The UW-W men’s basketball team starts their season against No. 15 Claremont Mudd-Scripps in a game that Warhawk players hope is the start of another championship-winning season.
“Win it all, that’s the main goal,” senior guard Chris Jones said.
The greatest strength of the Warhawks last season, who finished the year with a 22-7 record, was their potent offense, which lead the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in scoring with 77.4 points per game. Most of last season’s scoring returns as UW-W’s top four scorers from last season return.
Leading that charge is Jones, a d3hoops.com honorable mention Preseason All-American, who lead the WIAC in scoring last season dropping in 17.9 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting from the floor and 49.3 percent from beyond the arc.
Offense wasn’t a problem for the Warhawks last year, but their defense which ranked sixth in the conference in points allowed per game lead to many of their loses. Warhawks players and coaches have preached a newfound focus on the less glamorous end of the floor heading into the season’s’ first game.
“Defensively obviously we weren’t very good last year,” Head coach Pat Miller said. “but from what I’ve seen so far, we’re definitely better defensively, we’re much better in defensive transition.”
Miller went on to say that the Warhawks have changed their defensive scheme incorporating more pressure and different gap concepts.
“We’re a lot more aggressive, there’s a lot more communication,” senior forward Scotty Tyler said about the team defense.
Much of that defense will focus around Tyler, who led the WIAC in blocks last season with 31, and senior guard Derek Rongstad who led the conference in steals.
Defense isn’t the only end where Tyler and Rongstad make their impact felt. Tyler was second on the team in scoring last year at 14.4 points per game and broke the UW-W single game scoring record when he poured in 45 points against Grafton College. Rongstad ranked third on the team in scoring at 11.1 points per game.
Something that will be different for UW-W this season will be a new sense of continuity. Last year Jones, Tyler and Rongstad were all in their first season at UW-W after transferring from other schools. Miller thinks the focus of all three players is different, after being at UW-W for a whole season and experiencing D-III competition.
“Division I transfers, high-level transfers rarely are really good right away. Often times they underestimate the level (of competition).” Miller said. “After going through last year, they understand the level better, they’re in better shape and practicing harder.”
UW-W still does have a couple of incoming players that are turning some heads. One name that kept coming up from players and coaches alike was incoming junior guard David Sachs.
“We call him ‘John Stockton’, he’s really nice,” Jones said about Sachs.
The Warhawks lost in the second round of the DII Tournament to Augustana on a buzzer-beater. That tough loss is still being used as a motivating factor for the Warhawks players.
“I can’t stop thinking about it.” Jones said about last season’s ending. “I can’t wait to get back out on that stage.”
Other returning players that Warhawks fans should look out for are junior guard Andre Brown who Miller compared to UW-W legend Quardell Young in how he has returned better every year. And junior forward Mitch Pfeifer who will be needed for his rebounding.
The Warhawks are coached Pat Miller who, through 16 seasons, has a 353-104 career record. Miller has coached the Warhawks to two national titles, in 2012 and 2014, and won another as a player in 1989. His .772 winning percentage is good for 17th all-time amongst all divisions, ranking him above coaches like John Calipari, Bo Ryan and Mike Krzyzewski.
Tipoff for UW-W and the Claremont Mudd-Scripps Stags is set for 7 p.m. at Kachel Gymnasium. Senior guard Jerry Ngobi doesn’t think the level of competition is the big deal, but instead everything is on the Warhawks.
“With this team, as long as we take care of what we need to take care of I’m not worried about anybody in the whole country.” Ngobi said. “It’s just about us taking care of what we need to take care of and we’ll be fine.”