With a dominating win over Southland Conference opponent Texas A&M – Corpus Christi on Saturday night, the Sam Houston State Bearkats are off to a hot 6-0 start in conference play. This is the first time in 23 years they have been undefeated in their first six league games. Oh and did we mention the average margin of victory over league opponents this season is 15 points? Needless to say, remaining conference opponents have their hands full.
Boasting a 14-5 overall record, the success of the Sam Houston State's season extends beyond conference play. Impressive victories over Auburn, Oral Roberts, Rider and Florida International more than substantiate this claim. Defeating Rider and ORU earned them the Mayan Division championship at Cancun Challenge in Mexico. In addition, the notable 107-89 win at Auburn was the first victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent in the program's history. Under Coach Bobby Marlin, reaching such milestones has not been uncommon.
Since taking over the program, Marlin has transcended expectations and brought once unbeknownst Sam Houston State into the national spotlight. Heading into the 2009-2010 season the Kats have won more non conference intersectional games than any other SLC team under Marlin's 11 year tenure. Their record included a staggering 44 consecutive non-conference home win streak, which is second only to Duke (58). Despite ending that streak this season, the Kats still can be viewed as a dominate force in Texas as the UT Longhorns have been the only program in the state able win more games this decade. Not surprisingly, Athletic Director Bobby Williams sung praises of coach Marlin saying, "He's put us on a basketball map, so to speak, where we had not been".
Their impressive pedigree extends even further when examining conference play. No team in the Southland Conference has won more games in the past 11 seasons than the Bearkats. Considering their best 6th place conference finish in the 1990's, that is quite an accomplishment. I guess one could say "Don't Mess with Texas" has been replaced by "Don't Mess with Bearkats" as far as the Southland Conference is concerned.
Strong individual efforts have largely contributed to the success of the Kats this season. Guard Corey Allmond (16.6 points/game) and center Gilberto Clavell (15.5 points/game) are among the top 6 league leaders in scoring during league play. No other program in the conference has multiple players in the top 6 scorers. Not far behind is Senior guard Ashton Mitchell who also ranks amongst the SLC top ten scorers averaging 15 points a league game. Between the dynamic backcourt duo of Allmond and Mitchell, they have averaged 27.6 points a game this season. Both players have proven consistent considering last year they finished the season averaging 27.8 points per game together. No other pair of guards has been able to score more than Allmond and Mitchell in Sam Houston State's 23 years at the division one level. It is no surprise their scoring offense tops the league this season by a margin of 5 points a game.
The sharpest arrow in the Kats quiver proves to be the three ball. Draining 7.6 three point shots a game in conference play proves to be good enough for tops in the league. Allmond leads all SLC players (3.1/game) in three point field goals per game. With Allmond on the perimeter and Clavell down low, the Bearkats have a dynamic offense with the ability to score from all areas of the court. Just ask Lamar who the Kats just recently beat 90-63 how frustrating a multidimensional attack can be.
Other notable offensive contributors are forwards Preston Green who is averaging 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds and Josten Crow contributing a respectable 7.1 points per game with 5.6 rebounds. Despite the attention garnished by Allmond, Clavell, and Mitchell, the Bearkats reveal that their winning record is truly a team effort.
One must look beyond the Kats ability to put the ball in the net to account for their success this season. Rebounding has been a large part of their winning formula as they rank first in the SLC in offensive boards. Overall, they rank second in rebounds in the league which makes their offensive juggernaut only more frustrating for opponents. Center Gilberto Clavell has proven to be a dual threat as he leads the team with 6.5 rebounds a game. Prior to this season, Gilberto had been at Collin County Junior College where he transferred from. To say the Puerto Rican product has made a positive impact under the mentoring of Coach Bobby Marlin would be an understatement. The good news for the program is that he is only a junior. Southland conference opponents are not quite as amused by this fact.
Possibly even more integral to this season's success has been the Kats knack for taking care of the ball and creating turnovers. Ranking first in the conference in turnover margin reflects the Kats potent ability to create takeaways defensively. Their impressive 8.2 steals a game backs this up. This is roughly 3 more steals a game than opponents have been able to achieve demonstrating not only stellar defensive play, but also smart decision making offensively. It certainly helps your cause when you have a mature, senior backcourt. Did we mention that combo drops nearly thirty a game?
As for the future, the Kats have a difficult league schedule on the horizon. However, their strong play in both non-conference and conference games have made the statement that they are the team to beat. After the completion of the regular season schedule, the top two teams from both SLC divisions, plus the next four remaining teams with the best records will advance to the Merrill Center in Katy for the annual post-season SLC tournament to decide the Southland's NCAA playoff representative. Under Coach Marlin, Sam Houston State has already captured two Southland Conference titles. This year they plan to make it a third.
All the action begins on Wednesday March 10 with four quarter-final games. Semi-final contest will be played Thursday night March 11th followed by the finals which will be televised live on ESPN2 on Saturday March 13th. With a NCAA tournament berth on the line, the Bearkats and Coach Bobby Marlin will hope to vindicate their runner up finish last season.