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Get To Know A Marquette Basketball Opponent: Central Arkansas

One final non-conference game to round out the schedule.

Rare Bears: The Elusive Spirit Bear Comes Out Of Hiding Julie Picardi / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Name: University of Central Arkansas

Location: Conway, Arkansas

Okay, two things. First.... Yes, that wasn’t helpful, I know. Conway is about 30 miles almost straight north from Little Rock, so pretty much dead center of the state. What was the other thing?

If UCA is in Conway, does that make them the Coastal Carolina of Arkansas? ......... sure.

City Fun Facts: Conway is the county seat of Faulkner County in Arkansas, which is not to be confused with Conway County in Arkansas, which essentially one county to the west. Get your naming situations squared away over there, Arkansas. You’re being confusing.

Founded: 1907

Fun With Names: UCA is the fourth name that the school has carried since they started classes in September of 1908. It started as Arkansas State Normal School, and if you’re familiar with your college naming histories, then you’ve already figured out that UCA started as a college to formalize teacher training in the state. That name is confusing, and in 1925, they threw it out the door and became Arkansas State Teachers College. By 1967, they had developed beyond just a teaching training school, and became State College of Arkansas. That name change didn’t last very long either, and in 1975, the Arkansas Department of Higher Education made the move to University of Central Arkansas.

A Tradition Of Bricks: UCA’s campus has a “Senior Walk” outside their student center, where for the low low price of $100, you can get a brick inscribed with the name of a UCA graduate, or, obviously, a soon-to-be graduate.

Look, it’s not funny right now, but read to the end and then you’ll understand why it’s funny that UCA loves themselves some bricklaying.

If You’re Going To Be In Conway In January..... may I suggest that you buy tickets to see The Spongebob Musical at UCA’s Reynolds Performance Hall? Honestly, I’m fascinated by the idea of a Spongebob Squarepants musical more than I am at the fact that it’s playing at the 1,200 seat campus auditorium. I’m also fascinated by the fact that it was nominated for TWELVE TONY AWARDS. The list of artists that wrote the songs for this thing — David Bowie! Brian Eno! T.I! The Flaming Lips! Sara Barelles! Steven Tyler! John Legend! — is RIDICULOUS.

Enrollment: Let’s call it around 12,000, with about 9.500 as undergraduates.

Nickname: Bears

Why “Bears?” It took a minute after founding and the beginning of classes to figure out a nickname. They bounced around nicknames for a while before settling on Bears in 1920 at least internally and the first mention in print at the time came in 1921. Arkansas used to be called The Bear State (it’s now The Natural State, please hold your “Bret Bielema shirtless” jokes until the end), so it was an obvious move to jump on that nickname as the University of Arkansas had unofficially been the Razorbacks since as far back as 1907, before UCA was even a thing, and made it official in 1910.

Notable Alumni: Jordan Howard, the older brother of Marquette guard Markus Howard; Kris Allen, who is absolutely a real person who won the eighth iteration of American Idol back in 2009; Dee Brown, author of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee; actor Gil Gerard, best known for his role as Buck Rodgers on TV in the late 1970s; NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen; and Hiroyuki Nishimura, the current owner of 4chan.

Last Season: 14-19, with an 8-10 record in Southland Conference action. They advanced one round in the Southland tournament before being bounced and ending their season.

Final 2018-19 KenPom.com Ranking: #302

This Season: 3-9, with a win over non-D1 Hendrix in there. Other than that Hendrix game, which is a local rivalry game to a certain extent, Central Arkansas lost every single non-conference game that they played up until Southland Conference play started on December 18. As such, they now come into this game on a two game winning streak. They weren’t just taking L’s in buy games, either. They have a home loss to Arkansas-Little Rock and a neutral site loss to Prairie View A&M in there, too.

Current KenPom.com Ranking: #298, making UCA the lowest ranked team on Marquette’s schedule this season.

