Preseason polls are a fun way to get excited for the season, but let’s be honest — they are as important as head coach Ryan Looney’s hair stylist.
Last month, Sporting News magazine tabbed the Seattle Pacific men’s basketball team atop its DII rankings for the 2013-2014 season. While the Falcons undoubtedly deserve to be in the discussion, it’s tough to justify the No. 1 spot when your most recent game ended in a defeat to your rival in the playoffs. The players are well aware of that, too.
“It’s a pretty exciting honor, but we can’t let it get to our heads, and we don’t deserve No. 1,” senior point guard David Downs said. “Western [Washington] still has our number, and we don’t deserve it until we beat them. We are still unproven.”
In addition to being ranked No. 1 by Sporting News, the magazine also selected Downs as a First Team All-American, while senior forward Patrick Simon earned Honorable Mention. In the Great Northwest Athletic Conference preseason coaches’ poll, Downs was named the player of the year, and SPU was picked No. 1.
Preseason recognition is great to pause for a split-second, give a pat on the back, then go right back to work. The son of a high school basketball coach, Downs has the right mindset — but it is essential for it to be a team effort.
Even though the Falcons didn’t finish on top last season, it is easy to see why they’ve received so much hype. Last season, SPU finished 27-4, the highest winning percentage in school history, and won the GNAC Championship on a last-second three pointer by departed senior Jobi Wall. The Falcons finished No. 2 nationally, but fell to Western Washington in the regional final of the tournament.
Here are four other storylines to watch:
With the amount of preseason attention SPU is getting right now, it is easy to forget SPU hasn’t even been the best team in its region — WWU has made it to the Final Four in back-to-back seasons.
However, it will be a different WWU team this season. The Vikings lost six players to graduation, including former GNAC Player of the Year John Allen. Still, over the last two seasons, WWU has won six of the seven head-to-head matchups with SPU, including all four in WWU’s Carver Gym.
Considering the stacked class that graduated from WWU, plus SPU’s accolade-filled lineup, there is a tangible feeling around the program that this is finally the year.
THE NEW BIG GUY
Last season, the presence in the paint seemed lacking. Departed post Andy Poling may have been 6’11,’’ but he was fourth on the team in rebounds, averaging fewer than four per game. Considering that the Falcons often attempt more than 20 three-pointers per game in Looney’s swing offense, it is crucial to have an imposing presence on the inside.
Enter: Cory Hutsen. The junior post averaged nine points per game in a reserve role this season, but has been dominant as a starter thus far. Against Concordia, Hutsen posted a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds.
THE NO. 5 STARTER
Two starters must be replaced from last year’s team — Poling and Wall. Hutsen will be an upgrade down low, but it will be tough to replace the strength and ability of Wall, last year’s leading scorer. Junior guard Matt Borton has adjusted pretty well, earning a double-double against Concordia. Borton doesn’t have to be Wall, just an efficient workhorse who won’t make mistakes. It will complement Downs’ playmaking ability, junior wing Riley Stockton’s lockdown defense, senior forward Patrick Simon’s scoring skills and Hutsen in the post.
THE SIXTH MAN
Last year, Hutsen was the first guy off the bench and contributed in the reserve role. This year, there isn’t much depth down low, with freshmen Joe Rasmussen and EJ Poulsen behind Hutsen.
Sophomore wing Brendan Carroll also got a fair share of playing time, and he will likely continue his role of subbing often. Sophomore forward Mitch Penner will also see an expanded role this season.
The Falcons may have won the preseason, but now it’s time to do the same when it actually matters. SPU starts the season at the invite-only Disney Tip-Off West Coast Classic on Friday in Anaheim.