Last year was a strong stepping stone in the process for the men’s Pioneer basketball team. Despite having a young squad and tough schedule, the team was able to manage an 18-13 record overall.
Down the stretch, however, the team faded a bit, losing seven of its last 10 games. In the 2011-2012 season, the Pioneers expect to rebound and rediscover the form that got them off to a 15-6 start last year.
To do so, consistency will be an absolute must for these men as they face one of the toughest schedules in Pioneer basketball history.
“One of the transitions we are going to have to do to get better than we were last year is to be more consistent,” head coach Tim Walker said. “I think last year, particularly at the end of the year, we just became very inconsistent in a lot of areas of the game.”
The move to NCAA Division II and to the GLIAC conference, of course, affects this team just like it does any other Pioneer squad.
This year, however, men’s basketball may be affected more than most with a schedule that includes powerhouses like #12 ranked Southern Indiana University, #7 ranked Findlay University and #1 ranked Bellarmine (KY) University.
“I think number one we play, without question, the most difficult schedule in the history of Malone basketball,” Walker said.
With such a demanding schedule it is hard to predict what this team will do when it comes to wins and losses. They do expect, however, to compete, play hard and continually get better.
“How it is going to play out, wins and losses, I really don’t know, but I expect us to continue to progress,” Walker said. “Certainly I think we win our fair share of games but that may look different than what it did a year ago.”
If they are going to compete with these larger and more talented teams, one of the areas of the game both Walker and his players believe they need to get better in is toughness.
“I think the biggest area we need to improve is defensive toughness,” senior captain Eric Coblentz said. “We have a tough schedule, so we have to be the toughest team on the court every night.”
[pullquote]How it is going to play out, wins and losses, I really don’t know, but I expect us to continue to progress,” Walker said. “Certainly I think we win our fair share of games but that may look different than what it did a year ago.”[/pullquote]
According to Coblentz, besides having some 6:30 a.m. practices where they work on their defensive skills, one of the other ways this team is getting tougher defensively is through weightlifting and cardio before or after practice.
Offensively, it appears this group will be just fine as they sport what is, according to Walker, the most talented and athletic group in Pioneer history.
Again, too, on offense the game plan will be to push the ball up and down the court to create easy baskets. Also with the absence of a dominant post presence and a lot of sharp shooters, Walker said a lot of threes should be expected.
“We’re always going to shoot the three,” Walker said. “I don’t think that will probably ever change as long as I am here and as long as we can get kids who can shoot the three.”
Another strength for this group of men is the return of their stellar trio of freshmen from last year (Che Richardson, Isiah Elliott and Cory Veldhuizen). All three sophomores are expected to start again this year and each has made improvements to their game and leadership abilities.
As Walker said, a lot will be expected from this group and particularly from point guard Elliott. Over the offseason, according to Walker, Elliott both became more athletic and a better shooter.
Also, as the floor general, Elliott has had to work on improving both his game and his leadership qualities.
“I have been working on my jump shot a lot,” Elliott said. “Also leadership-wise, coach has been telling me I need to speak up and I feel I have gotten better there, too.”
At the end of the day the Pioneers’ goals this year are to win the Ohio Independent Championships and qualify for NCCAA Nationals. Walker understands that in order for this group to accomplish both of these goals they will need to be confident and upbeat.
If they can stay confident, Walker believes it could be a successful year for Pioneer basketball.
“I think if we can stay positive then we will have a chance to have a nice year,” Walker said.
The Pioneers kick off the 2011-2012 season this Saturday at home in Osborne Hall against Houghton (NY) University at 5 p.m.