The Bisons will celebrate their 10th season in NCAA Division I with some of the highest expectations in the history of the program.
Conference coaches selected the Bisons to tie with Jacksonville for first place in the Atlantic Sun regular season. They also chose the Bisons to win the conference championship, which would give the Bisons their first ever NCAA berth.
“Back in 2006-2007 we were picked to win the league and the prediction was correct,” said Sanderson. “That’s a great thing. “I’ve said many times that polls are just the opinions of other people. But other teams look at you differently. Other teams prepare a little bit differently for you knowing that you have a chance to be one of the better teams in the league. “
Sanderson told his team that he is certain of one thing at this stage of preseason. There are 10 other teams working as hard as they can to win the conference championship.
“They are all in their offices and on their floors in practice trying to decide how to pull the pieces they have together to give them the best chance to win it all at the end of four or five months,” said Sanderson. “I don’t care whether a team is picked first or last. Right now, everybody likes the pieces they have on their team.
“You can’t sit there and be concerned with the pieces you have. You have to figure out how to play together and have the best chance to compete night-in and night-out to win a championship.”
One of the main areas of concern for the Bisons is the point guard position. Johnny Lee, a transfer from George Washington University; freshman Zach Brown and red-shirt freshman Jacob Arnett are all candidates to fill the role.
“We have to have a solid point guard,” said Sanderson. “With the team we have coming back and the things we can do on both ends of the floor the point guard doesn’t have to be great. The point guard has to be a low-mistake guy who can take care of the basketball. He has to be able to distribute the basketball to the guys in positions to where they can score and be the most successful.
“He doesn’t have to score 20 points a game. He just has to take care of the ball and be solid for us defensively. With our team the point guard has to get the ball down deep in the paint to Adnan Hodzic. He has to get the ball to Michael Teller or Jordan Burgason on a penetrating pitch where they can shoot open threes. He has to give the other players on the team the chance to be successful by the decisions he makes coming down the floor.”
All three players have plusses and minuses when their styles of play are evaluated.
“Johnny Lee is an older kid who has been around for awhile,” said Sanderson. “He has a little more experience but it is his first year in our program.
“Zach Brown is a true freshman. He is very, very smart. He has a very good understanding of the game. He picks things up extremely quick. He shoots the ball extremely well. He is a good decision maker. But he has never played a college game.”
Sanderson compares Arnett to guard Michael Lusk, who finished his eligibility with the team last season.
“Jacob Arnett will play the wing, but he is like Lusk. He is a different type of point guard. He is stronger and more physical than the other two. He is a pretty good defender, probably a little better than the other two.
"But can he think the position? I don’t know.”
The point guard this season will be running an offense that plans to pick up its tempo from last season.
“We have so many guys who can shoot the ball and Adnan down in the low post,” said Sanderson. “I would like to see a few more possessions in the game. I think that would play into our hands.
“I’m not talking about playing wild. But if we can get up and down the floor and hit more cheap baskets I really feel like we can more the needle in a hurry. We have some drivers. We have some shooters. We have some low post guys.”
At the No. 2 guard position junior Josh Slater has the inside track. He averaged 11 points, 3.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds last season.
“What separates Josh from a lot of guys is his will to win,” said Sanderson. “That’s a great thing, but sometimes it gets in his way.
“If he gets even with you he can take you to the rack and finish the play. He can pull up and shoot the mid-range jumper. He has continued to work on shooting the three.”
Sophomore guard Jordan Burgason had 11 3-point field goals in the last four games of the year, but has to improve on defense.
“Jordan can really shoot the basketball,” said Sanderson. “There is no substitute for guys who can shoot it deep and knows how to get open.
“He will also chase down three or four rebounds a game. He has many assets.”
Freshman guard Brandon Barnes is a new addition to the team who is still in the process of learning the system.
“He will, in time, be a very good one-on-one defender,” said Sanderson. “He can also really drive the ball to the basket and finish.”
Perimeter mix is solid
Michael Teller, Brandon Brown, Brian Wright and Justin Glenn will provide help as scorers, rebounders and defenders with each possessing different skill sets.
“Brandon is a great slasher and rebounder,” said Sanderson. “He has improved his shooting. He has a great feel for rebounding the ball off of the back board.
