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Box and Won

Looking Back at the 1987-88 Squad

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Yesterday I watched (twice) 05's video of highlights from the 1986-87 team, which went 25-10 and lost to Southern Miss in the second round of the NIT.  Bonner was a freshman that year, and Gray and Douglass were sophomores. 

It was surprising to see that the next year's team - in the 1987-88 season - went 14-14 with bad losses to Iona, Grambling, Eastern Illinois, and Florida A&M along with close losses to Illinois State and Detroit (in the conference tourney).  Win those games, and you're looking at a 20-8 record with a chance to win more in the conference tournament and likely the NIT.

I had forgotten that there was a drop-off between the first NIT appearance and our two NIT finals appearances after that.  What happened with the 1986-87 team?  Too inexperienced?  Injuries?  Despite losing Hudson, Roder, and Mimlitz from the year before, it seems like they significantly underachieved.

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37 minutes ago, Box and Won said:

Yesterday I watched (twice) 05's video of highlights from the 1986-87 team, which went 25-10 and lost to Southern Miss in the second round of the NIT.  Bonner was a freshman that year, and Gray and Douglass were sophomores. 

It was surprising to see that the next year's team - in the 1987-88 season - went 14-14 with bad losses to Iona, Grambling, Eastern Illinois, and Florida A&M along with close losses to Illinois State and Detroit (in the conference tourney).  Win those games, and you're looking at a 20-8 record with a chance to win more in the conference tournament and likely the NIT.

I had forgotten that there was a drop-off between the first NIT appearance and our two NIT finals appearances after that.  What happened with the 1986-87 team?  Too inexperienced?  Injuries?  Despite losing Hudson, Roder, and Mimlitz from the year before, it seems like they significantly underachieved.

I was a baby, so I don't remember any of this stuff. 

Looking at the stats, Gray, Douglass, and Bonner all either didn't really progress at all or had worse years than the year before.  Gray & Douglass were great Billikens, but their stats didn't really improve at all from their freshman seasons to their senior seasons.  You could argue pretty easily Douglass had his best season stats-wise his freshman year.  Ramon Trice was a solid bit player in 86-87, but looks like he crumbled with a bigger role.  Tony Brown is the only guy who put up better numbers.

I suspect that with Roder gone, they tried Gray at PG and it didn't work very well.  His assists ticked up a bit, but so did turnovers and everything else was worse.  Charles Newberry hadn't really established himself and was turnover prone as well.

I also suspect that without Hudson at C, there was a little too much to handle inside for a soph Bonner.  There were no other real big men on the team.  In 1988-89 we at least had some bigs we could throw in there like Tony Manuel, Tadysak, and Ivester.

Losing 3 of your top 6 players, you need some other guys to step up and no one really did in 1987-88.  1988-89 Bonner really became the MAN, that team also had Manuel and Vincent Smith contributing plus Newberry was better.

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I doubt Roland Gray was ever considered for PG - he was 6’7 and a strong rebounder from the git-go.  He developed into a very good 3 pt shooter.  His greatest game was the come from behind game at “The Pit” in NM.  He put the team on his back the 2nd half.  I think it was Luc Longley’s  Sr year.

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They struggled with offensive cohesion all season. With Roder as their floor general a year earlier the Bills scored six more points a game.  Newberry had what we now know as a Conklin summer and emerged as an offensive threat and consumate playmaker the following season.

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Really a lost season for the Bills.

Preseason expectations were super high.  We were in the top 45 in SI preseason rankings and also in the Sporting News teams to make the tourney.  

Several things went wrong.

1.  Bad recruiting by Grawer.  There was no talent on our bench.  Newberry wasn't ready and we had no PG at all until about game 20.  Roland was playing out of position as a point forward a lot of the time.  Off the bench we had Trice who was a bad 2 guard turned pg, and Jeff Ford an undersized PF.  Duff stunk, Renken was worse, Leuchtefeld was a walk on and nobody realized he was good yet and then Anthony Jones.  He was the real disappointment.  Grawer recruited him to start at the point and we would be this run and gun team.  He was awful, no handles and was essentially a 6'1 post player. 

2. Our offense stunk.  Grawer had intended this team to run.  With no PG and no bench that was difficult.  We played a 7 man rotation.  Out of that rotation we played 4 PFs, 2 Shooting guards that couldn't shoot and 1 inexperienced pg.  Roland could shoot from outside but wouldn't.  No one else could make 3s.  Bonner, Brown, Gray, & Douglas all were best operating in the paint.  Our half court offense was terrible.  We actually shot really well, turnovers were an issue and we just couldn't run an offense.  We would have trouble getting a shot off.  

3.  The MCC was really good.  Bonner played 6 years in the league.  We played in a 6 team MCC, Xavier, Evansville, Loyola, Detroit us and Butler.  He's the 6th best big man in the league.  Hill & Strong at Xavier, Gotfread at Evansville, Tucker and Fowlkes on Butler were almost as good as Hill and Strong, same as us they had no guards, just Soph Thad Matta running the point.  Loyola had Heyward at PF, the best scorer in the league & Kenny Miller who led the NATION in rebounding.  Only Detroit really played small.  Our strengths were every one else's strengths.  Every team in the league but us had a 24 point per game or higher scorer.  This league had 6 NBA players in it.  That didn't include the 3 best players in the league at that time, Larkin, Simmons, and Heyward.  We always lament the MCC but in the late 80s it was a nice league.

 

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8 minutes ago, thetorch said:

 

3.  The MCC was really good.  Bonner played 6 years in the league.  We played in a 6 team MCC, Xavier, Evansville, Loyola, Detroit us and Butler.  He's the 6th best big man in the league.  Hill & Strong at Xavier, Gotfread at Evansville, Tucker and Fowlkes on Butler were almost as good as Hill and Strong, same as us they had no guards, just Soph Thad Matta running the point.  Loyola had Heyward at PF, the best scorer in the league & Kenny Miller who led the NATION in rebounding.  Only Detroit really played small.  Our strengths were every one else's strengths.  Every team in the league but us had a 24 point per game or higher scorer.  This league had 6 NBA players in it.  That didn't include the 3 best players in the league at that time, Larkin, Simmons, and Heyward.  We always lament the MCC but in the late 80s it was a nice league.

 

This is so interesting to read. Today it's near impossible for mid-major conferences to recruit NBA caliber players, much less NBA caliber big men. When smaller schools do well now its often because they have strong guard play from guys that don't quite have the height to play in the P6. Back then you had all these crazy good big men in the same mid-major conference.

Gotta think that if AAU basketball had existed in it's present form back in the 80s all of these big guys would have been recruited away by the P6 schools.

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