Riley matches the eye test at Nicholls
I do a lot of things pretty well, but gosh, I have a ton of bad habits, too.
For starters, I eat after midnight far too often – especially during the weekends. On top of that, I tend to procrastinate and turn simple, easy jobs into complex last-minute operations that cause me to pull my hair out – what’s left of it.
Oh yeah, and then there’s this: I tend to be pretty nosy, too. I like to interject my opinions into situations – even when it’s not any of my business.
So because of that, I wrote a column last spring saying that the Nicholls athletic department should look to LSU-Alexandria men’s basketball coach Larry Cordaro in their efforts to replace outgoing coach J.P. Piper, who is now at Morgan City High School.
My logic was sound. I said that Cordaro was a hot young coach who had the tireless energy needed to turn the Colonels into a contender.
And I was right.
LSU-Alexandria didn’t lost a single game this season and the Generals are one of the top NAIA programs in the country – a team that’s risen quickly in just a few short years under Cordaro.
But heck, there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and I’d like to dedicate this week’s column to state that the guy the Colonels ended up with – first-year coach Richie Riley – isn’t doing too shabby, either.
In fact, for my dollar, Riley doing one of the best coaching jobs in the entire Southland Conference this season when one accounts for talent and adversity faced throughout the year.
This has been a tough, tough season for the Nicholls basketball program.
It started with program transition.
Piper utilized a slower pace that focused heavily on half court sets. His methods worked – when the Colonels had adequate talent. But at the end of the day, the inability to keep some of the area’s best players at home was the straw that broke the camel’s back, which caused the university to go in a different direction when the veteran coach’s contract expired after last season.
So in came Riley – a young, energetic coach from Clemson, who was highly regarded by just about everyone he’d come in contact with in his upstart career.
Unlike Piper, Riley wants to play up tempo for the entire 40 minutes of the game.
Offensively, he wants the Colonels to push the ball and get points in transition. Riley’s style also focuses heavily on the 3-point line and taking advantage of spacing advantages that come with a more up-tempo style of game.
Defensively, Riley doesn’t surrender an inch – literally.
The Colonels play full-court man-to-man defense, which isn’t necessarily designed to get steals, but is more focused on forcing opponents to take time to get into their offensive sets, which limits the amount of shot clock they can use when across half court.
The transition from Piper to Riley on the floor is like the difference between a cat and a dog. The two are polar opposites schematically, and naturally, it took time for the Colonels to adjust and get used to the new regime.
But it all clicked.
At the start of Southland Conference play, the Colonels were red-hot and were a threat to beat anyone.
And then their best player got kicked off the team – at a time when an injury bug swept through the Colonels locker room.
That transition caused the team to have a little bit of a lull in the middle stages of Southland play. At one time, the Colonels didn’t even have enough fresh bodies to scrimmage 5-on-5 in practice.
But through it all, Nicholls has kept fighting, and the team has won three out of four games at press-time.
And a lot of the credit for that goes to Riley on a job well done.
In his first season with the team, Riley has shown the ability to command respect from his players, while also getting the most out of them in every game.
On top of that, Riley has also shown the ability to adjust to personnel and adapt to the talent he has on the floor.
The Colonels were a whole different team on Day 1 of the season than they are now. And Riley has adjusted beautifully, which has allowed the Colonels to keep pace and hover around the middle of the Southland standings.
And given all that the Colonels have been through this season, to be in the middle of the pack in a competitive league is a job well done.
Sure, I wanted Cordaro, and I think he would have done a good job in Thibodaux, too.
But I’m paid to call it like I see it, and I’m here to say today that Richie Riley is pretty damned good, too.
The Colonels should be proud to call him their coach.
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