“He will chase loose balls down and chase long rebounds down. He has a knack of rebounding the ball.”
Glenn, a redshirt sophomore, should provide solid depth after transferring from Centenary.
“Justin is 6-foot-9 and can play alongside Adnan. He can block shots. He is an excellent passer.”
On the perimeter Wright, sophomore forward, provides a perfect offensive complement to Hodzic.
“Brian is a typical No. 4-man for me,” said Sanderson. “He can guard several positions. He can really shoot the basketball. He made the All-Freshman team last season. If he becomes a better rebounder he has the chance to be an all-league performer for us.
“He benefits a lot by Adnan being in the low post. The other team is going to have to help defend Adnan, and if that happens, Brian is going to shoot the three. If Brian gets the ball he is going to jam it inside to Adnan. “
Teller, junior forward, is known for his shooting ability, but there is more to his game.
“Michael does not make a lot of mistakes,” said Sanderson. “He does not turn the ball over very much. He knows how to get open for a shot.
“He can get you five or six rebounds a game. He is not a great one-on-one defender, but he is a very good team defender. If he is not guarding the ball he knows where to be defensively.”
Matt Shaw, a redshirt freshman, still has a learning curve.
“Matt is still learning our system,” said Sanderson. “He still needs to know where to be in the right spot defensively. He is an unknown as to what he can and can’t do.”
Hodzic is the center of the attack
Sanderson is expecting his team to provide a balanced offensive attack, but there is no denying the centerpiece of the team is going to be Hodzic.
Hodzic was selected a preseason Atlantic Sun All-Conference team member. In the first few days of practice he is already making his presence known to his teammates.
“Whatever team he is on in practice has the tendency to play a little bit better,” said Sanderson. “He is always a guy you can dump the ball down to on a play.”
Hodzic was fifth overall In the Atlantic Sun Conference last season in scoring with 17.1 points per game. He was fourth in scoring in A-Sun games only with 18.5 points per game. He was second overall in field goal percentage with a 58.7 success rate from the field. He was third in A-Sun games only hitting 60.4 percent from t he field.
Sanderson expects even more offensive production from Hodzic this season.
“He is learning angles in the low post,” said Sanderson. “He is playing with his back to the basket. He shot 74.4 from the free throw line and he is going to the line a lot.
“As the season went on and we started winning so many games in a row he cut down his turnovers. We benefited from that. The last half of the season we averaged 10 more points a game than we did the first half because we cut down on our turnovers and got a few more quality shots.”
The biggest asset for Hodzic might be is willingness to work hard and his ability to not only listen to what the coaches have to say, but to perform what they ask him to try.
“Adnan is very passionate about trying to get better,” said Sanderson. “He had a very good offseason. “He wants to win. He wants to learn. He is zoned in on what you are saying. When you have a guy like that with his ability then you have someone with a chance to be very special for us.”
The Bisons led the conference overall with a 47.2 field goal percentage and a 3-point shot percentage of 36.3.
Sanderson is also expecting the Bisons to once again be one of the top rebounding teams in the conference. They led the Atlantic Sun overall with a 6.6 rebounding margin.
“We hope we will be an excellent rebounding team again,” said Sanderson. “We have several players who can give you five –to-eight rebounds a game on any given night.”
Hodzic led the team with 7.1 rebounds per game followed by Brandon Brown with 5.8 and Teller with 5.0 per game.
Despite his average per game, Sanderson points to rebounding as the primary way Hodzic is going to take his game to a higher level this season.
“He will play 28-to-30 minutes a game,” said Sanderson. “He has to get on rebound at least every three-or-four minutes. If he does that he is going to get eight, nine or 10 rebounds instead of six or seven. That’s a big difference.
“He has to have a nose for the ball, but at the same time he has to understand his value to our team. We can’t afford to him to get silly fouls during the game because he is tired. He has to be very, very smart and to be smart he has to be in great condition.”
Backing up Hodzic in the low post will be freshman Milos Kleut.
“Milos is learning,” said Sanderson. “He is getting better. He is another guy who is totally zoned in to what we are talking about.
“He is eager to learn. Most people who are eager to learn and passionate to learn are going to be successful.”