|Sophomore Danyon Hempy projects to slide into a starting role, and is one of three returnees who averaged double figures in scoring last year.|
The College of Wooster men's basketball team went on a roll once the calendar flipped to 2017 as the Fighting Scots closed out last season with 15 wins over the last 17 contests, and chief among them was the program's league-leading 16th North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament championship that secured an automatic berth in the Black and Gold's Div. III-best 15th straight NCAA Div. III Championships. Every preseason indication points towards Wooster being a contender once again in the challenging NCAC as the Scots welcome back a talented core led by three returning starters who will blend in with a plethora of talented newcomers.
"Even with the loss of two starters, we think with the returnees we do have and possibly mixing in some combination of newcomers and players who were with us last year who could step into playing roles (that we'll be able to build upon last year's strong finish)," said head coach Steve Moore, who enters his 31st season at the College second among active Div. III coaches with 800 career wins, 713 of which have come at Wooster. "There continues to be a lot of optimism within our program."
Wooster, which returns nine letterwinners from its 21-8 team a year ago, will be led by senior Spencer Williams. Williams, a two-time all-NCAC honoree, primarily played shooting guard last year, when he averaged 14.5 points per game for the second straight year.
"I think Spencer has continued to work extremely hard on his all-around game," commented Moore. "Spencer's coming off a good offseason and is very motivated to have a good senior year."
Bulic, a two-year key contributor, worked his way into Wooster's starting lineup midway through the season. In fact, Bulic's insertion into the starting unit coincided with Wooster's 15-2 close to the season, and the forward's tremendous defense and rebounding were two of the key pieces down the stretch. Dupler, one of two returnees to start in all 29 games, upped his scoring average by nearly four points per game, and saw a steady uptick in the rebound and assist columns as well.
"Both Reece and Eric had really good sophomore years," summed up Moore. "Eric really came on strong in the second half once he was moved into the starting lineup. In the offseason, he's improved at the offensive end."
Continued Moore, "We're looking for Reece to be a very good all-around player again. He did a lot of good things for us."
Baptiste presents a similar skillset to Bulic with strong defense and rebounding, and in fact, the duo paved the way to Wooster's top 25 national ranking in rebounding margin last year. The senior backed up 5.9 rebounds per night with 6.4 points in the scoring column.
"We're hoping that by having surgery, Alex will be able to move better and be more effective in his play," said Moore.
Hempy made a major impact right away as a first-year, and in fact, played the fourth-most minutes of anyone on the team despite only making three starts.
"Danyon made a fine contribution in his first year, and we're looking for him to step into a starting role and have a good sophomore campaign," stated Moore. "He's worked hard in the offseason and I believe that he's improved on the defensive end of the court."
Other returnees with significant game experience include seniors Derek Schwarz and Ari Stern, and sophomore Trenton Tipton, while senior Ryan Wobbe, junior Simon Texidor, and sophomore Sherack Malokwu all earned spot action in the past and are competing for larger roles.
The Scots have always taken advantage of their team speed and like to push the tempo whenever the opportunity presents itself. Given the makeup of this year's squad, Moore could look to do that even more as the Scots have the versatility to mix-and-match in terms of overall size and speed in the on-court lineup.
However, the real pride in the program is the Scots' ability to play strong defense and rebound, and Wooster did just that last year by holding the opposition to a .412 field goal percentage and finishing with a near seven-board per game rebounding advantage.
The Scots' of course have their sights set on winning the conference championship, which Wooster has achieved more often than any other NCAC team, and to be playing in March. During the Scots' current streak of 15 consecutive NCAA Div. III Championships appearances, Wooster's had three runs to the semifinals (2003, 2007, 2011).
Below is a look at the backcourt, the frontcourt, and a breakdown of the Scots' challenging 2017-18 schedule:
Williams has established himself as one of the most consistent scorers in the league as the shooting guard reached double figures in 26 of 29 outings last year and logged five 20-point games. In fact, Williams became the 42nd 1,000-point scorer in program history in late January and has scored over 400 points in each of the past two seasons.
Dupler, who joined Williams and former great Dan Fanelly, with all-conference laurels, averaged 13 points per game, and was one of the NCAC's most efficient scorers with an incredible .569 (165-for-290) field goal percentage. The 6-2 all-around playmaker possesses stellar rebounding skills, evidenced by eight games a year ago with at least five boards.
Hempy, who could move into a starting role, delivered a memorable game in his first collegiate start by pouring in a career-high 25-points against Saint John Fisher College. Notable, the rising sophomore gave the Scots a quartet of student-athletes with double-digit scoring averages a year ago.
