In theory, it may seem odd to say that a team with a dozen returning players that made the MIAC playoffs last year will have a new look about them in 2011-12. But that is truly the case for the Hamline Pipers' men's team.
Hamline will play the first of two exhibition games tonight at Hutton Arena against Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Ontario). Game time is 7:00 p.m. It is also available via webcast on the HU website. Division II Minnesota-Crookston visits Hutton November 10 for a 7:00 p.m. game.
Carl Hipp, the burly center who led Hamline in nearly every offensive category there is last year, has graduated and, as fifth-year head coach Nelson Whitmore notes, “You can’t replace a guy like that.”
So the 2011-12 Pipers may approach things a bit differently. There may be a different scoring leader every night. No two trips down the court may look the same. But, if Whitmore’s will works out, the concept will look the same: five guys going full-blast at both ends of the court.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of games in the 80s and 90s,” Whitmore said. “It’s the style I like to play and it’s the style that suits our talent. It should be a lot of fun.”
While Hipp is gone, seven of last year’s Top Ten scorers do return. Mike Campbell is an explosive guard was second to Hipp in many categories, averaging over 14 points per game.. An All-MIAC pick last year, he shot nearly 50 percent from the field, 80 per cent from the free throw line and often plays larger than his 6-3 status. “He’s got a chance to be one of the best players in the conference,” Whitmore said.
Whitmore is also high on Noah Aguirre, who averaged nearly 10 points per game last year and led the team in steals with 44. “He understands the game well and is a good three-point shooter,” Whitmore noted. “Technically, he’s our center. But he really could be a guard in a lot of programs.”
Tyler Pannell had a terrific first season, starting 25 games, averaging six points a game. “He can penetrate and is very unselfish,” Whitmore said. “He was one of the best freshmen in the league last year.” Another very effective guard is 5-10 Levi Wenrich , last year’s team leader in assists.
Those four are likely to be starters. But nobody played more than 26 ½ minutes per game last year. And the hope is this year’s team is deep enough to allow that to be the case again.
Whitmore estimates that returnees like Brandon Rieg , a three-point threat, Victor Easter, Christian Taber and Sam Gullickson will be coming off the bench a lot and may compete for a starting position. “At times, we’ll look like we have five guards on the court,” he said.
Al Tillman and Dior Ford are newcomers who may work their way into the lineup in a hurry. Tillman, a junior, comes to HU from the Rochester (Minn.) CTC team that was 30-3 and played in the national JC championship game. Ford is an athletic 6-5 first-year scorer who “makes things happen” according to Whitmore.
A year ago, the Pipers played the sixth hardest D-III schedule in the country. The 2011-12 version is just as demanding. In addition to the rugged 20-game MIAC slate, the Pipers have non-conference games against two teams that played in last year’s NCAA Tournament (Northwestern and Chapman) as well as two tough WI foes – UW-Eau Claire and UW-Whitewater. “We’re not afraid of anybody,” Whitmore said. “Last year, we were picked for ninth place and finished third. The key for us will be if we can dictate the tempo of the game and if the new guys can adjust to the intensity level needed to win games. If we do that, we’ll be fine. I’m excited about this team. We intend to be fun to watch but hard to play against.”
Although this one doesn't count in the statistics, the Thunderwolves also figure to be a tough test. They are the defending OUA champions and finished fifth in the CIS (the Canadian version of the NCAA) tournament last year. They are undefeated in several exhibition games in Canada. On Friday, they won at UW-Stout, 70-67.