Wonder Boys Open GSC West Title Defense

Before last season, Arkansas Tech had never finished higher than third in the Gulf South Conference West Division men’s basketball standings. A lot has changed in the last 12 months. Now the Wonder Boys are the defending GSC West Division champions and they were picked in a preseason poll to win the regular season GSC West title again this year. Arkansas Tech (9-3) will open defense of its GSC West crown on Saturday with a 4 p.m. contest against Henderson State (5-7) at the Duke Wells Center in Arkadelphia. The game can be heard on KWKK 100.9 FM and at www.athletics.atu.edu. “The intensity rises when conference play starts,” said first-year Wonder Boys head coach Doug Karleskint. “When you are like us and you start five seniors who have been through it before, those guys look forward to it. Every single game and every single possession means a whole lot more than it does in the pre-conference schedule. I can tell the guys are antsy in practice, and I think we’re ready.” Karleskint has used the word toughness more than any other to describe what his Wonder Boys need to develop in order to achieve their goals in 2010-11. In basketball, toughness is perhaps best reflected in how well a team rebounds the basketball. Henderson State leads the GSC and ranks 16th in NCAA Division II in rebound margin (+8.8 rebounds per game). Arkansas Tech has been out-rebounded by an average margin of 1.3 per game so far this season, which ranks the Wonder Boys 11th in the GSC and 188th in the nation. “We’ve got to be physical, get some stops and get the game moving fast,” said Karleskint. “Henderson State is a good rebounding team, and that is one area that we have struggled in — especially the physicality part of it. We’re giving up some size and some mass to Henderson. Hopefully we can outrun them.”

If the goal of improved rebounding does not pan out for Arkansas Tech on Saturday, it has a pretty good plan ‘B’ to fall back on in the always-important struggle to create extra possessions — turnovers.  The Wonder Boys lead the GSC and rank third in NCAA Division II in turnover margin (+9.5 turnovers per game). Arkansas Tech averages 12.4 steals per game — fourth-most in the nation. Senior forward James Causey is sixth in NCAA Division II in steals per game (3.1) and senior point guard Laithe Massey ranks third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.43-to-1). Henderson State is 10th in the GSC and 182nd in NCAA Division II in turnover margin (-0.6 per game). “Creating extra possessions has been huge for us,” said Karleskint. “Laithe has done an unbelievable job of taking care of the basketball. That’s been a strength of this team. We just need to keep on doing that. Each game in conference comes down to a handful of possessions or less. The scouting is better and the level of preparation goes up across the board. Everything escalates, and I think that’s why this is the best time of year.”