Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hoops Hoopla

Men’s basketball adds seven first-years to squad, continue previous season momentum

By Nathan Shoup, Sports reporter

Last year, the Pacific Lutheran men’s basketball team finished with the most wins by a Lute’s basketball team since the 1997-98 season.

The Lutes ended last season with a 15-10 overall mark including a 10-6 record in the Northwest Conference. The Lutes finished fourth and made an appearance in the Northwest Conference tournament, losing to eventual tournament champion Whitworth 74-63 in the first round.

This year, the Pacific Lutheran men’s basketball team will look to build off last year’s success.

However, hurdles have already been placed in front of the Lutes. PLU lost three seniors to graduation including team-high scorer and second team All-NWC wing Kyle MacTaggart.

“Kyle was a great scorer and teammate, we are going to miss him greatly,” junior Andrew Earnest said. “However, we have many guys that can step up and contribute right away.”

The Lutes also lost wing Tony Polis and post Victor Bull, who was an All-NWC Honorable Mention selection last season.

To replace the seniors, Head Coach Steve Dickerson has brought in seven first-years to the program who are expected to “come in and contribute immediately,” Dickerson said.

“For any team that has a lot of young guys there will be some bumps in the road early,” wing junior Cam Schilling said. “I think that down the road, once we get into conference play, our youth could maybe play to our advantage.”

The Lutes youth will be put to the test early as the Lutes open the season on Saturday in an exhibition game against Div. I Seattle University at the Key Arena.

PLU is going to stray from Div. III competition a handful of times this year, highlighted by trips to Div. I Eastern Washington University, Div. II Saint Martins and Div. II Seattle Pacific University.

Seattle Pacific has already defeated the Pac-12 and nationally ranked No. 16 University of Arizona Wildcats.

In the 2011-12 coaches’ poll, Pacific Lutheran was picked to finish fifth. Only the top four teams advance to the Northwest Conference Tournament.

“I don’t pay attention to the preseason poll”, Dickerson said. “That’s for the fans and the press mostly.”

Earnest added, “It doesn’t have that great of an effect on us because we know what we are capable of achieving. The last couple years we have surpassed the expectations given to us by our peers.”

Two seasons ago, the Lutes were picked to finish last in the Coach’s Poll. PLU finished fifth that season, missing the playoffs by only two games.

Last season, the Lutes were projected to finish in a three-way tie for fourth place before claiming forth place outright with a three-game lead over the fifth-place University of Puget Sound.

In last year’s season-ending loss to Whitworth, the Lutes held a 32-28 halftime lead and had 51-50 advantage with only eight minutes left in the second half.

Whitworth went on to win the Northwest Conference Tournament and win its next two games in the NCAA tournament.

“The fact that we went toe to toe with one of the best teams in the country and had a lead late in the game proved how far our program has come over the past few years,” Schilling said. “On the same level, it also left a sour taste in our mouth and gave us motivation to not let that happen to us again this year.”