Before the Zags open their home season with highly anticipated games versus Washington State and Wake Forest, the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils travel to the Kennel on November 14th for the regular season opener. The Delta Devils come from the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) and a program that is trying to reestablish itself. They are headed by Head Coach Sean Woods who will be in is sophomore campaign after a rocky first season with his club. Interesting note, many of you might remember Sean Woods as the player who scored the 10 foot jumper for Kentucky with 2.9 seconds left to put his Wildcats up 103-102 before Christian Laettner made the miracle shoot that sent Duke to the Final Four in the 1992 NCAA tournament and later to win the National Championship.
Well now Woods is the man in charge at MVS after assistant coaching stints at High Point, Texas A&M Corpus Christi and TCU. So, just like last year when Coach Few scheduled Montana State Billings and Idaho as a warm up for the Old Spice Classic, Mississippi Valley State should be a warm up before the team travels to East Lansing to play Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans on November 17th.
For the Delta Devils, the inaugural season for coach Sean Woods didn’t go as well as they could have wished. In 2008 the team made the NCAA tournament and got bounced out in the first round. One season later and a coaching change later the team finished 2009 with a record of (7-25) and finished sixth in the SWAC with a conference record of (7-11) and (0-1) in the SWAC conference tournament. The team did not qualify for any post-season play. Just like the Bulldogs, the Delta Devils played Washington State, Texas Southern and Arizona. Mississippi Valley State was blown out by WSU 76-25, dominated by Arizona 86-52 and split the season conference games versus Texas Southern by winning at home 81-68 and losing on the road 99-87. In comparison, the Zags beat WSU 74-52, handled Texas Southern 84-42 and lost a heart breaker to Arizona 69-64. The Delta Devils opened the season by going (0-14) before picking up their first win at home against conference rival Alabama A&M. They did however play 2009 NCAA tournament teams Oklahoma, Arizona, Arizona State and SWAC conference champions Alabama State. The Delta Devils did not pick a win versus any of those tournament teams however. While it’s clear that coach Woods is trying to rebuild the program, his did lead his team to finish the season 7-11 after a dismal start and it seems like that should carry over to the start of this season after another off-season for the team to find its identity.
For any Division I school, it is hard to replace senior leadership and carry over momentum over to the next season when you only return three starters, six players from the previous seasons and bring in nine fresh faces. However that is a problem Coach Woods is looking to solve. He lost his best rebounder Eric Petty and a team leader in Earl Clark to graduation after last year. But don’t count out the Delta Devils yet; with the help of assistant coaches Dylan Howard and Chico Potts, the team is bringing some junior transfers and freshmen that the team has a right to be are excited about. Two junior transfers who could see a lot of playing time at the guard position could be Jason Sabb and Michael Mayo. Sabb comes over from Angelina Junior College in Texas and Mayo comes from Cochise Junior College in Arizona. Also two freshmen that could make some noise are Guard Ricky Lamb from Florida and Forward Mark Holmes from Illinois. Lamb is multitalented athlete and has the speed to go along with his 6’6’’ height. Mark Holmes comes from Illinois and was named to the Illinois All-League player for the Chicago Catholic League. Coach Woods should look to use all these players in a regular rotation the entire season. Amongst these players, Woods has a handful of other transfers would could play valuable minutes and help turn around the program.
Players to Watch:
With three returning starters, the biggest threat and perhaps the Delta Devils best player is senior Shannon Behling. Last season he was the teams leading scorer averaging a little more than 10 points and snagging six rebounds a game. He numbers look to improve this season after another year in coach Woods system and earning more minutes at the small forward position with Eric Petty graduating. Behling has the size to match up with anyone (6’7’’) and his above average speed and experience could cause some headaches for teams this year. Odds are the play of Behling will determine how improved MVS will be. He will be the leader of the team and his play with set the tempo for the Delta Devils. If Behling struggles during the game, his team will probably struggle. Also another player to keep an eye on is senior guard Julius Cheeks. He was MVS second leading scorer last year with more than 9 points a game and he saw action in 27 games. Cheeks only started 10 games last year but his experience from a year ago should allow him to get into games earlier off the bench or start at one of the guard positions. As a team last year, the Delta Devils shot 38% from the field but with improved playing from Behling and Cheeks and quality minutes from the rest of the team, MVS has a chance to be vastly improved this season.
Based on the numbers and talent, this game should be a big win for the Zags. MVS is an improving team but behind the leadership of Bouldin, the speed of Goodson, the shooting of Gray, and power of Sacre; the Zags should take care of business and get the bench playing time in the second half. What the Zags need to be careful of is overlooking the Delta Devils and focusing their attention on Michigan State three days later and not being mentally prepared to play. I doubt this would ever really happen under a Mark Few coached team but you never know. Also since this will be an the season opener, It will be interesting to see how Rob Sacre plays after missing last season and how the team will function after losing leadership from Pargo, Heytvelt, Daye and Downs from last year. The Zags have the talent, coaching and potential to be a dominant team, it will just be exciting how they put all the pieces together with such a young team.
What We're Watching For:
Just like everyone else, we are excited to see the new guys in action this season. Especially the much anticipated debuts of German sensation Elias Harris and Canadian Bol Kong. Harris had a solid performance for the German national team at the 2009 FIBA tournament and could have an instant impact this season. Although he got to campus late, he could get some quality minutes prepping him for Michigan State. Expect him to score often and Zag fans will fall in love with him. Bol Kong seems to have unlimited potential. Fans have been waiting two years to see him in his #34 jersey and he could put up big numbers. This could be a coming out party for the new guys and the Zags should easily win this one versus the rebuilding Delta Devils.