Stat Leaders

Points: Eddy Kayouloud, 16.3 ppg
Rebounds: Eddy Kayouloud, 7.2 rpg
Assists: Rylan Bergersen, 2.8 apg

Shooters? Three, but Central Arkansas is actually an atrocious three-point shooting team as a whole, so unless these guys get ultra-hot, it’s not much of a worry. Hayden Koval (7’0”, 220 lb.) is hitting on 43% of his attempts this year and taking about three per game. Jaxson Baker (6’7”, 200 lb.) takes four per game and hits 34% of them. That’s not great, of course, but it’s over the break even point of 33.3%, and he’s taking a pretty decent amount of them. Finally, Aaron Weidnaar (6’7”, 205 lb.) connecting at a 58% clip from long range, but he’s only taken 19 shots in UCA’s 10 games against Division 1 opponents. The senior from Montana is a career 32% shooter with the Bears, so his 11-for-19 start may just be a fluke more than anything else at this point. Koval has shown a history of being able to hit from outside, while Baker is a freshman this season.

We should probably mention Rylan Bergersen before we continue. The 6’6”, 205 pound junior from Boise went 4-for-10 as a freshman at BYU and 8-for-27 as a sophomore for the Cougars. Thanks to the retirement of BYU coach Dave Rose, I presume, Bergersen snagged a waiver to play immediately. He did not, however, get a waiver to shoot immediately, and thus he is 11-for-62 on the season for an incredibly awful and bad three-point shooting percentage of 17.7%. He is 6-for-24 (25%) in their last three games, so watch out, he’s hot.

Bigs? Well, I mentioned Hayden Koval already, so let’s start there. He’s averaging 11.6 points (third behind Kayouloud and Bergersen) and 6.7 rebounds per game (second behind Kayouloud). That’s pretty solid, but considering the fact that about one-third of his shots come from behind the arc, I don’t know how much you want to consider him a traditional big man. It should be a fascinating battle between Theo John and Jayce Johnson and Koval. Koval and Johnson are the same height while John is three inches shorter, however Koval is giving up 30 pounds to both John and Johnson. Koval plays a lot of minutes for UCA, but even at his height, he’s not nationally ranked on either end in the rebounding department when it comes to rates even at nearly seven grabs per game. Part of this is likely because Central Arkansas is playing at the fourth fastest pace in the country, which just creates a lot of extra rebounds to be grabbed.

Junior Jared Chatham (6’8”, 185 lb.) is really “tall man” instead of “big man,” although he does draw fouls pretty well and doesn’t shoot threes all that much. Eddy Kayouloud is 6’7” and 220 pounds, but he is UCA’s best defensive rebounder, coming in at #473 in the country in terms of rate. He pops up in the KenPom algorithm as their primary 4 in the rotation with Chatham as the 3, but at least in terms of shot selection, that role seems to be reversed on the court.

An Overall Note About Tactics And Style: If you’re at all familiar with the KenPom.com layout for team pages, then you know that Green Shading means a team is good at something and Red Shading means that a team is bad at something. As befitting a team with a overall rank of #298, there’s a lot of red for both offensive and defensive statistics for UCA.

But there’s one exception.

Central Arkansas is, for whatever reason, exceptionally great at getting to the free throw line. They rank ninth in the country in offensive free throw rate, or the ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts. In other words: They draw a TON of fouls. This is important to note, because Marquette is, for whatever reason, mostly terrible at keeping their opponents off the line. The Golden Eagles rank #252 in the country at defensive free throw rate.

Free throw rate is the least important of the Four Factors to winning a basketball game, as we can all agree “how many shots did you make,” “how often did you turn the ball over,” and “how many second chances did you get” are all much more important determining factors than “did you shoot a lot of free throws.” However, Central Arkansas has one singular strength as a team, and it plays directly into a very strong Marquette weakness. Consider yourself warned.

Head Coach: Russ Pennell, in his sixth season at Central Arkansas, seventh season as a Division 1 head coach, and 11th season overall. His very first season as a college basketball head coach? 2008-09, when Lute Olson announced his resignation as head coach at Arizona for medical reasons in late October. Pennell ran the show for that season, guiding the Wildcats to a 21-14 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. It then took him five more years to get a full time Division 1 head coaching gig when UCA took a chance on him. That’s weird, right? In between there, he was the head coach at Grand Canyon when they were still a Division 2 program, and interim head coach of the Phoenix Mercury for a year, too. What a wild career.

Anyway, Pennell has a college head coaching record of 145-175, with a mark of 73-131 while running a Division 1 team.

All Time Series: Marquette has never played Central Arkansas before this game. Central Michigan, yes. Central Florida, yes. Central Arkansas? No.