With more than half the season’s games played, the Arkansas Tech University Wonder Boys basketball team (8-9, 4-5 Great American Conference) — the GAC No. 1 preseason pick — now sits at No. 6 in standings.
First year head coach Chad Kline’s team may not be on track to continue the status quo and make it to an eighth-consecutive NCAA tournament appearance at this juncture, but he said strides in the right direction are being taken.
“We’ve gotten better than we were at the beginning of the year because we’re rooting for each other and not playing selfish basketball,” he said. “I still don’t think this team has reached its peak.”
Maximizing the potential coach Kline perceives will mean improving upon a shooting game that he says can be brought down by “missing the easy shots.”
But Kline said the most important facets of the Wonder Boys game that need taken care of before all else are turnovers and rebounding.
“Turnovers will happen in basketball,” he said. “We can’t have unforced turnovers that the defense doesn’t cause, but instead is just us making mistakes. The turnovers and rebounding are the keys for this team, and I’d like to see us make a few more shots if I was to get real greedy.”
Senior guard Tyler Friedel (7.4 points per game) is the only returning starter for the Wonder Boys, but his 3-point percentage has dropped from 40.4 percent to 35.3 percent, only third best of players with 20 attempts or more.
Mike Balogun leads the way scoring with 14.1 ppg, being the only player with a double-digit average. The senior guard also takes and makes the most 3-point shots on the team, averaging 40 percent.
Junior forward Nick Wayman leads the team in rebounds with an average of 5.7 boards a game and is also the second leading scorer with 9.9 ppg.
“Wayman has been very steady for us, which you expect,” Kline said.
Other players are not as consistent.
Junior guard D.J. Jethroe has averaged 8.4 ppg and is second on the team in rebounds with 4.3 per game.
“Jethroe has played well for us at times, but it’s still not an every night thing like I’d like it to be,” Kline said. “I’m hoping it gets to where it can be at least an every four-out-of-five-night deal with him. But it really just depends which night you catch us on.”
And on any given night, Kline said he could have up to nine or 10 different guys starting depending on the opponent and the position matchups.
“Our starters are never set at all,” he said. “We’re balanced, and we’ve got a lot of guys who play double-figure minutes. I think we’re deep enough so that if guys we’re counting on aren’t playing well, we can go to the bench and give someone else a shot.”
Kline said his team’s performances against Monticello and Northwestern Oklahoma are among the best of the year.
After two straight road losses, the Wonder Boys returned home and defeated GAC opponent Monticello by 13 points, a win which Kline attributes to well-executed ball movement.
Road woes (1-4 away) have been a constant drag for Tech, but Kline said his team’s first (and only) true road win against Northwestern Oklahoma, defeating the Rangers by 18 on their home court, impressed him.
But two days later at Southern Nazarene came the game Kline said he wishes he could have back.
“It’s a tough place to play, but I thought if we played well we’d stand a chance,” he said. “We didn’t play well though. We shot 30 percent from the field, and that isn’t good enough.”
The Wonder Boys are currently sitting at less than .500, but with 11 games remaining on the schedule there’s plenty of time to make up ground and earn a fourth-straight GAC regular season title.