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Opinion

Men’s basketball looking to finish in top half of WIAC this season

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October 3, 2013

As we get deeper into fall, more sports become relevant than just football. We will have hockey and basketball back in full swing now and the campus is craving a winner. For years our hockey teams have been very competitive, recently the women more than the men, but it should even itself out this year.

As for basketball, well that’s another story. The women’s basketball team here on campus has been enormously overlooked the past three years when they have had a successful run lead by the Gregorich sisters, great coaching and a terrific bench.

The women turned in another stellar year last year led by the do everything Brittany Gregorich and a cast of characters around her that did well enough to finish a respectable 8-8 in conference, and 14-12 overall. The sisters have graduated now, first Tiffany two years ago, and Brittany last year. In steps a group of young ladies, anxiously awaiting their chance to prove themselves on the hardwood. Led by Tess Lueders and Richell Mehus, this group is full of energy, excitement and the potential for a great year.

Standing in their way are the typical names: UW-Whitewater and UW-Stevens Point. The Falcons did well to earn themselves their first ever spot in the national tournament two seasons ago. They exited with a first round loss. Do not let that accomplishment go unnoticed.

The men’s team made the national tourney that same year, then had an abysmal season last year filled with Head Coach Jeff Berkhof trying to find the right puzzle pieces to fit into the right spots. The leader of the team, Ollie White went down to injury and a group of youngsters were thrust into action against more experienced and polished players. This head scratching resulted in a poor record.

The men finished 3-13 in conference, 8-17 overall. So what do the odds look like for the men to turn it around this year? Well the usual suspects should lead the way with a potential for a surprise or two along the way. Without further ado, here are my season predictions for the WIAC men’s basketball year:

First: I think I would be crazy not to choose Whitewater here. Head Coach Pat Miller has accumulated a 262-79 record in his tenure at Whitewater, including a national championship and a handful of WIAC titles to go along with three tournament titles. His fourth best winning percentage just shy of .770, leaves him behind a list of conference legends such as Bo Ryan. Now the players, Quardell Young should shine this year, Alex Merg will be solid, Cody Odegaard is sufficient and Jack Herum a product of River Falls High School should provide a boost off of the bench. Two years removed from a national championship, this squad may lack the perennial player that team had (Chris Davis) to make the title run.

Second: Stevens Point has done enough in recruiting the last five years to earn this spot. DeVon Jackson is a stud, nobody can guard Trevor Hass or Clayton Heuer and Austin Ryf just seems to make the right play all of the time. He will not let you beat him, nor will he beat himself. Besides having a beautiful place to play ball, this team should play some pretty basketball. Constant movement and flowing should result in a strong year for the Pointers.

Third: Here is the first potential surprise, depending on whether or not you paid attention last year. I had the privilege to go and call a UWRF men’s game at UW-Stout last year, and this team is for real. It plays with a swagger that you can fall in love with. There are guys on their team who love to jaw the whole game and back it up with big shots and timely defense. Jarvis Ragland leads this team in his senior year along with Alex Oman and Aaron Jenny. Here is a name you might not know, but keep an eye on, Troy Klingsporn. The kid can ball, and he is there for one reason, to score.

Fourth: the Falcons will find a way to do this. They have the talent; it is about finding the group of five guys that can be kept on the court together as a unit to succeed. If there could be one personal complaint about last year, it would be that subs were brought in too often. There really was not a strong consistent group of five guys who could be counted on to play 30 minutes a game each night like we had grown to see with the past two Falcon teams that both made the national tournament. This year Ollie White is healthy and ready to go. The guards have to play big for this team to win. Taylor Peterson is a guy every coach wants on his team. He will do anything to win.

Fifth: the UW-Platteville Pioneers boast arguably the best post player in the league in Chas Cross, but can he carry them to a WIAC title? Not Likely. He will need some support from Brad Reinke amongst others to get to the promise land, but they should fall just short this year. I would be shocked if Cross doesn’t have double digit 20 point games.

The rest: 6. UW-La Crosse; 7. UW-Superior; 8. UW-Eau Claire; 9. UW-Oshkosh.

Brandon Jones is a senior journalism major minoring in political science. Sports means the world to him. The sound of a ball cracking against a bat, a ref blowing his whistle: It all means the same thing for him -- happiness. We all have our thing, his is sports.