DC Men’s Basketball Preview

-Joseph Kudela (Defiance, OH)

The 2015-16 basketball season at Defiance College will have a very different feel to it. While only eight months removed from the most successful season in the program’s history at the NCAA Division III level, almost all remnants of that storybook campaign have exited.

Included in the departures is a six-man senior class that led the team in scoring in all but two games last season. Also gone is the top freshman from last season’s team and the head coach.
Taking over the program is former DC assistant Scott Cutter, who spent the 2003-2007 seasons with the Jackets as an assistant for Jon Miller, who now coaches at Hanover. Cutter had a big hand in the recruitment of the class of 2010, which went on to capture the 2008 regular season HCAC title and played in two HCAC Tournament finals, winning the 2010 tournament and playing in the NCAA Tournament.
The Jackets must overcome their lack of size going into this season. Besides 6-9 senior Wade Wooley, the Jackets will be small with their next tallest player being 6-4, which will mean DC will have to play with a blue-collar attitude.
“We have to have the mentality of a tough, gritty sort of team because of our size deficiency,” said Cutter. “There’s really no other option because we’re not 6-5 on the wing. We’re not even 6-5 at the four (power forward). We have to be tougher, any 50-50 ball has to be ours. We’ve got to box out better than every single team because that’s just who we are and we have to take on that identity.”
Along with plenty of new faces on the roster, Cutter has brought in former Holgate legendary mentor Paul Wayne. Brandon Ramsey and Brad Robinson, assistants from last season, both return.
“It’s been really good,” said Cutter of the preseason. “With guys being in new roles across the board, our progression has been really good in these four weeks.”
After leaving DC, Cutter assisted at Ohio Wesleyan before rejoining Miller at Hanover starting with the 2009 season. He expects a major strength of his team to be their shooting ability.
“We can really shoot it,” said Cutter. “I think we’re a really good shooting team, better than I thought. I think we’re well-rounded, we’ll be a decent offensive team.
“We can attack really well in transition,” Cutter continued. “Both scrimmages we were tough to guard when we got stops. We would attack them and got some pretty good shots in transition. There are some particular guys that have the green light to take some shots in transition.”
Along with scrimmaging Albion, the Jackets also scrimmaged Trine last week, which showcased one area of concern for Cutter.
“Going back to Tuesday night and the scrimmage with Trine, guarding the basketball one-on-one is an area we need to get better at,” admitted Cutter. “Because we’re so small, we have to do a good job of one-on-one defense, which we work on every day. We’re getting better at it but still need to get better at it.”
The Jackets finished 22-7 overall a year ago and shared the HCAC regular season title with Mount St. Joseph before winning the HCAC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament. DC beat defending national champion and second-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater in the opening round on the Warhawks’ home floor, 83-71, before falling 68-63 to St. Olaf a night later.
The graduated group of Bernard Edwards, Mason Roth, Travis Schomaeker, Kent Tietje and Drew Frizell left DC last spring with 277 starts between them, led by Roth’s 107 starts over his career. Add in fellow graduate Shaquille Smith and the loss of top rookie Michael Kaminski, the Jackets are without 81 percent of their scoring entering this season.
Head coach Tom Heil is also gone after one season. He left DC to be closer to his and his wife’s family by taking the vacant Baldwin Wallace job.
Edwards will be the biggest production void to fill this season after he earned all-American honors and the HCAC MVP. Edwards bucketed 21 ppg, grabbed 5.2 rpg, buried 61 treys and shot 85 percent at the charity line (151-178).
Schomaeker was next with a 15.1 ppg average while adding 4.2 helpers per game. He also shot 44 percent behind the arc (70-of-159 from three) and converted 51-of-59 freebies.
Roth had a standout last three months of the season and finished with 12.6 ppg, 3.1 apg, shot 41-of-94 from three. He joined Edwards in the 1,000-point club at DC.
