After coming off of a season in which Anderson University’s men’s basketball squad won 23 games, made the NCAA Division III Tournament, and won their first-round matchup, the Ravens are ready for a year with high expectations and the challenge of playing with a target on their backs as the favorite to win the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“Certainly, we have high expectations,” said AU head coach Tom Slyder. “We were able to accomplish something that hadn’t been accomplished in quite awhile. I think the next step is trying to repeat if not exceed what you accomplished the year before.”
[Photo: Anderson University's Andrew Jones dunks against Manchester last season.]
After experiencing the success of last year, the Ravens are hungry to get back.
“We had a taste of getting to the national tournament,” said Slyder, “and felt like we belonged. I don’t think it’s out of the question that we can get back to that point and maybe go further.”
Perhaps the biggest target on the Ravens’ back will be the No. 14 ranking in the d3hoops.com Top 25 preseason poll, which may be the highest ranking the Ravens have ever started the season with according to Slyder.
“People may be circling our name on the calender and looking forward to come and play Anderson,” said Slyder. “So, it’s a different position to be in, and hopefully we’ll embrace the challenge in hand.”
The players know it will take a lot of work to match the expectations they’ve set for themselves and the expectations others have given them.
“We know right now that our goals aren’t achieved by just going through the motions,” said Gabe Miller, senior guard. “We have to work hard each and every day to get a step closer to each one.”
The goals that Miller mentioned include winning the conference league title, winning the conference tournament, and making a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
One of the challenges for this year’s team will be how a group of eight freshmen develop throughout the season.
“While we do have a core set of experienced guys returning,” said Miller, who was 1st-team All-HCAC last season, “throughout the year, we are going to have to rely on a couple of the newcomers to help us.”
Miller, voted team MVP last year, averaged 11 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game last year.
The eight newcomers make it look like this is a young team, but four of the five starters from last year’s team return: Miller, Brock Morrison, Andrew Bowman and Andrew Jones, who all averaged at least 11 points per game.
Phil Hogan, last year’s sixth man, also returns. Ryan Harter, who played at Anderson High, and Chris Horner, who played at Liberty Christian, are returning players looking to carve a role for themselves on the team.
The key with the new players, according to both Miller and Morrison, is how quickly this team can gel.
“Last year’s team was really fun to play with and be around,” said Morrison, who was 1st-team All-HCAC. “It’s going to be hard to top last year’s team, but I think we can do it.”
“In saying that, I don’t think it will be right off the bat, but that’s alright. We have a lot of new guys that are new to college basketball and to our conference, so it’s going to take them a little while to get adjusted and to get comfortable.”
Morrison averaged 14.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game last year.
Even with the few losses from AU’s team, the potential is there for the freshmen to step up and fill the vacant roles once they gain some experience.
“We lost experienced seniors who knew their roles and were awesome teammates,” said Morrison, “and that’s what we have been trying to overcome in the preseason, but with this freshman class we also gained a lot.”
“We brought in all the key components to having a good team: size, rebounding, shooting, and hard-nosed defense.”
The sky’s the limit for this Raven’s team mixed with veteran leadership and young potential.
AU starts the season today at Kalamazoo and their first home game at O.C. Lewis Gymnasium is Monday against Olivet.
— Derek Kramer is a report for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.