2014-15 @LATechHoops Season Outlook
Nov. 11, 2014
Simply put, it was going to be no picnic for head coach Michael White and the Bulldog basketball team to match the historic 2012-13 season - a conference title, 27 wins, program records broken and a postseason appearance in the National Invitation Tournament.
No worries though. Not only did they match much of those achievements, they trumped them.
LA Tech put together another amazing run, racking up a program record-tying 29 victories, including wins at Oklahoma and Georgia, won a second consecutive conference championship, this time as a member of Conference USA, and advanced to the NIT quarterfinals for just the second time in school history.
"Last year's biggest accomplishment was simply being able to sustain a high level of success and build on the accomplishments of 2012-13," said White. "Maintaining momentum and sustaining a championship-contending mentality are the current goals of this program."
The team also won the inaugural Gulf Coast Showcase tournament and finished in the top 20 nationally in scoring offense, scoring margin, assists per game, steals per game and turnover margin.
And as great as the net-cutting ceremony and the all-smiles trips back from places like Norman, Oklahoma and Athens, Georgia were, the one moment that still loomed over the program's figurative head was the absence of an NCAA Tournament berth.
LA Tech could taste the feeling that has evaded the program since 1991, leading Tulsa with 6:30 to go in the second half of the C-USA title game. But for a third straight year, the dream sadly ended with a heartbreaking loss.
"We've been so close the last two years to making the NCAA Tournament that obviously this season's goal is pretty simple," said White. "Whether we are one game better in the regular season or whether we can put together three consecutive performances in Birmingham in March, we've got to find a way."
This year, the fans will definitely need to purchase gameday programs in order to get to know this new Bulldog roster that has the task of making the Big Dance.
However, they will be overly enthusiastic to still see the core starters on the court that includes not one, not two but three all-conference guards in Raheem Appleby, Alex Hamilton and Speedy Smith and rim-protecting extraordinaire Michale Kyser.
"You're always going to depend on your veterans, but our vets have more pressure than normal to lead," said White. "The fact that our other nine scholarship players have no experience makes us that much more reliant on the four vets for not only leadership, but for production."
Production certainly describes this group of three seniors and one junior who has combined to amass in 369 games played - 3,215 points, 1,322 rebounds, 949 assists, 422 steals and 307 blocks.
Appleby was projected by multiple outlets to be the conference player of the year. He was all set to show his scoring prowess on Jan. 9 versus Florida Atlantic, the `Dogs first ever C-USA game. Up to that point he was the leading scorer with an average of 16.1 points per game.
However, the lanky guard suffered ligament damage in his ankle in the first half of that game and was subsequently sidelined for the next seven weeks.
The Jacksonville, Arkansas native is back at 100 percent though and looks to add to his career point total after eclipsing the 1,000 mark last fall.
Smith earned several accolades including first team All-CUSA and conference defensive player of the year. The point guard shattered single season records for assists with 278 which was also a new C-USA record and for steals with 90. His 7.7 assists per game averaged ranked second in the nation.
The third part of the backcourt, Hamilton, ended up leading the team in scoring en route to being a third team All-CUSA selection. The smooth lefty was the only Bulldog to start all 37 games last season and had some amazing performances, none more impressive than his 31-point effort in the overtime win at Oklahoma.
Coupled with the dynamic guard trio is forward Michale Kyser with his 6-foot-10-inch height and 7-foot-2-inch reach. For a second consecutive season, Kyser was named to the all-defensive team and broke his own single season record for blocks with 109 swats. His improved offensive skills will be on display as well to help in the scoring department.
Now there are the other nine Bulldogs who have yet to step on the floor donning the red and blue - two redshirts, two junior college transfers and five freshmen out of high school.
Rounding out the depth for the Bulldogs is the five freshmen who had stellar high school careers and make up a starting lineup in itself.
After playing his collegiate basketball at Ole Miss, coach White went back to the Magnolia State and reeled in two of the best players in the state of Mississippi in combo guard Xavian Stapleton and 7-foot center Joniah White.
And the final piece is forward Branden Sheppard, a Louisiana product from right down the road in Shreveport.
"Our five freshmen are very talented and complement each other well," said White. "They represent obvious size and skill, and hopefully all find ways to contribute this season as they develop and progress.
"I've very excited about all of the additions to our program and the potential that they have and that they give this team. As a group, they bring size, skill, athleticism, versatility and depth."
The 2014-15 Bulldog basketball schedule which features two road games against ACC opponents and a 15-game home slate, including the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.
The 15 games to be played in the Thomas Assembly Center will tie for the most ever in a single season for LA Tech and the `Dogs certainly love playing in the TAC, having won 13 straight and 32 of the last 33.
The venue saw record attendance last year, including 7,355 fans for the Operation Sellout game versus Marshall.
Prior to stepping onto Karl Malone Court though, the Bulldogs will tipoff the season in Baton Rouge at Southern on Nov. 14 followed by a trip to Philadelphia to take on Temple on Nov. 17.
LA Tech will then welcome in Morehead State, American and Presbyterian to take part in the round robin tournament on the weekend of Nov. 21-23.
The month of December will see plenty of familiar regional opponents like Northwestern State, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jackson State and Nicholls State. It will also be highlighted by road games at Syracuse, who spent three weeks last season ranked No. 1 in the country, and NCAA Tournament participant North Carolina State.
Conference play starts on Jan. 3 with another showdown in Hattiesburg against Southern Miss. With the league now at 14 members and upping its regular season schedule to 18 games, the Bulldogs will face five teams twice rather than just one like it did a year ago.
LA Tech fans will have plenty of chances to see the Bulldogs on the road as well with seven away games within a six-hour drive of Ruston, including the 2015 C-USA Tournament to be held in Birmingham, Alabama on March 11-14.
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