The Bottoms Line Non-BCS Watch List: Detroit Titans

As my Non-BCS Watch List series continues, we are back in the Horizon League to look at a team with every key player back from last year’s squad, including five double-digit scorers.

Detroit Titans

Looking Back

The Titans finished a disappointing 17-16 overall and 10-8 in Horizon League play, ending their season with a loss to Valpo in the second round of the Conference Tournament.  Consistency was a big issues, as Detroit never won more than three straight games and dropped five of six games after opening conference play at 4-1.

From a statistical standpoint, the Titans ranked 98th in Offensive Efficiency and 189th in Defensive Efficiency according to the Pomeroy Ratings.  Interestingly, if you look at Pomeroy’s Four Factors, Detroit ranked in the Top 100 in three of the four.  Their free throw rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) was 20th in the nation, which speaks to their aggressiveness on some level.  They ranked 44th in offensive rebound percentage and posted a solid effective field goal percentage.  However, they were among the worst in the country in terms of turnover percentage, checking in at 22.1 percent.  They ranked 24th in possessions per game, but their uptempo style contributed to their turnovers issues, which crushed their overall efficiency potential.

On defense, they were effective at limiting opponents’ free throw rate, so they did a nice job of not fouling, which is impressive for a team so proficient at blocking shots.  However, they ranked outside the Top 150 in the other three key factors (effective field goal percentage, turnover percentage, and offensive rebound percentage).

ray-mccallumAs Ray McCallum, Sr. enters his fourth year at Detroit, he returns all of his key players in what projects to be a down-year for some conference foes.  Out of the 10 players who made the All-Horizon League first- and second-teams, just two players return this season, both of whom play for Detroit.

This Year’s Titans

I can almost cut and paste from my Creighton post here, because Detroit has a coach’s son who played on the USA U19 team this summer.  Ray McCallum, Jr. led the Titans in scoring (13.5), assists (4.9), and steals (1.6) as a freshman while also chipping in nearly five boards per game.  His shooting percentages left a bit to be desired, but he got to the line a staggering 204 times.  That accounts for his terrific free throw rate, which ranked 84th in the country.  McCallum’s assist rate almost landed in the Top 100 as well, which would seem to indicate the team would be better served for him to pass more and shoot a bit less.  In addition to his experience with Team USA this summer where he averaged 4.5 points, McCallum also attend the Lebron James and Deron Williams Skill Academies.  It will be interesting to see how those experiences contribute to his growth as a sophomore, and ultimately his ability to play under control and command the team will go a long way to determining their fate.

Big man Eli Holman is the other returning member of the All-Horizon League team and is the Detroit’s most efficient player on offense.  He averaged 11.8 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks last season while hitting 60.7 percent from the field.  His national rankings are impressive in a number of categories, including Top 50 numbers in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage to go with a Top 25 ranking on the offensive glass.  He is equally impactful defensively with solid numbers for defensive rebounding percentage and block percentage.  Interestingly, Holman’s shot percentage and usage rates both rank fourth on the team.  That seems way too low for a guy who has proven to be so effective, and an increase in his offensive involvement would certainly pay dividends for the team.  Regardless, he’s a top post player in the conference.

Chase Simon finished second on the team with 13.5 points per game last season.  He’s almost the anti-Holman in the sense that his shot percentage is the highest on the team, but he shot just 42.3 percent from the field and has an offensive rating under 100.  You’ll see this as a common theme as I go through the other players, but the team needs to be more selective about who shoots and how often.  Part of that can be attributed to the pace, but a failure to improve in that area will offset the talent and depth on the roster.

Joining Holman up front is Nick Minnerath who posted 11.2 points and nearly five rebounds per game as a freshman.  He showed the ability to step out and knock down three-pointers on occasion and connected on better than 57 percent of his shots from inside the arc.  Minnerath also proved adept at getting to the line, where he converted 83 percent of his freebies.  His 63.5 true shooting percentage ranked 38th nationally, and if he can cut down on his turnovers, Minnerath could make a nice jump as a sophomore.

The fifth Titan to score in double figures is Chris Blake, who played in 21 games after being academically ineligible the first semester.  He made up for lost time by posting the highest usage rate on the team.  Blake connected on 37.5 percent from beyond the arc and 45.9 percent overall, but an extremely high turnover rate dropped his overall efficiency numbers.

Jason Calliste and Donavan Foster also return to the backcourt.  Calliste averaged 8.6 points last season and shot a team-high 39.7 percent from three-point range.  That is particularly good news for a guy who took better than 62 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.  Calliste needs to cut back on the turnovers but will remain an important role player for Detroit.  Foster’s main contribution was on the defensive end thanks to a solid steal percentage.  Outside of that, he struggled to consistently make shots and posted an alarming turnover rate.

While Holman is a terrific shot blocker, he didn’t even lead his own team in rejections.  That honor goes to 6-foot-11 LaMarcus Lowe, who averaged 2.4 blocks last year.  His block percentage ranked second in the nation, and he was also a consistent contributor on the glass.  Like many of his teammates, turnovers are an issue, but he gives them another solid presence inside.

2011-12 Outlook

Very few teams can say they return every key player from last season, and even fewer can boast the return of five double-digit scorers.  The Titans have all that, including a talented young point guard and a tough big man down low.  However, they had all the same parts last year and finished barely above .500 in their conference, so you cannot anoint them as the favorite in the Horizon League based solely on their returning talent.

The full non-conference schedule has not been released yet, but they do have games confirmed against St. John’s and Mississippi State at home along with road trips to Alabama and Notre Dame, the latter as part of the CBE Classic.  They should draw a strong Bracketbuster opponent as well, and there are a few other tough teams in the league.  In short, the opportunities are there to pick up wins over major conference programs, and it will be interesting to see how Detroit performs in those contests.

The pieces are there for Detroit to be one of the top non-BCS teams in the country, but the team has to show growth from where they finished last seasons.  Cutting back on turnovers, taking better shots, and force-feeding the ball to Holman will all be critical to their long-term success this season.  There is no reason they shouldn’t at least challenge for the Horizon League title based on their talent level compared to the rest of the conference, but a Horizon League championship is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Follow me on Twitter (@andybottoms) for more thoughts on college hoops, and check out the first edition of the Bottoms Line podcast.

About Andy Bottoms

While Andy was born and raised in Indiana, he would like to point out that he grew up shooting hoops in his driveway and not against the side of a barn like you see in all the March Madness promos or in the middle of a field like Jimmy Chitwood. Andy ranks among the top bracketologists according to the Bracket Matrix and has provided his projections to Fox Sports for the past three seasons. When not compiling excuses for missing work during the NCAA Tournament, Andy enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters. He is a proud IU graduate and co-hosts The Assembly Call postgame show following every IU game. Twitter: @AndyBottoms


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