That’s how many players are on the roster of the USI men’s basketball team as it heads into the final nine games of its regular season. Although coach Rodney Watson has said it’s a good number, believing that it’s good that the four players who do not start will know they are going to get in a game, I still think it’s a problem — perhaps a significant problem later in the season.
Certainly, not all nine players always get significant minutes. For instance, in the double-digit home loss to Bellarmine, 6-5 freshman guard Brett Benning sat on the bench except for one minute of playing time (although that probably didn’t matter the way Bellarmine dominated, shooting 74 percent in the second half). Still, the four who usually sub in — junior forward George Edwards (or junior forward Shane Seniour, if Edwards starts), junior guard Travis Britt, junior forward Nick Hutcheson, Benning — have been getting more playing time lately and were particularly effective against Lewis when the starters played poorly in the first half. Expect that to become a necessity as the games pile up.
By the way, those who are no longer playing (or who have never played) are a mixed lot. Junior guard Cortez Macklin, a good-sized 6-3, may have been an impressive addition, but academic issues forced Watson to redshirt him. The same thing has happened to freshman guard Calvin McEwen for second semester; he did play in eight games, but mostly he was part of the mop-up duty crew at the ends of games. Conner Chalfant, the 6-10 freshman, is redshirting because he’s just not ready to face GLVC-level competition. There’s also freshman guard Seth Lewis, but he’s a walk-on.
Regarding the academic problems, I don’t think Watson lowered his standards when he was recruiting these players. I’ve gotten the impression these situations were unexpected. That said, it’s still not good publicity for a program that prides itself on getting its athletes successfully through school. And yet, my experience with Division II hoops — I also covered USI in the late 1990s when Bruce Pearl was the coach — is that it’s far more of a crapshoot than Division I. Coaches, even the Rodney Watsons who seem to contact everyone who ever knew or coached a player, often don’t really know what kind of a person they recruited until they are on campus.
Getting back to the players who aren’t playing, all of them still participate in practice. They just won’t be getting into games. So USI will have only nine players to work with from here on. Heaven forbid the Eagles get into serious foul trouble in a game. But the more frightening scenario is fatigue and the problems it can cause, including the possibility of injury. This group was already short on height. If Seniour or Edwards (or both) gets hurt, the season is toast.
USI fans, it’s OK to knock on wood.