The Case Western Reserve University men's basketball team will begin a new era in 2016-17, as the Spartans and first-year Head Coach Todd McGuinness will open up their schedule next week.
McGuinness will be aiming to replicate the same success he had at his previous stop, Hartwick College, where he went 114-72 over seven seasons, good for a .613 winning percentage. His teams qualified for the NCAA Tournament on four occasions, and won the Empire 8 three times during his tenure.
"We are going to be tough, physical and in shape," said McGuinness. "Those are the values that the program is going to be built on. There are many adjustments that a team needs to make whenever there is a new head coach. But the players are working hard and competing every day. I am excited for the future, both short term and long term."
The Spartans are coming off a 12-13 season last year that included a 5-9 mark in University Athletic Association, good for a sixth-place finish in the conference. Switching to a fast-paced offense during the season, Case Western Reserve averaged 86.4 points per game in 2015-16, leading all UAA teams and finishing the year 25th among Division III squads in points per game. This year's edition of the Spartans will need to overcome the loss of three key seniors from last year's team – guards Matt Clark (NABC All-Region Second Team and All-UAA First Team in 2015-16) and Jimmy Holman (All-UAA Honorable Mention in 2015-16) and forward Spencer Boyd. However, with six returning players who all saw significant playing time last year, and an infusion of nine talented freshman, the building blocks for success are in place for the Spartans.
"We have a group of 15 players that are working hard, buying in, and doing everything that we are asking of them," said McGuinness.
Among the team's top returners is senior point guard and co-captain Javier Alvarez, who averaged 10.8 points per game and shot 49.5% from the field while coming off the bench last season, and will be asked to take a larger role with the team this year. Alvarez will be backed up by freshman Nick Aloi, while freshman Darius Inzar and Kyle McIntosh will add depth at the position.
"Javi is doing a great job of being a leader on this team, and he plays as hard as anyone you will see at our level. He need to make smart decisions for us all year long to help us win games," said McGuinness. "Nick Aloi is a hard-nose player and a great competitor."
At the other guard spot, junior co-captain Colin Zucker will look to follow a strong sophomore campaign, during which he played in all 25 games and made nine starts, averaging 10.8 points and shooting 39.7% from long range. Freshman Sam Hansen will add valuable minutes off the bench, with freshman Regan Mohler and Jon Paul Sinacola also aiming to make a contribution at the position.
"Zucker is tough and he rebounds the basketball, but when he is making shots, we are going to be a much harder team to guard. We need him to be our shooter," said McGuinness. "Hansen is always in the right spot, is a very good defender, and can make open shots."
After joining the team mid-season and playing in 16 games last year, the Spartans will look for an increased role on the wing for junior Jake Lavis, who transferred from Division II Notre Dame College. Freshman Daniel Chambers will have a chance to make an immediate impact in the rotation as well, and should see considerable time on the floor for Case Western Reserve.
"Jake is an elite athlete and needs to be our best defender. Chambers will compete for a lot of minutes on the wing, and has an ability to score. He has a chance to be a very good player for us," said McGuinness.
The Spartans will also have a veteran trio to lead the front court, with junior twins David Black and Eric Black and junior T.J. Duckett anchoring the rotation. Eric Black led the team with 6.2 rebounds per game and added 9.6 points per game last season, while David Black finished last season with 10.6 points per game and a team-leading 27 blocks. Duckett averaged 4.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 2015-16, and ended the year playing some of the best basketball of his career, averaging 6.3 points and 9.3 rebounds over the team's last four games.
"Eric, David and T.J. all need to have great seasons for us to be where we want to be as a program this year," said McGuinness. "Their success is vital to the team's success as a whole. If they play well, we'll win. They'll be counted on to provide scoring, rebounding and defense in the post."
Adding depth in the front court will be freshmen Connor Nally and Michael Hollis.
Joining McGuinness on his coaching staff will be returning assistants Rudy Kirbus and Liz Hornberger, along with newcomers Kelly Blair and Eric Klinedinst.
Case Western Reserve's schedule this season includes games against seven teams that were either ranked or received votes in the D3hoops.com preseason poll, with the potential for two more depending on in-season tournament results. The Spartans will begin the season with three-straight home games at Horsburgh Gymnasium, opening their campaign against Baldwin Wallace on Tuesday, November 15th, followed by the annual Stephanie Tubbs Jones Tournament on November 18th and 19th. After a four-game road swing that will carry the team through the end of the academic semester, the Spartans will return home again for the Bill Sudeck Tournament December 29th and 30th.
CWRU will then begin a five game road stretch that will encompass the start of UAA play, as the team will open its conference schedule at Carnegie Mellon on January 7th. The team's first home UAA game will be against Emory (ranked 20th in DIII) on January 20th, kicking off a four-game home stand that includes two other teams that are featured in the D3hoops.com preseason poll – Rochester, which received votes, on January 22nd, and 20th-ranked Washington on January 29th.
Case Western Reserve's annual Throwback Weekend will January 27th and 29th against Chicago and Washington, as the team will play its games in historic Adelbert Gymnasium. CWRU will wrap-up its 14-game conference schedule and its regular season at home against Carnegie Mellon on February 25th.
"I am so excited to be here, and to have the opportunity to build this program to the level of success we had at Hartwick," said McGuinness. "This is a fantastic University, and we have 15 great student-athletes that I get to coach every day. I can't wait to see what the future holds for Spartan basketball."