Lamar Primer 2012

Mike Tobey and the Hoos are looking for back-to-back wins.

After a convincing 83-43 home victory against the Seattle Redhawks on Saturday, the Virginia Cavaliers (2-2) return to the court on Monday to take on the Lamar Cardinals (0-3) of the Southland Conference. Will the Wahoos make the most of the consolation bracket of the NIT Preseason Tip-Off, or will they fall under .500 for the third time this season? Find out in the Lamar Primer.

1. Team Introduction. Last season, Lamar finished 23-12 and 11-5 in the Southland Conference, ending the season with six straight wins and a conference tournament title before losing to Vermont, 71-59, in an NCAA Tournament play-in game. Last season was Pat Knight’s first in Beaumont, Texas, after 3.5 years at Texas Tech, where he took over for his Hall of Fame father (Bobby Knight). Unlike the situation with the Bennetts at Washington State, the transition did not go smoothly in Lubbock, with the younger Knight going 3-13, 4-12, and 5-11 in the Big 12 in his three full seasons as the head coach of the Red Raiders. After some major losses from Knight’s first Lamar team, the Cardinals have been tabbed to finish fifth in the Southland by the coaches and tied for third by the Sports Information Directors. Lamar has lost its first 3 games of the year to Kansas State (79-55), North Texas (74-59), and Charlotte (70-49). They have no players on the 1st or 2nd team Preseason All-Southland Conference lists.

2. Offense. Like his Hall of Fame father, Pat Knight employs a motion offense, alternating between “4-out, 1-in” and “5-out” spacing. 4Shared has some PDF notes from Pat Knight on his motion offense that you can download by clicking the link.

As you can read, Knight’s offense relies upon constant motion and three types of screens: (1) flare screens; (2) back screens from the block; and (3) down screens set on wings only. The goal of the offense is a combination of perpetual motion and spacing to loosen up the defense and allow for a combination of outside shots and inside looks. When run by an experienced team against an equally experienced team employing the Pack-Line, you can expect the type of irresistible force/immoveable object clash that occurred between Indiana and Wisconsin in the mid- to late-1990’s. Tomorrow, with two relatively inexperienced teams, we will probably get something a good deal more chaotic. Last season, Lamar was No. 90 in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency.

3. Defense. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree on either end of the court. Pat Knight’s teams at Texas Tech and Lamar have both been known for pressure man-to-man defense, although the younger Knight has been known to sprinkle in some zone when outmatched by the opposition. Knight’s first Lamar team did not live up to his defensive expectations, resulting in a No. 150 national rank in adjusted defensive efficiency. Knight was so upset by the team’s lack of defensive intensity that he engaged in an epic rant that sparked the Cardinals on their run to the NCAA Tournament.

4. Player Turnover. The team the Hoos face on Monday, however, will look quite different from that NCAA Tournament team. Simply put, Lamar lost its five leading scorers from last season. Senior guard and leading scorer Mike James (17.1 PPG) is now lacing them up in Croatia. His backcourt running mate and second leading scorer Anthony Miles (14.5 PPG) is also gone. The same goes for third leading scorer, Devon Lamb, who rounded out Lamar’s 2011-2012 backcourt with 12.1 points per game. Meanwhile, down low, Brandon Davis (8.9 PPG) and Charlie Harper (8.6 PPG) are both gone. And the same goes for seventh leading scorer Tre Lynch (3.5 PPG), who transferred to Southern. Looking at the big picture, Lamar lost 75% of last season’s player minutes, 96.7% of its 3-point shooting, and 87.5% of its assists. That’s hard to replace all of that so early in the season.

5. Likely Starters. Here is a look at the potential starting line-up.

Point Guard: Donley Minor (No. 22), a 6’1″, 175-pound senior, likely will get the call at the “1” for the Cardinals. Minor is Lamar’s best ball handler, but he’s averaging a troubling 5.7 turnovers per game on the season. He’s always been automatic from the free throw line and has hit on 88.9% of his attempts this season. Minor is also the only real threat for Lamar from behind the arc. He’s the only Cardinal shooting more than a 3-pointer a game and has connected on 41.7% of his 4 attempts per game so far. Minor is not especially known for his defensive prowess, and his next steal will be is first on the season. Offensively, he’s tied for first on the team in assists per game (3.3) and second in points per game (11.0).

Point Guard No. 2: Pat Knight is likely to start a freshman point guard next to Minor, but I’m not sure which one. Keilan Blanks started the Cardinals’ first 2 games, but Donnell Minton (No. 3), a 6’0″, 145-pound freshman, was the game 3 starter. I’ll guess that Minton starts again. Minton is primarily known for his ability to break down his defender and take it to the hole before dishing the rock for the assist. He’s averaging 3 assists a game to go along with 5.7 points per game although he was held scoreless in the game against Charlotte. On the other side of the ball, Blanks is a rangy defender who uses his long arms to disrupt opposing guards.

Small Forward: Rhon Mitchell (No. 10), a 6’5″, 180-pound redshirt freshman, appears to be the most significant addition to this Lamar squad. After sitting out a year due to an issue with high school credits, Mitchell has come roaring out of the gates to lead the team in points (14.0) and rebounds (7.3) per game. Offensively, Mitchell boasts a pretty midrange game, and he might be an even better defender. That said, he’s not great with distributing or ball security, as evidenced by his .3 assists against 4.0 turnovers per game.

Power Forward: Amos Wilson (No. 34), a 6’5″, 205-pound junior transfer from Collin County Community College, should get the starting nod as an undersized “4.” After averaging 16.3 points per game last season at Collin County, Wilson has struggled to translate his game to the Division I level. He has started each of the Cardinals’ first three games but only averaged 4.0 points per game on 28.6% shooting and has yet to record an assist. This lack of offensive potency is understandable given his lack of height, but he makes up for this deficiency on the defensive side with quick feet and hands, allowing him to register 2.0 steals per game.

Center: Stan Brown (No. 35), a 6’8″, 225-pound senior, is another undersized post for Pat Knight’s squad. Brown has increased his scoring average each season, with his 7.0 points per game on the season being his best average yet. But Brown doesn’t have the softest touch and has difficulty getting his shot off against bigger defenders, which explains why he has never shot 50% for a season and why his shooting percentage on the year currently stands at 34.6%. He’s also shooting a career-low 42.9% from the charity stripe.

6. Key Reserves. Here are some of the other key names for Lamar.

Point Guard: As noted, Keilan Blanks (No. 1), a 5’9″, 160-pound freshman guard, started the first two games. In that second game, he was pulled with a hamstring injury after 3 minutes but returned to log 18 minutes off the bench against Charlotte. Blanks makes up for his lack of size with superior speed and an above average handle. To this point, he seems more comfortable on the defensive end, as he is averaging a mere 3.3 points per game on 33.3% shooting and more than twice as many turnovers (2.7) as assists (1.3) per game.

Forward/Center: Nikko Acosta (No. 2), a 6’9″, 220-pound redshirt senior, should see some minutes down low for Lamar. On the season, he’s averaging just less than 4 points and just more than 3 rebounds per game while shooting 50% from the field.

7. Prediction. What a difference a point guard makes. After 6-plus halves of offensive gridlock and defensive breakdowns, Virginia looked like a different team with the insertion of Teven Jones into the game against Seattle. And while the Redhawks are no great shakes, and while the Cavaliers likely need Jontel Evans back at full strength for some of the schedule’s tougher opponents, Lamar isn’t one of them. The Team Rankings simulation has this as a 76.1-47.1 UVa victory. I’ll predict the game a bit tighter, with the Hoos still earning a comfortable 71-52 home win.