University of Central Arkansas men’s and women’s basketball teams carry low to modest expectations this season, according to preseason Southland Conference polls.
The Bears, 13-17 a year ago but a postseson tournament qualifier, are ranked ninth in the poll of conference coaches and 10th among the sports information directors. The Bears, 7-11 in conference, finished eighth last season.
The Sugar Bears, 15-15 in their first season under Sandra Rushing, are rated sixth in the coaches poll and seventh in the SID poll. The UCA women were 8-10 in conference last season and finished sixth.
Northwestern State is the preseason favorite among the men and Stephen F. Austin, with five returning players, is the women’s favorite.
Both UCA coaches will have to fill scoring gaps in their lineup.
The Bears lost seniors Robert Crawford and Jarvis Garner, then had LaQuinton Miles, the leading returning scorer, become academically eligible until second semester. That has resulted in the Bears losing 60.9 points a game from last year’s team.
"Our leadership, on and off the floor, has to come from DeShone McClure, who will have to score more for us," said Clarence Finley, the Bears’ interim coach for this season on the SLC coaches preseason teleconference Wednesday.
"It will be a different type of game we’ll be playing. I’m defense-minded. We are working on offense and we will still push the ball but the point of emphasis will be on team defense."
UCA also will welcome the return of 6-foot-8 senior Terry Tidwell of Conway to the lineup.
Finley, who took over for Corliss Williamson (who left for an assistant’s post with the Sacramento Kings in early summer) said he understands his situation but intends to have the interim removed from his title in March.
"But we’re going to have to win some ballgames; our coaching staff knows that," he said.
Rushing is missing 46 points per game last year, most of that from post Megan Herbert, one of the best and most prolific scorers and rebounders in school history.
"I’m not sure how we are going to replace 46 points, but I like the attitude and work ethic of this team," said Rushing, who has added five freshmen to the program.
Senior center Courtney Duever, a first-team preseason All-SLC selection, is one of the leaders along with guard Micah Rice, who was injured almost all of last season and received a medical hardship.
"Courtney has a great work ethic and stayed here in June and July to work on her ballhandling, creativity and shot selection," Rushing said. "Micah was our glue who kept things solid when things got out of sync. She is a big help to the younger players.
"Right now, our younger players are trying to learn the pace of the game. We’re working a lot of the mental and physical toughness in the face of the schedule they will have to play."
The Sugar Bears open the season Friday, Nov. 9, at home against Alcorn State. The men will open Tuesday, Nov. 12, at home against Hendrix College.
Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word, transitional members of the league, will play a partial SLC schedule and were not ranked in the preseason polls.
Neither team will be eligible for postseason until 2017.