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Off-season thoughts on the men's team

March 22, 2012 - Michael Bleach
You have read Tech men's basketball coach Kevin Luke's thoughts on the upcoming season (if not, part 1 is here and part 2 is here of a Q&A).

Worth significantly less, here are mine:

1. Tech returns two big men, senior* Ali Haidar and sophomore* Phil Romback. One is the returning GLIAC Player of the Year. The other is a sweet-shooting big man who got better as the season went along. They will make a formidable starting front court.

*During the offseason, sportswriters are always faced — especially while school is still going on — with the awkward decision of whether to refer to collegiate players as the year in school they are completing or the year they will be next season. I am making an executive decision. From here on out, all Tech athletes will be officially known as the year the NCAA sees them for the 2012-13 season. This will prevent me from stabbing myself in the eye after typing "rising-sophomore" for the 747th time.

After those two, however, there are only question marks for the forwards.

With Mike Hojnacki and Brian Olley graduated, and senior Nate Kindt out indefinitely with a back (disc) injury — more on that in the coming month when I talk to Luke again — the only other returning big men are freshmen Kyle Stankowski and Nate McLeod, both of whom redshirted this year.

I observed them practicing for two months and "raw" would be a generous way to describe them. Out of their element might be more accurate.

Luke agrees (with the former sentiment if not the latter).

"No question, they are very raw," he told me last week.

"The first thing I said to those guys the other day when the season is over. 'You are not a redshirt now. You are a player. And now we have to go.'"

There are three options from here.

One, the potential for actual minutes, as opposed to the monotony of redshirting, spurs Stankowski or McLeod on to new heights, they seize the backup forward spot (as Romback did this year) and the whole issue becomes moot. This is just my opinion, but I think there is too much of a gap to cover in one summer for either of them.

Two, a true-freshman big man comes in ready to play. We will know more on this in a month or so when Luke can legally talk to me about the upcoming recruiting class. As of right now, coaches are forbidden from speaking about recruits.

Three, and a as Luke admitted, a very likely scenario, Tech will have to play large portions of the game with a four-guard lineup.

How Tech handles this would be fascinating, because many of the advantages of a four-guard lineup — fast-breaking, pressuring on the perimeter, dribble penetration, etc. — are facets of the game Tech actively avoids. Further, with Alex Culy and Ben Stelzer, Tech was ALREADY undersized at the guard position. So if they go with a four-guard configuration they will be undersized-squared*.

Alas, making the little '2' that designates a squared number appears out of my html skills range. I apologize for the inconvenience.

None of this is to say that a four-guard line-up couldn't work. It would just take a great adjustment philosophy-wise.

2. Buried near the end of part 2, Luke revealed that mathematically, he had discovered the goal for a championship-level team on the offensive end:

Shoot 53 percent or higher.

According to Luke — and I am going to take him at his word because the research to verify his claim seems boring and onerous when it is 70 degrees out in March — the Division II champ always seems to have an offense that finishes at that elite level.

Last season Tech shot 48.2 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from three. To bump up that five percent they will need freshmen Stelzer (40 percent overall) and Romback (37 percent) to shoot better — both likely as the jump in performance is always biggest from freshman year to sophomore year — and the pu pu platter of Reetz/Esters/Brown/Hecht to convert on more of their open shots. And as unreasonable as it is to expect Haidar (54 percent) to knock down a higher percentage, Evan Yates of Ashland proved its possible by hitting at a 60 percent rate this season.

All three of those are attainable.

By season's end, Tech had hit on an offensive formula that was objectively delightful to watch. You can't single cover Haidar in the post, he'll kill you. But you couldn't leave Culy, Armga, Stelzer, Romback or Hojnacki open behind the arc — they'll kill you for three points. Only Hojnacki has departed and his production can easily be made up with Stelzer/Romback entering their sophomore years.

All of which is an extremely long-winded way of saying you can look for Tech's goal in 2012-13, 53 percent, as a bench mark of whether or not they are enjoying the kind of year they are capable of.

3. This is a common theme among both the women's and men's teams, but we will stick to just discussing the men right now.

They have to play better in November and December.

A spot in the NCAA Tournament should be a minimum for the Huskies next season, and that starts with beating some (if not all) non-conference challengers. With Hojnacki as the only real impact loss, they shouldn't need much time to gel early in the year.

Maintaining and edge and energy when it is do-or-die is one thing; that is to be expected.

Starting the year with that same intensity is another; a sign of a legit contender.



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