Men’s Basketball Season Preview

Dylan Snyder

Photo by Chaoyu Li

The men’s basketball team is coming off a strong season, but there is still room for improvement after their season-ending loss to Whitworth University in the Northwest Conference Tournament championship game. This season the team is hoping to move further in postseason play, whether it is capturing an elusive NWC championship or making the NCAA tournament.

Head Coach Eric Bridgeland was hesitant to give any concrete goals.

“[The team] would like to get a little better and a little closer as a group each day. Our guys are very competitive. I believe they want to keep taking steps and blaze new trails as a program,” said Bridgeland.

Player turned assistant coach D.J. Wright feels the team sets a high standard for themselves but is not necessarily trying to match the Elite Eight women’s team from last year.

“The men’s team has high expectations for themselves,” said Wright, “regardless of what the women’s team does.”

Photo by Chaoyu Li

Now that the team has emerged as one of the perennial contenders in the NWC, each graduating class is looking to upstage the preceding class. Last year’s graduating class of Ryan Gilkey, Ignes Pavilonis, Peter Clark and Drew Raher had won more games than any other class in Whitman College history, but their record may not stand for very long. This year Whitman may have its most decorated returning class ever featuring two All Conference players in seniors Josh Duckworth and Ben Eisenhardt, as well as Luquam Thompson, who is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the entirety of last season.

Eisenhardt, the reigning conference player of the year, is the first All-American who has returned to the men’s basketball team for an encore performance, and Duckworth averaged a solid 14.5 ppg along with 2.9 assists per contest. The team also returns several key role players. Bridgeland seems excited to see who among this supporting cast can step up and become leaders moving forward.

“We believe we have four to five players who are poised to have breakout seasons,” said Bridgeland. “Through hard work and dedication in the off season, we feel like we are as deep as we have ever been at Whitman. Seven or eight guys have come back significantly better than they were last season.”

Juniors Matt Mounier and Clay Callahan both played significant roles last season and will have increased responsibility on the team for the upcoming year. Fans will be privy to what sophomore Phil Chircu is able to do with an entire season of work as well as how junior Keenan Durham and sophomores Jackson Clough and Tochi Oti continue to develop into larger roles within the team. First-years have typically played a key role in Bridgeland’s system, so the trio of Peter French, Sean Hays and Brock Wade should be a crucial addition to the team.

Photo by Chaoyu Li

The team will be relying once again on Bridgeland’s signature fast-paced offense, but last season may have been the end of the aggressive full court press that the team used so often. Spectators may be a little surprised as the defense may be backing off at points in the game. Eisenhardt is not concerned with the team potentially having a less aggressive defensive scheme.

“Rules have changed that dictate how much contact is allowed defensively, so we have had to tone down the speed of our defense,” said Eisenhardt. “But that also gives us the opportunity to show off that we can play great half court defense.”

Despite the less aggressive nature of the defense, there should still be plenty of firepower on the offensive end, where Mounier and Dominic Lippi will be tasked with knocking down three-pointers at a high rate. This should be an important year for the program as they look to continue their progress toward a conference championship.