2017-18 CWRU Men’s Basketball Season Preview

2017-18 CWRU Men’s Basketball Season Preview

The Case Western Reserve University men's basketball team will be looking to build on a strong finish to last season, when the team begins its 2017-18 season this week.

A Look Back at Last Year…
The Spartans claimed wins in three of their last five games in 2016-17, putting together a strong finish to an 8-17 campaign in the first year of Head Coach Todd McGuinness' tenure with the squad.  Case Western Reserve averaged 74.7 points per game on 42.3% shooting from the floor, including a 34.3% mark from three-point range.  The team's 233 three pointers made last season were the second-most in program history, while ranking third among UAA teams and 67th in all of Division III.  The Spartans finished the year 3-11 in conference play, good for a seventh-place finish.

Case Western Reserve earned wins during a pair of in-season tournaments last year, defeating Lynchburg and host Juniata at the Doc Greene Tournament, and Penn State-Harrisburg and host Franklin and Marshall at the Sponaugle New Years Tournament.  Three of the team's losses came in overtime, and the group had four losses of five points or fewer.

"Last year we lost 10 games by 10 points or less.  We weren't a great foul shooting team or a great shooting team in general.  Those issues have been addressed," said McGuinness.  "Now, we need to see if we can fix the other issues.  Can we get stops when we need to? Can we make the plays down the stretch when the games are close that we didn't make last year?"

The highlight of the season for the Spartans came on February 19th in a road upset of then sixth-ranked Rochester, 76-72.  It was the team's first win over a ranked opponent since 2015, and the highest-ranked opponent knocked off by a Spartan squad since 2013.

2017-18 Overview
The Spartans will be returning seven players from last year's team, all of whom saw time on the court during the year, and will lose just one all-conference player in 2016-17 All-UAA honorable mention guard Javier Alvarez.  In addition, a large incoming class of nine freshmen and two sophomores will give the team a new dynamic for the upcoming season.

"It's a good group to coach.  They really try hard in practice and we have the ability to do some things that we couldn't do last year," said McGuinness.

Leading the way for the Spartans will be their two senior co-captains, T.J. Duckett and Colin Zucker, who were the team's top-two scorers last season.  Duckett, a forward, had a breakthrough year, averaging a team-high 13.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game to earn a spot on the All-UAA First Team.  Zucker added 11.2 points per game, and was a threat from long distance, shooting 39.7% from beyond the arc during the campaign.

"They are both key for our team.  Zucker, has the ability to shoot the three and a sneaky ability to get by some guys at times.  We're going to count on him to provide scoring and leadership.  T.J. just needs to be the first team all-league player that he is.  We need him to rebound, stay out of foul trouble and finish around the basketball, and he can have another great year."

The Spartans' freshman class provided a boost to the team last year, and will now look to expand their impact as sophomores.  The most consistent two players of the group from last year were forward Connor Nally and guard Sam Hansen.  Nally averaged 5.8 points per game and shot 43.9% from long range, while Hansen made 15 starts and averaged 6.5 points per contest.   Both appeared in all 25 games during the year.

"When Nally was great last year, we were great," said McGuinness.  "He has definitely matured and gotten a little stronger, and he has the ability to do things athletically that other guys can't even dream of.  Hansen is going to make open shots and is our best perimeter defender.  He is what you want out of a player."

Guard Darius Inzar (2.3 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 1.2 apg) and forward Michael Hollis (3.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg) each played in 16 games and made four starts last season, and will look to see their role expanded during their second year with the team.  Guard Winston Delk will also look to make an impact as a sophomore.

Newcomers for the Spartans include sophomore guard Monty Khela, a Division II transfer from the Colorado School of Mines, along with freshmen guards Michael Volkening, William FitzPatrick, Ignas Masiulionis, Antonio Ionadi, and Ryan Alexander, and forwards Cade Kinney-Shackelford, Kai Fletcher, Austin Lavitt and Brian Dompke.

Coaching Staff
McGuinness will be starting his second season with the Spartans, and his ninth overall as a collegiate head coach.  He has a career ledger of 122-89, good for a .578 winning percentage.  He spent the first seven years of his career at Hartwick College, earning a spot in the NCAA Division III Tournament on four occasions.  Assistant Coach Rudy Kirbus will begin his fourth season with the squad, while Kelly Blair, Liz Hornberger, Evan Shang and Aleksandar Zivic will round out the bench.

Schedule
After playing one of the toughest schedules in Division III last year, Case Western Reserve should once again have a challenging slate of opponents in 2017-18.  The Spartans will open their schedule with three-straight home games, including the 2017 Stephanie Tubbs Jones Memorial Tournament at Horsburgh Gymnasium on November 17th and 18th.  CWRU will face an early season test on the road at Mount St. Joseph, which received votes in the D3hoops.com preseason poll, on November 25th.  Other key matchups early in the season for the Spartans include a home game against Adrian on December 2nd, and the 2017 Bill Sudeck Holiday Tournament at Horsburgh Gym on December 29th and 30th.

Case Western Reserve will begin its UAA schedule on Saturday, January 6th at home against Carnegie Mellon.  Three of the Spartans' conference opponents are ranked in the preseason, including no. 9 Washington (Mo.), no. 16 Rochester, and no. 17 Emory.  Included in the team's conference schedule will be its annual 'Throwback Weekend,' with its games against Brandeis and New York University the weekend of February 2 – 4 being played at historic Adelbert Gymnasium.

"There are a few things we need to be able to do to have a good year," said McGuinness.  "We need to be able to play tough.  Last year when we began to play better at the end of the year, it was because we began to play harder and tougher than the other teams.  My ideal team is a team that is going to play very hard and shoot a lot of threes, and you will probably see that out of us this year."