Coming off of a 20-win season and a NCAA tournament appearance, the UW-River Falls men’s basketball team has similarly high expectations for the upcoming season.
They have these expectations even with a new look team this season, which returns one starter from a year ago.
Last year, the Falcons won the WIAC tournament after finishing in a tie for second in the WIAC regular season. They capped the WIAC tournament run with a win over eventual Division III national champion UW-Whitewater.
Head coach Jeff Berkhof said that expectations for the team remain constant from year to year. “Every year we think we can contend for a WIAC championship, regular season or tournament. That is the main goal,” said Berkhof.
Senior forward Ollie White is excited about this year’s team.
“I’m looking forward to this season and am excited with the potential we have on this year’s team,” said the Minnetrista, Minn. native
White is coming off of a WIAC honorable mention season.
He is also the only one of last season’s top four scorers and only returning starter on the team this year. The other four starters graduated.
Berkhof said that it will take a team effort to replace that scoring.
“It’s a combination of returning players who need to step forward and get it done, and we also have an influx of transfers and freshmen that need to add their contributions as well,” said Berkhof.
Berkhof said that he does not have a set starting lineup right now. He said that this team has a lot of flexibility to match up with different types of opponents which will result in different starting line-ups from game to game.
“We have depth, inexperienced depth, but we can play quite a few guys,” said Berkhof.
“We do have the capability to go big or small. We can play in different ways with different personnel.”
There were a few specific spots that the head coach said he could mix and match players.
When asked what the team can do to fill the shoes of last year’s seniors, White said the team can only concern themselves with what it can do.
“We control what we can control and learn from the successes of last year’s seniors while we try to keep the program moving in the right direction,” said White.
He went on to identify a few keys to success this year: “Unity, focus and understanding is what needs to be done to win games.”
Those keys will be important with so many new players seeing action this season.
It will not be an easy road to an NCAA tournament bid for any WIAC team this year. Berkhof said that the WIAC is one of the top two or three conferences in the country.
“Everybody says it is. A team from our conference has won two out of the last three national titles,” said the head coach.
UW-Stevens Point won the title in 2010 and UWW won it last year.
Those two teams, in addition to UWRF, grabbed NCAA tournament bids last year.
UWW and UWSP are both predicted to finish first and second in the WIAC this season, followed by UW-La Crosse and then UWRF.
The Falcons begin their season with an exhibition game at Concordia-St. Paul Nov. 9. The game starts at 7 p.m. at the Karges Center.