Top 10 teams don’t normally change their starting lineups in the middle of the season, but Bob Burchard is strongly considering ignoring conventional wisdom.
Burchard, the Columbia College men’s basketball coach, said his team’s Achilles heel was exposed Jan. 29 in its 73-65 loss at McKendree (Ill.).
“Our weakness is our interior strength,” he said. “When you get into conference play, the game all of a sudden becomes very physical, and we are not a very physical team.”
McKendree’s win against the Cougars tied it with Missouri Baptist for the American Midwest Conference lead. The Cougars (21-2, 2-1 AMC) are tied with Illinois-Springfield for third.
The Cougars, No. 9 in the NAIA poll, play Illinois-Springfield at 7 p.m. today at The Arena of Southwell Complex.
The Cougars’ first loss came Nov. 15 at Lyon (Ark.). That contest and the McKendree defeat told similar statistical stories. The Cougars were outrebounded badly and shot horribly in both contests. They shot a combined 31.2 percent and were outrebounded 75-42 in their losses.
Burchard said his team’s poor shooting was the result of the physical pounding it took.
“We’ve got to make a decision on whether we’re going to offset that physical play with our quickest group,” he said. “I don’t think there is an ‘or.’ I think that’s what we’ve got to do because we cannot match up physically with McKendree around the basket.”
Replacing Craig Bryan with Nahowan Saxon in the starting lineup is one way Burchard could upgrade his team’s quickness. Although Bryan is the Cougars’ leading shot blocker, Burchard said Bryan’s presence isn’t enough to counteract the opposition’s size advantage.
“We’ve got to change a little bit to reach a higher level,” Burchard said. “(Bryan) has either got to step up his level of play, or we’ve got to get some minutes out of (our reserves).”
If Burchard shuffles his starters, Saxon would certainly be a worthy promotion. Saxon, a sophomore forward, was the Coaches vs. Cancer Holiday Classic’s Most Valuable Player, and he is the Cougars’ leader in field goal and free-throw percentage. His 123 rebounds are one shy of Andre Amos’ team high.
“I’m just happy to come off the bench and give my team a lift,” Saxon said. “As long as we keep winning, it’s no problem.”
Although the Cougars were, in Burchard’s words, beaten up in their losses, they didn’t throw either game away. They committed only seven turnovers against McKendree and 10 against Lyon.
The Cougars rank fifth nationally in assist/turnover ratio. Still, Burchard is considering giving junior Aaron Edwards, whose 2.81-to-1 assist/turnover ratio is the AMC’s second best, a starting spot. Edwards is the Cougars’ top backcourt reserve, and he would inject more quickness into the starting lineup. His 47.8 percent 3-point shooting is also a team high.
Burchard said he usually doesn’t start one or two of his best players so his team will gain an advantage when it substitutes. Khamari Ballard was a second-team All-American as a reserve last season, but Burchard might start Saxon and Edwards despite their success as bench players.
“To a team, it’s always good if you can sub and have the same level of play,” Edwards said. “Any player wants to start, but whatever Coach feels is best is what I’ll have to go with. Coming off the bench, I have to play with the same intensity and the same attitude as I would when I start.”