JONESBORO -- The first two seasons of Arkansas State University men's basketball Coach Mike Balado's tenure have been a struggle.
The Red Wolves finished 13-19 overall and 7-11 in the Sun Belt Conference last season. During Balado's first season in Jonesboro, ASU went 11-21 and 6-12 in the league. ASU also hasn't won a game in the conference tournament since the 2013-14 season.
At a glance
Arkansas State men’s basketball schedule
All times Central
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Today Harding (exh.) 7 p.m.
Nov. 6 Ark.-Monticello 7 p.m.
Nov. 8 at Ole Miss 6 p.m.
Nov. 14 VMI 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 15 UC-Davis 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 Idaho 1:30 p.m.
Nov. 20 at Colorado State 8 p.m.
Nov. 30 Stephen F. Austin 4 p.m.
Dec. 3 Neb.-Omaha 7 p.m.
Dec. 7 at Tulsa TBA
Dec. 11 at Missouri State 7 p.m.
Dec. 18 Louisiana-Lafayette* 7 p.m.
Dec. 21 at Louisiana-Monroe* 2 p.m.
Dec. 28 Freed-Hardeman 4 p.m.
Jan. 2 Texas-Arlington* 7 p.m.
Jan. 4 Texas State* 2 p.m.
Jan. 6 Georgia State* 7 p.m.
Jan. 9 at South Alabama* 7 p.m.
Jan. 11 Troy* 4 p.m.
Jan. 16 at Appalachian State* 6 p.m.
Jan. 18 at Coastal Carolina* 1 p.m.
Jan. 23 South Alabama* 7 p.m.
Jan. 25 at Troy* 4:15 p.m.
Jan. 30 Appalachian State* 7 p.m.
Feb. 1 Coastal Carolina* 4 p.m.
Feb. 8 at UALR* 2 p.m.
Feb. 13 at Texas-Arlington* 7 p.m.
Feb. 15 at Texas State* 2 p.m.
Feb. 19 Louisiana-Monroe* 7 p.m.
Feb. 22 UALR* 4 p.m.
Feb. 26 at Louisiana-Lafayette* 7 p.m.
March 3 at Georgia Southern* 6 p.m.
*Sun Belt Conference game
Heading into his third year, Balado said he believes his culture has fully taken root and his roster depth is the strongest it's been.
Now the Red Wolves just need to win more.
"The winning numbers have not been there. We obviously want to have a winning season and have a lot of wins," Balado said. "But the improvement as far as culture and the guys that we brought in, we're trending in the right direction. So in Year 3, I feel very good."
ASU returns one full-time starter from 2018-19 in Marquis Eaton, a 6-2, 195-pound junior guard, and ex-Jonesboro High School star. Eaton was the team's second-leading scorer last season, averaging 11.2 points per game.
The team's biggest loss was guard Ty Cockfield, who led the Sun Belt in scoring last season with 22.4 points per game. Balado said that not having a player he can pencil in for 20 points every night will be difficult to overcome.
"The question people will always ask this year is how are you going to replace Ty Cockfield? The answer is you don't," Balado said. "You don't replace a kid like that. What you do is you spread the points around.
"I think there's a bunch of guys on this team that can score in double figures. That's how you make up his 23 [points] that [are] no longer there."
The Red Wolves also return senior guard Canberk Kus, junior guard Christian Willis, sophomore guard Kobe Wilson, junior forward J.J. Matthews, senior forward Malik Brevard and junior forward Jake Scoggins.
There's also eight newcomers on the roster, including four transfers in guards Jerry Johnson Jr., Melo Eggleston and J'Sebian Brown, and forward Lony Francis Jr.
Johnson is a graduate transfer from the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga; Brown and Francis are each junior-college transfers; and Eggleston came from Wake Forest, although he isn't eligible to play until Dec. 18.
Johnson, in particular, has impressed Balado.
"The thing I like about Jerry is he's kind of the older vet on the team, and he's been through kind of the fire and his feet are soaking wet," Balado said. "I feel very confident with him in games."
ASU's four freshmen -- guards Caleb Fields, Malcolm Farrington and Avery Felts, and forward Antwon Jackson -- have surpassed expectations.
"Our freshmen are a little bit more advanced than I expected, and they're playing very well," Balado said. "Their learning curve has been very small because they're very intelligent, so they picked up stuff pretty quickly."
Balado said Fields -- who starred at Aspire Academy in Louisville, Ky. -- has been the Red Wolves' most consistent player since the beginning of this summer. Fields, 6-0, 190 pounds, is a tough, savvy point guard who can do a little bit of everything.
"He can fly up and down the court," Balado said. "A lot of people say [he] reminds them of Ty [Cockfield] as far as the athleticism and his speed, which is a good comparison. He's a great facilitator, he's a true point guard, he gets other guys involved, he's a hellacious defender, and he's very smart."
The Red Wolves could utilize a rotation of 10 players, possibly 11. The increased depth also has given the Red Wolves hope for a greater collective defensive effort this season, something that's been a major focal point for Balado.
"It's been competitive every single day, especially on the defensive end. I feel like we'll make a big jump there," Eaton said. "I feel like we got more defensive-minded people on this team overall that's buying into playing defense."
The Red Wolves host Harding University in an exhibition tonight at 7 at First National Bank Arena in Jonesboro. ASU hosts the University of Arkansas at Monticello a week later on Nov. 6 for the season opener.
It's the first step toward ASU's goal of its first winning season under Balado.
"I feel like we've bought in. We're the most bought in this year," Eaton said. "I feel like the timing, everything is just falling into place."
Sports on 10/30/2019
Print Headline: Wolves' next step is to stack victories