.

Rating: O

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