With seven members slated to leave the Western Athletic Conference at the end of this academic year, much of the press surrounding the conference has focused on realignment and the next step.
However the WAC is also the home (at least for one more season) of one of just eight teams in college basketball that are currently undefeated in conference play: Louisiana Tech.
Michael White’s Bulldogs are 12-0 in WAC play and 21-3 overall, winning games despite having just one player averaging double figures in the scoring department (sophomore guard Raheem Appleby leads the way with an average of 14.5 points per game). So why have the Bulldogs been so successful? Defense.
Whether it’s over 94 feet or in the half court doesn’t matter to Louisiana Tech, whose use of ball pressure has led to them forcing an average of 17.5 turnovers per game. Opponents turn the ball over on more than 24% of their possessions according to statsheet.com, and Louisiana Tech’s 8.6 steals per game rank second in the WAC (Denver- 9.6 spg).
Add to this the fact that in conference games they rank second in field goal percentage defense (38.9%) and first in three-point percentage defense (27.5%) and it isn’t difficult to see why Coach White’s team has enjoyed so much success.
“The kids have bought into playing hard,” White noted in an interview with NBC Sports. “We like to pressure and we have the depth needed to play it consistently.
“Our depth keeps guys sharp, and it allows us to substitute for execution or effort [if needed].”
Louisiana Tech is able to pressure more this season than last due in part to the improvement shown by sophomore forward Michale Kyser, who leads the WAC in blocked shots (3.3 blocks/game).
“His progress has been integral,” White said of Kyser. “His earning more minutes allows us to extend our pressure.”
Kyser still has work to do offensively in addition to getting physically stronger, but he’s another of the Bulldogs who have found a way in which to make an impact. The key for Louisiana Tech going forward: becoming more consistent offensively, as they’re shooting just 39.8% from the field.
“It would be easier if we had four or five consistent options,” said White. “It’s not our strength and we’ve been inconsistent on that end of the floor.”
When the shots aren’t falling successful teams find a way to get stops, and that’s why a Louisiana Tech squad picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll finds itself in control of the WAC race.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.