After a disappointing end to the 2018-19 season, the Case Western Reserve University men's basketball team will look to bounce back in the new campaign.
The Spartans finished last year's season with a 9-16 record, including a 6-9 record in home contests. However, six of those losses were by six points or fewer, including three losses in overtime. The team averaged 72.0 points and 37.1 rebounds per game and led the University Athletic Association with 3.7 blocks per game.
"We really put an emphasis on late-game situations [this season], trying to figure out how we're going to win the close games," said head coach Todd McGuinness.
The Spartans will look to rely upon a roster that largely remains unchanged from last year. The team will be bringing back 12 players from last year's squad, including four of the five main starters and seven of the eight players with the most minutes. The starting five includes All-UAA Second Team senior forward Michael Hollis, who led the league in rebounds and steals last season. Joining Hollis in their last year on the team as seniors are guards Sam Hansen and Monty Khela.
"The sense of urgency from Michael Hollis, Sam Hansen, and Monty Khela is a difference right now. There's a lot of urgency out of those guys, and they want to win," said McGuinness. "All our important guys are back. We're back to having an identity. There's good buy-in right now from our guys."
McGuinness also added six new members to add plenty of depth and talent to the roster.
Hollis will be leading the Spartans' front court along with three other returners. The senior from Cleveland led the team with 9.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game and was third with 9.4 points per game. He was also one of the squad's most efficient shooters, making nearly half of his shots last season.
"He plays extremely hard. He is a great rebounder," McGuinness said. "We're going to rely on him a lot."
Khela, who will play more as a forward than as a guard this season, is a key leader and rotation player, who averaged 6.8 points per game and played in 20 of the team's 25 games. Sophomore Ryan Newton could see his time on the floor increase this season after playing a significant role in the rotation a year ago during his first year on the squad. Playing in all 25 games, he averaged 8.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Sophomore Solomon Wells will play more minutes this season and can offer a change of pace and make plays at the rim. McGuinness also expects first-year forward Cole Frilling to make an impact as well.
"[Khela's] urgency to do well this year is at a high level. He has the ability to score the ball in many different ways. We're counting on Ryan for big minutes and a big workload. Solomon has the ability to guard, rebound, and attack the basket. Cole's ability is through the roof. He has the ability to do some things other guys can't do," said McGuinness.
First-year forwards Josh Levy and Travis Snider will look to contribute as well in the frontcourt and provide depth for the Spartans.
For the second straight season, the Spartans will be returning significant depth and skill at the shooting guard position. Junior Ignas Masiulionis led the team in scoring (10.4 ppg) and junior Antonio Ionadi was not far behind at 9.6 points per game. Ionadi and Hansen (5.6 ppg) are both threats beyond the arc, combining to shoot 40 percent from three last season.
"Antonio is doing a good job as being a leader this year. He wants to be a positive influence on guys," McGuinness said. "Both [Ionadi and Masiulionis] have great ability to score the ball. They're both very good shooters. Ignas is looking to score [and] looking to attack when he's at his best. Sam is our best defender. He's the guy that we have guard the best guy on the other team consistently."
Also returning for a second season are sophomores Robert Faller, Jack Vaselaney, and Conor Pederson who all will present different looks for the Spartans. Jason Lewis will look to find some minutes and add depth in his first collegiate season.
"There's a lot of guards that are pushing for the same minutes that are all pretty good players," said McGuinness.
Junior Michael Volkening will again run the Spartans' offense from the point guard position after averaging 8.3 points, 2.0 assists, and 2.7 rebounds per game last season. The veteran will look to continue to add to his game and use his experience to guide the offense on the court.
"The biggest thing for him is just being consistent," McGuinness said. "We need him to be fully engaged at all times. When he's attacking and playing downhill, he's at his best."
First-year guards Jackson Lamb and Connor Ryan will back up Volkening at point guard.
"All three of them bring different aspects to the game that are all very worthwhile for our team," said McGuinness.
McGuinness will be starting his fourth season with the team, after going 29-46 during his first three seasons leading the squad. Now in his 11th season overall as a head coach, McGuinness owns a career record of 143-118 (good for a .548 winning percentage) and made four NCAA Tournament appearances in his seven seasons at Hartwick College.
The Spartans will open the 2019-20 season with a mix of new and familiar faces on the bench. Mike Fitzpatrick will be starting his second season as the team's assistant coach, after joining the squad before last season. Following a successful first year as an assistant, former Spartan T.J. Duckett is also returning.
Joining the Spartan coaching staff is Greg Van Pelt, who most recently served as the director of basketball operations at Division I Rider University for two seasons. He has worked at five other schools as both an assistant coach and director of operations, including stops at LIU Brooklyn (a Division I program), Montclair State, Susquehanna University, and Saint Peter's.
The Spartans open the season by hosting the annual Bill Sudeck Tournament in Horsburgh Gymnasium on November 8 and 9. Just two of the team's nine other non-conference games are at home, including matchups against Denison University (November 26) and Adrian College (December 7). Case Western Reserve travels to Miami in the middle of December for the 2019 HOOP MIA Holiday Slam and to Albion, Michigan to face Albion College, a team that made the NCAA playoffs last season.
"It's always challenging," McGuinness said. "We want to have the most challenging teams we can play in non-conference that are close enough that it's not a far drive."
Fans can find live stats and video for the Bill Sudeck Tournament on the men's basketball schedule page at https://athletics.case.edu/sports/mbkb/2019-20/schedule. More information on the tournament will be posted to athletics.case.edu later this week.
CWRU starts conference play with a home matchup against Carnegie Mellon on January 11 and then begins weekend conference play by hosting No. 7 Washington (Mo.) and Chicago on January 17 and 19. The team's annual Throwback Weekend at Adelbert Gym will be on February 7 and 9 with games against Brandeis, who received votes in the D3hoops.com Preseason Poll, and New York University. In conference play the team will also take on No. 6 Emory and Rochester (NY), another team that received votes in the poll, two times each. The Spartans end the season at Carnegie Mellon on February 29.