Competing in arguably one of the nation’s toughest conferences and featuring a roster with only one senior, the men’s basketball team appears to have a pretty slim chance at a winning season.
But team captain Paul Martin begs to differ.
“With the players we have and because our attitudes are much more focused, I feel like we can definitely compete in conference this year,” Martin said.
One of the keys to a successful season for the Warriors will be their improvement on the defensive side of the court.
“[Last season] we made things way too easy for opponents to score,” Martin said. “This season our goal is to contest all shots and keep the other team from slashing to basket for an easy basket.”
Head coach Justin Sherwood has emphasized the importance of conditioning and working out in the weight room, which he believes will reflect on the defensive side of the ball.
“We need to be a bigger and stronger team,” Sherwood said. “I’m hoping we will have a much more physical style on defense this season.”
“Defense determines a lot,” said Martin. “But what it comes down to is who has the most guts and willingness to be aggressive for the turnovers, which will lead to transition buckets. We did not have that last year.”
Helping the team in defense and rebounding will be a tall and athletic class of recruits that has an average height of 6-foot-4 – and includes two 6-foot-8-inch players.
“Last season we had to sub in a 6-foot-3-inch player for a 6-foot-8-inch player, and we were consistently out-rebounded by opposing teams,” Sherwood said. “But now we have tall players who are quick and can match up well with smaller players, which will cause problems for opposing teams.”
The team’s returning players are glad to benefit from the recruits. All-conference forward and last year’s leading scorer Wade Douglas feels like it will allow the offense to open up.
“Other teams will now have to honor our inside game because of our added height,” he said. “This should free up our shooters and allow us to have a balanced inside and outside game, instead of forcing shots or being contested constantly.”
The height and athleticism will also bring a new dynamic factor to the team that it was not privileged with last year, the ability to mix and match the starting five according to the circumstance.
“We can now either go with a small, quick shooting lineup or with a big physical group for a power game,” said Martin. “This will give us much more versatility as a team and also the chance to exploit mismatches.”
In comparison to last season’s defense, the team had fewer problems offensively when it finished fifth in conference in both scoring (79.2 points per game) and field goal percentage (.458 percent). Along with Douglas, several capable scorers return for the high scoring warriors including Clay Martin and Ian Logan.
C. Martin, who averaged 10.6 points per game, looks to build on his promising freshman campaign at the shooting guard spot. Sophomore Ian Logan, a 6-foot-8-inch post, also averaged 10 points per game and showed the ability to hit from long range. Along with Ben Potloff, Bryan Martin and Nash Keene, they are looking to push that scoring trend even higher.
While it improving its defense and adapting to new players, the team still faces one present weakness that may become its strength in the future: its youth.
On paper the team looks built for the future with five freshmen, five sophomores and two juniors; however, Martin does not see the team’s inexperience and youth as an excuse for not having possibly a strong season now.
“I don’t think we have the luxury to sit back and wait for next season or the one after that,” he said. “We have a team very capable of winning, not later or when the time is perfect, but now is the time to win. Now is the time to do it.”