Stern gives Moore someone who can provide veteran stability and leadership in a multitude of roles. Last year, he entered 18 games and averaged 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game.
Texidor continued to deliver productive minutes when called upon, and he posted similar stat lines from his freshman year in 2.5 points and 0.8 rebounds per game after 2.7 and 1.0 respectively as a first-year.
Junior Trey Miller, a transfer from Otterbein University, will also be in the mix for time in the backcourt and gives Moore another veteran option in the back court evidenced by 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds per game over two years with the Cardinals' program.
First-year Keonn Scott is also pushing hard for significant minutes right away.
Bulic ranked seventh in the league in rebounding at 6.4 per night, thanks to nearly eight per game upon being inserted into the starting lineup. In fact, Bulic averaged 10 rebounds per game in the NCAC Tournament, including 15 versus Wabash in the quarterfinals to help the Scots secure a guaranteed spot in the NCAA Div. III Championships field.
Baptiste developed into one of the premier posts in the NCAC as the rim-protector led the league in blocks per game and was 10th in rebounding. Over the course of least year, Baptiste logged 13 games with at least seven rebounds.
Malokwu is noted by the staff to have a "much improved skillset and knowledge of the game," and is part of a group in the mix for an increase in time.
Schwarz turned in a strong bounce-back season after missing the entire 2015-16 campaign due to an injury. Schwarz's key contributions included five points during the Scots' NCAA Div. III Championships game against North Central College (Ill.) and six rebounds in eight minutes versus Defiance College.
Tipton gives Moore plenty of flexibility as he as the ability to stretch the floor evidenced by early-season success from beyond the 3-point arc. Overall, Tipton played in 15 games and averaged 1.8 points and a rebound per night.
Wobbe, a veteran in the program, adds plenty of depth in the frontcourt evidenced by 32 career games of experience, and he's part of a group of players battling for minutes down low.
Josh Lotko is among the freshmen forwards competing for time right away.
Wooster once again faces a very challenging schedule. The regular season begins with the Scots' annual Al Van Wie/Wooster Rotary Classic, in a Wednesday-Saturday format. The Wednesday, Nov. 15 contest marks the Scots' NCAC opener as well as Oberlin College visits Timken Gymnasium to kick-start the season for the second year in a row. Then, Medaille College, the first of three straight 2017 NCAA Div. IIII Championships participants on the Scots' schedule, rounds out the classic on Nov. 18.
Next, a trip to 23-game winner Saint John Fisher College follows on Nov. 21 prior to Wooster returning home for a Nov. 25 tilt against Hanover College, a 2017 national quarterfinalist.
Wooster's rigorous schedule continues with a return to league play at Denison University on Nov. 29 followed by back-to-back home contests versus Wabash College (Dec. 2) and Hiram College (Dec. 6). A lengthy road trip to DePauw University on Dec. 9 takes the Scots to the academic finals' week for the fall semester.
After finals, Wooster heads down to the Sunshine State where the Scots will play in the Mauro Panaggio Tournament at Daytona, Fla. Wooster opens against Saint Joseph's College of Maine on Dec. 17 and will play either Brockport State or Whittier College on Dec. 18.
Between Christmas and New Year's, one of the longest-running events in college basketball – the 55th annual "Mose" Hole/Kiwanis Classic is set to take place Dec. 29-30 with the second day's contests moved up to 3 and 5 p.m. due to falling on Saturday. A strong field is once again in place with Wooster and Worcester Polytechnic Institute capping Friday's action at 7 p.m. following a 5 p.m. clash between Alma College and Emory & Henry College.
Once the calendar flips to 2018, only conference games remain in the regular season, starting with a rematch of the 2017 NCAC Tournament championship as Wooster heads down to Ohio Wesleyan University on Jan. 6. A week later, archrival Wittenberg University is in town for a 6 p.m. tilt on Jan. 13, and the Scots cap the regular season at Springfield, Ohio on Feb. 17. Wooster's won 11 of the last 12 meetings in one of small college basketball's best rivalries and now leads the all-time series 59-55.
Other dates of note include Feb. 10 versus Ohio Wesleyan when the Scots will honor their five seniors prior to tipoff.
Of course, there's no overlooking anyone in the NCAC as Moore expects the conference to be as parity-filled as ever.
"The NCAC is tough from top to bottom," said Moore. "It's very competitive night in and night out. It's very difficult to separate out teams as everyone is competitive."