FHSU men look to rebound
By CONOR NICHOLL
A good sign is the Fort Hays State University men's basketball team, despite an 0-3 MIAA record, remains one of the conference's top squads because of a strong non-conference slate and plenty of road/neutral victories.
A bad sign is the schedule continues to stay difficult for the Tigers -- and Fort Hays quickly has to fix some issues, especially rebounding.
"We have dug ourselves a big hole," coach Mark Johnson said.
In the first games back from holiday break, Fort Hays (8-3, 0-3 MIAA) travels to Missouri Southern State University (9-1, 3-0 MIAA) and Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University (8-4, 1-2 MIAA) for a three-day, two-city road swing.
Start times are 3 p.m. Saturday in Joplin, Mo., and 7:30 p.m on Monday in Bolivar, Mo. Missouri Southern is receiving votes in the NCAA Division II poll.
Fort Hays has never won at both MSSU and SBU in the same season. The Tigers have lost three in a row in Joplin and lost in their last trip to Bolivar two years ago.
"Most years, you don't want the break to go, because you feel like you are kind of on a roll, it seems like things are kind of going well," Johnson said. "I think this is a good time to have a break and kind of get away. We need to get some rest, but we need to do some soul-searching and do the things that we have talked about."
Fort Hays lost its first two conference games in overtime on the road before it fell 88-74 at home to a strong Northwest Missouri State University team before the break.
"They are a very, very good team and they will be there at the end," Johnson said of the Bearcats. "If they play like this tonight, they are going to be very hard to handle."
Masseyratings.com ranks teams based upon a variety of factors, including win/loss record, opponents faced and home/road.
Out of 14 MIAA teams, Massey has FHSU fifth best in the conference. The Tigers remain ahead of Northeastern State (Okla.) University, which is 4-0 in league play, but 4-2 in non-conference games.
The entire resume counts for NCAA tournament berths. Of MIAA teams, FHSU has played the second fewest home games against Division II opponents. Two wins this weekend, especially with a home-heavy slate in the back half of the schedule, puts the Tigers right back in the race.
"We've just got to get tougher and we've just got to execute better," Johnson said.
Fort Hays has allowed 87.7 points per contest in league games, worst in the conference. Missouri Southern ranks first in league contests in scoring offense (99.3 points/game), while Southwest Baptist ranks fourth at 83.3 points per outing. Senior Marquis Addison leads the Lions with 16.4 points per game, while Desi Barmore paces the Bearcats also with 16.4 points per contest.
Senior Dwayne Brunson leads FHSU with 18.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per contest, but is the Tigers' lone player with more than 5.6 rebounds per game.
"We've just got to be more physical," senior guard Carson Konrade said. "Rebounding is one of our weaknesses and that's kind of just an effort thing, I think, so when a shot goes up, everybody has got to go crash and go get the rebounds. With our small size, they have got to be in there. If we don't do that, then we are going to struggle, but we've just got to find a way to get in there and get rebounds, guards and big guys."
Brunson has been bothered by a knee injury for several weeks, especially in the last two games. Johnson sees the knee affecting Brunson's rebounding more than his offense.
"He just doesn't have that explosiveness to be able to jump up," Johnson said. "We were a poor rebounding team when he was getting 14 a game. When he is getting three or four, it just glares at you even more."
In the MIAA opener, FHSU finished minus-24 in the rebounding margin against University of Central Missouri. Versus Northwest State -- an average rebounding team -- the Tigers were minus-14.
Fort Hays stands No. 91 nationally in rebounding margin at plus-3.7. During Johnson's 12-year era, FHSU has ranked in the top-51 in the country in rebounding margin eight times. On five occasions, Fort Hays has been in the top 25.
"We are finding that out right now once we get into league play - our lack of athleticism and lack of bigger bodies is hurting us," Johnson said. "If that is the case, you have got to be tougher and you have got to be smarter."