Solid starters give Rams hope for better things
When you see West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit and Fairmont as national powers in your own league, what can be your goals for the basketball season that begins tonight at the Butcher Center with a game against East Stroudsburg?
For Shepherd, which returns five of its top six players from last season, it’s competing with those same teams for Mountain East Conference honors.
The Rams were 15-14 overall last season . . . and finished near the middle of the Mountain East Conference as they have for the short existence of the league.
There were five double-figure scorers and four of them are back this year.
Steffen Davis, Skyler Roman and A.J. Carr are all juniors while Naim Muhammad is a senior and Winston Burgess is only a sophomore.
Two home games this weekend might tell the Rams what the entire 2016-17 season might be like. The competition is East Stroudsburg tonight at 7 p.m. and then Slippery Rock tomorrow at 7 p.m.
While the Rams do have experience, they don’t have much depth nor do they have much size.
Carr and Burgess are both 6-foot-6 and there is Gavin McTavish back after he missed the entire season a year ago. Burgess and McTavish are not elite scorers, but Davis, Roman, Carr and Muhammad should be able to score at least 64 points between them on most nights.
The slender bench has Mike Reed and Devin Smith, a 6-foot-3 junior college transfer from Richard Bland Community College.
In any heated game against a quality conference opponent, Shepherd will have to get some sort of contributions from everybody that plays more than six minutes.
These Rams won’t be a great rebounding team. They won’t be a great defensive team that could overcome a night where they shoot 40 percent as a team or don’t get to the foul line often enough.
Muhammad is versatile enough to play point guard or in the front court, but he has to be a more consistent scorer — joining Roman, Davis and Carr — if the Rams are to ever see the same rarefied light as West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit or Fairmont.
There are only a few teams that don’t win many games — Urbana, West Virginia Wesleyan and UVa.-Wise — so Shepherd must sweep some two-game series along the way against Notre Dame, West Virginia State, Charleston or Glenville to improve their status much from last season.
West Liberty, Wheeling Jesuit and Fairmont are the obvious favorites in the 12-school league.
Shepherd needs some improvement from each member of its playing corps to get past any of those three teams in the final conference standings.