After transitioning from Division I to Division III a year ago, it appears as if New Orleans men's basketball team is going to be moving to the Southland Conference in the future. The following is a synopsis of the players from last year's team and a brief look at their outlook transitioning back to Division I, after only playing with 3 scholarship players a year ago.
Antonio Wertz- This 6'7 senior forward was the heart and soul of his New Orleans squad a year ago. He is super aggressive on both ends of the floor, regularly giving up his body to take charges. Wertz plays a stifling brand of defense, which is less effective when he is giving up a couple of inches. However, it appears as if he could make the transition to a combo forward slot if he were to continue to improve moving forward. If he hopes to accomplish this, though, he must improve on his paltry long range shooting. Last year he shot a subpar 30.0% from beyond the arc on 30 attempts. He must learn to extend his range and hone this facet of the game, as it will open up his ability to slash to the rim. In terms of his faceup post game, Wertz has a nice array of moves that get his man off balance and allow him to score amongst the trees. He employs a believable ball fake when attacking the basket. He must continue to improve his drop step moves down low if he hopes to function in this role at the next level. Additionally, he was very efficient from the field last season- shooting 53.1%- largely due to his ability to clean up on the glass and secure easy shot attempts. Wertz is very scrappy fighting for loose balls, and this enabled him to grab 7.0 rebounds per contest, most of which were on the defensive end. On the defensive end, Wertz is very aggressive and has the footspeed to stay in front of most players. He drew several impressive charges, one on the top of the key and one on the interior in one contest I watched. Further, Wertz has quick hands and is athletic enough to prevent scoring opportunities. He averaged just under 1 block per game and 1.33 steals per contest. Overall, Wertz is a scrappy combo forward with a developing skillset who might be able to continue his playing career if he is able to define his position on the court.
Brandon Knight- New Orleans' other senior was one of the best decision makers at any level of play. Knight did an excellent job at distributing the ball despite not having an incredibly quick first step. More often than not, he made the right pass to his teammates, whether it was near the basketball or swinging the ball on the perimeter. For that reason, he averaged 4.69 assists per contest and posted an exceptional 3.33 to 1 Assist to Turnover Ratio. Offensively, Knight has decent enough quickness to get by his initial man, but struggles creating for himself against zone defenses. He does not get to the rim often due to his dimunitive size at 6'0, and usually settles for jump shots. When he did get there, he was rather inefficient. His overall field goal percentage was just 40.6% and this declined to 35.3% from beyond the arc. Further, he struggles with his jumper because he has a bit of a hitch in his shot. This allows him to adjust against taller defenses and shoot over the top of players. However, it is not a hallmark of consistency when he elevates and shoots from the field. He does do a good job of squaring his body, giving his shot a chance on most possessions. Still, it is clear that Knight has practiced considerably with this form, as he shot an impressive 84.5% from the line last year. In terms of his ability on the defensive end, Knight struggles against bigger players. He has decent lateral quickness, but has difficulty preventing players from getting to the basket and scoring over the top of him. Players are also able to shoot over him from beyond the arc. Overall, Knight is a steady point guard with some limitations, but the smarts to succeed in the minor leagues if he decides to continue with basketball.
Generra Varmall- Varmall is no longer with the Privateers, but he was impactful a year ago before being let go from the team. The 6'0 guard did a nice job of getting in the lane and drawing fouls. He got to the line over three times per contest last season. When he got there, though, he capitalized on only 73.1% of his attempts. Varmall has the quickness to get into gaps and can finish at the rim. However, Varmall must work on his efficiency. He shot a paltry 37.2% from the floor and 24.3% from beyond the arc. He must continue to improve his jump shot and look to take less contested attempts. Further, Varmall is not a true point guard at this stage and averaged just under 2 assists per contest with a Assist to Turnover Ratio under 1 to 1. Varmall must improve in this capacity if he hopes to obtain a pivotal role on another high level collegiate squad. With that said, Varmall was effective on the defensive end. He has good hands and is able to pick pockets, averaging 2.05 steals per game. He is also effective at shadowing his man and understanding helpside situations. Varmall might be a nice transfer at the D2 level, where he can really make his impact felt.
These three players will not be available next season, and it is increasingly likely that New Orleans will have to rely on recruiting non-scholarship players to fill roster spots. The loss of Wertz, in particular might really hurt New Orleans' chances to remain respectable against Division I opponents.
Nonetheless, they return three key players from a season ago.
Lovell Cook was his team's leading scorer last season, and he will really need to step up his production again to fill the void left by Wertz. Cook is a strong combo forward with a post game and an ability to step out and hit perimeter jumpers. In the contests that I witnessed, he spent the vast majority of his time attacking in the paint, utilizing pump and head fakes to get his man in the air, and then finishing over bigger players. Cook does a nice job of scoring in the paint and has a reliable jump shot when he decides to implement his face up game. Cook shot an efficient 51.0% from the field, and was able to connect on 75.7% of his attempts at the line. He also led the team in free throws attempted with 115. This figure must improve if New Orleans hopes to remain competitive. They need more free attempts to really bolster their offense, because otherwise, teams will overplay them and this will cause them all kinds of problems. Cook must extend his range, as he very rarely attempted a three point shot and failed to connect on any of his attempts. He did attack the glass, but must progress on this front to help New Orleans remain competitive. More specifically, with the loss of Wertz, he must improve on his 5.1 boards per game. And, because Cook is taking on a larger burden with Wertz gone, he must improve his decision making as well. Last season, he oftentimes got too caught up dribbling around looking for his shot, and was thus fairly turnover prone. His assist to turnover ratio was an abysmal 0.467 to 1. He must keep his head up and look to create more opportunities for his teammates.
Point guards Rarlensee Nelson and Darrell Williams are also worth mentioning. Nelson is one of the few players on his team who has a quick enough first step to create his own shot off the dribble. He must take on a larger role in his team's offense and look to create for his teammates. He posted a positive assist to turnover ratio despite receiving limited time at the point guard position last season. Nelson has a quick enough first step to get to the basket as well. But, he must learn to finish at the rim, as his 31.7% field goal percentage is not going to cut it. He was better from beyond the arc, though, hitting 36.0% of his attempts. Nelson must continue to limit the number of long range bombs he attempts and look for more of his teammates after the graduation of Knight. Defensively, Nelson is quick enough to stay with his man, but struggles- at times- due to his lack of height.
Darrell Williams is in a similar position to Nelson. He also must take on the brunt of the point guard responsibilities for his team. His 1.76 to 1 Assist to Turnover is a positive indication that he can fill the void left by Knight. However, Williams is also a very good rhythm shooter and would benefit greatly if he were able to come off the ball with Nelson on the floor. He shot a mediocre 33.6% from beyond the arc last year, but this was largely due to the fact that he rarely saw an open attempt. Williams also did not have much better luck inside the line, connecting on a similarly bad 34.1% of his field goal attempts. However, Williams does have a good form on his shot, as evinced by his 83.3% free throw percentage and his streaky shooting at times. Williams will always have his limitations defensively due to his size at 5'9, but he is a smart enough player to look for ways to compensate. Look for him to take on a much larger role next year.
Overall, New Orleans will have a very similar team to the one they played with a season ago. With a dearth of true big men up front, New Orleans' newcomers will prove critical to their success. Further, New Orleans is missing a true wing player or someone with height who can stretch team defenses. If they are able to bring this type of a player in, this would bolster the team's overall shooting and create many more easy shot attempts.