EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series dissecting the 2019-20 UTC men's basketball team. After previewing the playmakers on Tuesday, we now break down the shooters and will address the big guys later this week. We will preview the UTC women next week.
Basketball is one of the rare sports in which the addition or subtraction of a single player can have a profound effect on a team's roster. Matt Ryan hopes to be that player for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga this season.
A graduate transfer from Vanderbilt, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound Ryan made 25 starts for the Commodores in 2018-19, averaging 8.1 points. Including his first two college seasons at Notre Dame, he has made 141 3-pointers in his career.
It's that ability to shoot that could help Ryan transform the Mocs from 20-loss team to Southern Conference contender. That's certainly the hope for UTC coach Lamont Paris, who sees Ryan as the final piece to the team's puzzle.
"Matt changes the way — if he shoots up to his capability — it changes how you have to guard us," said Paris, whose third season leading the Mocs tips off Tuesday at home against Eastern Kentucky. "The floor is extremely spaced out with him out there. With any screening situation that he's in, as a cutter or a screener, you have to change what you are doing or suffer the consequences of giving him an open shot.
"He's one of the best shooters I've ever been around, but he can do a lot of other things as well."
Ryan headlines a group that should be among the best shooters in the SoCon. With David Jean-Baptiste — who made 41% from 3-point range last season — playing most often as a shooting guard, Ryan as a small forward and A.J. Caldwell and Jonathan Scott capable of lighting it up coming off the bench, shooting is an area of strength for a program that stresses the perimeter game.
"As a group I think we have a high level ability to shoot the ball from the 3-point line," Paris said. "This year that's going to be especially important since they moved the 3-point line back (from 20 feet, 9 inches, to 22-1 3/4). There will be some marginal shooters who will struggle, so to have a core group of guys who can shoot it at a high level is important.
"The 3-point line is the great equalizer. Matt is an accomplished shooter. Dave's done a tremendous job of shooting the ball. Jonathan Scott's shooting percentage continues to be good. A.J. can come off the bench and contribute from the perimeter at any time. It's a good core."
Ryan understands his role, and he plans to make a difference on defense, too. The Mocs often struggled to get defensive rebounds last season, which slowed their offense. Ryan believes that won't be a problem this season.
"I will be all over the court on the offensive and defensive ends," he said. "Sometimes I'll be playing the three or the four (positions). Offensively I'll be shooting, going inside and outside. Defensively, I should be able to switch one through five, especially in this league.
"With me at the three with two other big guys in Ramon (Vila) and Rod (Johnson), we should have no trouble on the defensive glass, so we should be able to get out on transition. Not having to rely on getting it to a point (guard) to get the ball up will help us get in transition sooner.
"There's just a lot of optimism here right now, and there's no reason we can't win a lot of games and contend for the conference title."