The Nebraska Wesleyan men’s basketball team is going to be tested early this season, but Head Coach Mark Franzen believes his squad has the right blend of youth and experience to improve on its 13-12 mark from last season.
“Chemistry will be a strength this year,” Franzen said. “We've worked hard to be functional as a group and at getting the best shot available.”
Lost to graduation are five players, who scored 52 percent of the team’s points and pulled down 49 percent of the team’s rebounds last season. However, eight letter winners return in 2005-06, including another sizable senior class.
Senior forward Joseph Easley, who averaged 9.4 points and a team-high 5.7 rebounds as a junior, is the squad’s top returner statistically and will have support in the paint from fellow seniors Andrew Heckman and Bob Ludwig.
Senior guards Brian Cooley, Mark Heiser and M.J. Hrabik are also back. Cooley averaged 8.9 points per game in 2004-05 and made better than 40 percent of his three-point attempts, while Heiser was the team’s leader in assists as a junior.
Franzen said the Prairie Wolves have a strong sense of teamwork and he hopes that translates into more production during his second season at the helm.
“With a year under our belts, we just know our guys a lot better,” Franzen said.
First-year guard Aaron Fuehrer has been impressive in exhibition games, and Franzen said he, along with Brandon Arp, Ryan Glantz and Matt Joynt, could be among the team’s difference makers in 2005-06.
“We have a lot of shooters, but the keys will be whether we can score effectively in the post and defend the basket,” Franzen said. “We can score, but we're going to need to slow our opponents down.”
This season, NWU is set to play nine NCAA Division III opponents, which is the most the team has scheduled since the Great Plains Athletic Conference (GPAC) formed in 2000-01.
One notable addition is in the Association of Division III Independent Tournament in late February. The tourney gives independent institutions from the West Region one last chance to add to their win totals against in-region foes, which is the primary factor considered by the NCAA selection committee. Teams will include Chapman University, University of California at Santa Cruz, Colorado College and Nebraska Wesleyan.
However, success early in the season will be just as important. By Dec. 10, NWU will have already played three of the teams picked to finish in the GPAC’s top four, including Concordia University (Neb.), which was the league runner-up and advanced all the way to the NAIA Division II championship game last season.