November 17, 2012

Men's BB team Hoping To Get Opponents On The Run; Open Season Today At Hutton

Dior Ford

If head coach Nelson Whitmore has his way, the 2012-13 version of Hamline men’s basketball will continue their recent trend of being a freewheeling offensive powerhouse … with better defense thrown in for good measure.

The Pipers led the MIAC in offense last year with a 75.8 point per game average. Their final 13-12 record also meant they have had three straight winning seasons – something that hasn’t happened at Hutton Arena for two decades.

But they missed their goal of the playoffs when they lost out on a tiebreaker. With eight players back (including three starters) and a crop of promising newcomers aboard, Hamline entertains high hopes of moving up the MIAC ladder this winter.

“The key to our success will be creating tempo,” Whitmore said. “We want the score to be in the 80s, 90s, and 100s. If we can get to that sort of tempo, we’ll win games.”

The first test of this style comes this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. at Hutton Arena when Hamline opens the 2012-13 season against Wisconsin Lutheran. The Warriors (0-1) dropped their season opener, 65-51, at Macalester Friday night.

A year ago, the Pipers forced 449 turnovers, 55 more than their nearest rival. They will be looking to do so again this year while improving their defensive play in general.  “We have to learn how to play when the game is in the 50s, 60s and 70s. And to do that, you have to be disciplined,” Whitmore said.

Mike Campbell, a two-time All-MIAC choice and the team’s leading scorer and rebounder last year, has graduated. But Dior Ford (at right), a 6-5 forward who made the All-MIAC First Year team by averaging nearly a dozen points per game and was second  in nearly every offensive category, is back. So is Noah Aguirre, a senior forward who was right behind Ford in output. Tyler Pannell, a sophomore guard, was the top three-point gunner last year with 43 and is being counted on the do the same this year.  

Victor Easter, a senior who saw action in all 25 games last year, is a candidate for a point guard spot. Another senior, 6-8 C Charlie Choiniere, played 24 games last year and is the tallest player on the roster.

Ford, Aguirre and Pannell are the only returnees who averaged more than 20 minutes per game playing time last year. But that doesn’t mean as much as it might because of the high-powered, high energy offense Whitmore hopes to employ. Last year, ten Pipers averaged double digit minutes. The sixth-year coach envisions similar numbers this year.  “This is the most athletic team we have had here,” he said. “We’ll run more this year.”

With two seniors and two experienced juniors back, Whitmore starts with a solid group. It will get even more experienced if Christian Taber can make it back in his recovery from the knee injury that amputated his 2011-12 season after 11 games. “That was a big blow last year,” Whitmore said. “Christian is a very smart player.” It is hoped that Taber will be able to play by January.

While there are some experienced hands back, the Pipers will also be relying on several newcomers. As Whitmore notes, there will be a learning curve that will go both ways. “They will look great at times but the wheels can also fall off in a heartbeat,” he said.

One newcomer who has some college experience is 6-7 soph Austin Johnson, who played seven games last season at Division II Notre Dame de Namur. “He has great lateral quickness,” Whitmore said. “He can also guard a point guard.”

Whitmore likes what he sees out of four other first year players:  G Wesley Pinera, a potential point guard, F Eugene Lawrence, G Ryan Welsh, a steady three-pointer shooter, and F Cardon Harris (“great instinctive rebounder”). Soph G Marshall Jestings and Zach Moll will also be vying for playing time.  Both did see action last year but played less than 100 minutes apiece. “There will be moments of learning for all the newcomers,” Whitmore said. “We know that going in. You can’t speed up a learning curve. You can’t get to Step 2 without doing Step 1 first.”

Until the new folks are ready, it will be up to the veterans to show the way.

One thing that may work in Hamline’s favor is the fact they play five of their first six games (and the first three MIAC games) at Hutton Arena. The flip side of that is two of the four league games played before the holiday break are against St. Thomas (home) and at Augsburg, expected to be among the top teams in the league. “It’s probably good those early games are at home,” Whitmore agrees. “But no matter how you cut it, they’re tough matchups.”

The non-conference slate is no romp around the court, either. After opening the season with Wisconsin Lutheran, HU greets Wisconsin-Eau Claire, which went 15-10 last season at Hutton November 20.  The Pipers also are at Northwestern (MN), which has made it to the NCAA tournament the past two seasons. The other non-con games are on the west coast against two tough foes – Whitman (18-8 last year) and Whitworth (26-4 and a NCAA participant).

All Piper home games will be webcast this season.