We’re barely into the second week of the 2016-17 season, but we have already seen our fair share of surprises.
Several teams have been pleasant surprises to open the year, as well.
The Michigan Wolverines rolled past both the Marquette Golden Eagles and the SMU Mustangs at the 2K Classic inside Madison Square Garden. With their big week, the Wolverines made their debut in the top 25 rankings on Monday, coming in at #20.
Another team who has been impressive to start the season is sitting at a perfect 5-0. The South Alabama Jaguars won all three games on their home court in the Red Diamond Roundball Classic over the weekend, tying the best start to a season in school history.
However, there was one team who had a better week than both the Wolverines and Jaguars, based on the number of games played in a short period of time and the level of competition.
After completing a perfect 4-0 week, one that included a championship at the mainland Maui Jim Maui Invitational, the Arkansas State Red Wolves are the inaugural winners of the College Court Report Team of the Week award!
Their big week started on Tuesday, when they rolled past Central Baptist College for their first win of 2016-17. Rashad Lindsey scored a game-high 18 points to lead the Red Wolves to the 100-57 victory.
Then, things got tougher from then on out.
The first of three straight tests came on Thursday, when they went on the road to take on the Georgetown Hoyas as a part of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational.
Many will remember that the Hoyas lost a game they shouldn’t have last season, when they fell to the Radford Highlanders in the season opener, 82-80, in double overtime. While it wasn’t the home opener this time, the Hoyas were looking to avoid another upset against a smaller program.
Arkansas State had other plans.
Behind 25 points from Devin Carter and two clutch free throws from Deven Simms with 12 seconds left on the clock, the Red Wolves were able to withstand a furious rally from the Hoyas, coming away with the 78-72 victory on the road.
The Red Wolves led by 19 points at halftime, and held on down the stretch for the big upset win.
Following the win, it was off to West Point, NY for the mainland bracket portion of the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, which was being hosted by the Army West Point Black Knights inside Christl Arena.
Arkansas State drew the hosts in the semi-finals on Saturday. Despite being without all five starters from last season, including Kyle Wilson and Tanner Plomb, the Black Knights still gave the Red Wolves problems.
It was a more balanced attack that led the Red Wolves to the victory over Army. Carter had 11 points, while Lindsey and Donte Thomas added 9 points apiece, and Arkansas State held on for the 60-57 victory.
If things couldn’t get any tougher for the Red Wolves, their third game over a four-day span was against a team who put up 29 wins last season.
The finals of the mainland bracket saw the Red Wolves take on the high-powered Chattanooga Mocs.
In the second half, the Red Wolves stretched their lead to as many as 20 points, but had to hold on down the stretch once again. The Mocs made a strong push late in the game, but were unable to claw all the way back and take a lead of their own.
Four games in six days. Four wins for the Arkansas State Red Wolves.
At week’s end, the Red Wolves sit at 4-1 on the season, and currently have the second-best record out of any team in the Sun Belt Conference (South Alabama, 5-0). They’ve been able to find ways to win thanks to their toughness and depth.
So far in the season, the Red Wolves have nine players who are averaging double-digit minutes per contest. Six of those players are averaging at least 6.0 points per contest, while eight of the nine are recording at least 3.0 rebounds per contest.
Some people may be concerned with the team giving up big leads in the second half, only having to hold on down the stretch to come away with the win. While it is a viable concern, it should be seen as a positive, as well.
Their ability to withstand the best pushes from some of the nation’s top teams should serve as a confidence boost moving on in the season. Arkansas State will be able to draw from these victories, learn some things, and can then apply them if they find themselves in similar situations as the season progresses.
Senior guards Devin Carter (14.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and Donte Thomas (11.8 ppg, 7.6 apg) are leading the way for first year head coach Grant McCasland. But, they aren’t alone, as the Red Wolves have several players who can score, rebound, or dish out assists, which can lead to some unique lineups moving forwards.
For his efforts over the past week, Devin Carter was named the National Mid-Major Player of the Week by College Sports Madness.
Wins over Georgetown, Army, and Chattanooga over a four-day span highlight a perfect week for the Arkansas State Red Wolves (4-1, 0-0). After their week, the Red Wolves came in at #19 in the College Court Report Power Rankings, and received ‘votes’ in the mid-major rankings on Two Hoops of Passion.
The Arkansas State Red Wolves are the inaugural winners of the College Court Report Team of the Week award!
– T. Bennett
South Alabama Jaguars