Tietje, noted for his strong defense, netted 5 ppg and grabbed 4.4 rpg. Meanwhile, Frizell came off the bench and played a key role down the stretch. He fired in 26 threes and averaged 4.5 ppg.
The loss of Kaminski will also be felt after he played in all 29 games and scored 113 points. Kaminski transferred to Baldwin Wallace in the off-season. Heil, who was an assistant at the Berea institution for five years prior to coming to DC, recruited Kaminski to play to play at Baldwin Wallace when Kaminski was at Medina High School.
Defiance will rely heavily on the wide shoulders of the 245-pound Wooley, who is the lone starter returning from last season. The Wauseon graduate averaged 5 ppg and 7 rpg as a junior and will have to take on a bigger scoring role with the losses to graduation.
“Wade brings that experience and is equal to or bigger than everybody else in our league,” said Cutter. “Rebounding, he’s just going to have to be a monster on the boards for us. The one thing that’s different for him is he’s being asked to score more than he’s ever been asked to score while he’s been here. I think he’s made some serious strides in that, I really do. He’s asking for the ball and when he gets it he’s got the mentality to score. Does he have to score 20 points per game for us? No, but he has to average more than he’s averaged since he’s been a player here. If it were a game now, he’d definitely be averaging more than what he’s been averaging in the past.”
Michael Parker, a junior transfer from Earlham College, is the only other returnee to play in all 29 games last winter. Parker netted 5.8 ppg in 20.3 minutes per game while knocking down 43-of-109 triple tries.
“Michael can flat out shoot it,” said Cutter. “He’s a premier shooter in our league. He’s got range and a quick release.”
Fellow Earlham transfer Chris Holmes played in 26 games as a sophomore and scored 49 points. Leipsic product Devin Mangas will also get his chance as a junior this year after scoring 37 points in 19 games, including a team-best 11 tallies in a 68-40 win over Illinois Tech.
“Chris and Devin both give us that ability to attack the basket,” said Cutter. “We have these guys that can shoot and they definitely can, but they are also really good at getting by their guy and attacking the basket.”
Newcomers are competing for playing time. Included in the mix are: Adam Ney (guard, Vandalia Butler), Nick Mesnard (forward, Petoskey, Mich.) and Dylan Hagan (guard, New Philadelphia).
Napoleon graduate Blake Dunbar is also looking for minutes as a freshman at the point guard spot.
Tyler Alexander, a junior transfer from Indianapolis, is also a candidate to see minutes with his 6-4, 210-pound frame. He will likely see time at the four-spot and also as a five-man being the team’s second-tallest player.
Another change to the college men’s game this year will be the shot clock decreasing from 35 seconds to 30 ticks.
Officials are also supposed to call disruptive defense on the dribbler more closely, which was supposed to be more strictly enforced two years ago. Physicality in post player is another area of focus for officials along with emphasis on stationary screens, block/charge plays and allowing more freedom of movement for players without the ball.
“There’s definitely some things we’ve put in to take advantage of the changes, particularly the shot clock going from 35 to 30. I think that’s the big one when you talk about what are you going to do differently,” said Cutter. “The second thing is how the referees are going to call on-the-ball defense. They tried to do it two years ago and I think they’re really going to follow through with it this year. Particularly on the ball, how are you going to play? That’s factored into what we’ve put into our defensive gameplan.”
The Jackets open their season on Friday at the Lee Pfund Classic at Wheaton College. DC will face former mentor Kyle Brumett and his Wabash squad.
Defiance’s home opener is next Tuesday with Ohio Northern in town before HCAC play begins on Dec. 2 at Manchester.
“I think the league is going to be strong,” stated Cutter. “It’s an older league this year, guys that have played a lot since they’ve been freshmen and sophomores. That counts and I think it’s going to be tough from top to bottom.”
The 41st Purple & Gold Tournament is slated for Dec. 29 and Dec. 30. A talented North Park squad will play Heil’s Baldwin Wallace squad in the early game on the 29th before DC meets Albion in the nightcap.

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