Southern Miss will begin its season tonight in its lone exhibition matchup against Mississippi College at home, where the team was a perfect 15-0 last season.
However, a lot has changed in the eight months since the Golden Eagles fell to the Minnesota Gophers 81-73 in the NIT Quarterfinals. New head coach Doc Sadler replaced Donnie Tyndall, who accepted the head coaching job at Tennessee. USM will have to field a completely new starting lineup as none of last season’s starters are returning.
There has been a small shift in philosophy as Sadler will employ more man-to-man defense rather than Tyndall’s trap zone. Offensively, the strategy will be much of the same as solid ball movement leading to quality shots will be the focus.
But this season will have more to do with personnel than changes in philosophy. While Sadler admitted the starting lineup will most likely change throughout the season, he has tabbed a starting lineup for tonight’s exhibition game.
“Right now, you’d start with the two seniors, Jeremiah (Eason) and Chip (Armelin),” Sadler said. “Then you’d probably go with Matt Bingaya. For Thursday, we’d probably go with Dallas Anglin and Rasham Suarez (as the other two starters). But could I see that changing? Most definitely, especially in November and December. It could change a lot. We’re trying to figure out who plays with each other the best and what this team needs.”
Eason, Armelin and Bingaya only have a combined 27 starts in their Southern Miss careers so far, while Anglin and Suarez are both junior college transfers, suiting up for the first time as Golden Eagles. Even though it will be Anglin’s first game at Southern Miss, he has already made an impression on his team.
“I’ll have to say Dallas Anglin,” Armelin said about who has stood out to him. “He’s a pretty good player. He’s pretty quick; he’s a good defender and he is also a pretty good shooter as well.”
Anglin had an impressive run at the College of Southern Idaho as a sophomore, averaging 13.4 points, 3.9 assists and three rebounds. Suarez had an equally impressive sophomore campaign at the College of Central Florida, averaging 14.2 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.8 steals.
With much of the leadership gone from last year’s team, it will be up to the only two seniors, Eason and Armelin, to step up and guide a young Golden Eagle roster.
“I think (Chip) and Jeremiah have to be,” Sadler said. “With the team you have, your seniors have to step up and understand that it is their team and that they have responsibilities with the team. That’s something that I do. I put a lot of responsibility on those guys, letting them make a lot of decisions.”
“The rest of the guys have a chance to come back next year,” he said. “Most of the time, coaches get to come back. But for the seniors, this is it. So I want it to be their basketball team.”
While it is easy for anyone to point out that seniors should be the leaders of a college team, leadership is a quality that is rarely gifted upon an individual. Most leaders have to work at picking the right times to stand up and make a statement, but it is also important to say the right things and back it up.
It is a hard quality to master and is too often tossed around as a given that a particular player can become leader because of their age and experience. It will be a tall task for the seniors to step into that role and one they have been trying to learn all summer, especially Armelin.
“I was more of a quiet person last year,” he said. “In the summertime, I worked on my leadership skills so I’ve pretty much got better at that and I watched a couple of video of guys in the NBA on what it takes to be a leader so that’s pretty much helped me (get) to where I am now.”
While the majority of the leadership will have to come from the two seniors, Bingaya will step into some sort of a leadership role as he is expected to be the focal point of the offense this season. He is the leading returning scorer (5.9 PPG) from last season’s squad that set a school-record with 29 wins.
“His role is going to be a lot like Jeremiah and Chip,” Sadler said. “He’s got to have an unbelievable year. He’s one of the most experienced players coming back. With new guys, he gets a chance to now be one of the focal points.”
But to become the top-scoring option, Bingaya will have to prove that he can shoot from the outside effectively so defenses will not give him the John Wall treatment and back off of him and prevent him from getting to the basket, which is easily his biggest offensive strength. He shot over 51 percent from the field last year, but was just 1-7 on 3-point attempts. However, he is confident that he has improved his outside shot enough to make defenders respect it.
“When I talked to coach the first time I met him, he talked a lot about a person at my position being able to shoot the ball a lot,” Bingaya said. “I’m going to be open a lot for three so I’m going to have to knock it down when I shoot it. That’s one place I’ve improved. I’ve been shooting more (threes) in practice so hopefully it transfers into the game.”
Armelin is the only returning player that took more than Bingaya’s seven attempts from deep, connecting on 17 of his 56 attempts, good for 30 percent. Nearly a third of the shots taken by the Golden Eagles last season were 3-pointers so it will be interesting to see if Armelin, Bingaya, Anglin and Suarez can knock down the outside shot.
There are certainly more questions than answers at this point and it should be entertaining to see how this young team comes together. Tipoff for the exhibition game against Mississippi College is at 7 p.m.