Judge this team all you want – men’s basketball will surprise you

Oct. 26, 2015

Jonathan Toman
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I would amend the original saying. Opinions are, instead of like noses that smell, like seasons in Colorado – they can change in an instant.

Last season, Derrick White accounted for 30 percent of the total points scored by the men’s basketball team.

White is gone, off to Boulder. It stands to reason the Mountain Lions will drop off this season. But their season goals, strangely enough, remain the same: win the RMAC and go as far down the NCAA tournament road as possible.

No way. The season after the best player in program history leaves?

Not so fast, you doubters. This team – and I mean team in the fullest sense of the word – looks good.

For one thing, this Mountain Lion squad is about as motivated as a team can be. With the departure of White, they are eager to prove their success wasn’t just due to him.

“We lost our best player in Derrick,” said junior guard TreShawn Wilford. “But we still have a lot of players that played around him that made him great.”

“We just want to prove everybody wrong that we weren’t a one-man team,” said senior forward Alex Welsh.

Another thing – they’re confident. The Mountain Lions, defending RMAC champions, were picked to finish fifth in the conference in the preseason poll. And they love it.

“We don’t mind that at all,” said head coach Jeff Culver. “I don’t know how the rest of our conference is going to be, so I’m not sure how everyone else is going to know.”

Wilford said that ranking was crazy.

“We’re confident that we can actually be better than we were last year,” he said. “A lot of teams are going to doubt us and that’s just going to make it even better when we beat them.”

It’ll look different, the style of play, between this year and last. If you ask Welsh, it’s the defense that will change the most. We’ll see intensity and focus on that end of the court that wasn’t there last year.

Last season, UCCS scored 100 or more points in four games. They scored 90 or more points in 12. They averaged over 86 points per game. That won’t change, said Welsh. The team will still score.

But the 2014-15 team also gave up points at a rate of 74 per game, including 87 and 84 in their two NCAA tournament games.

“We’re going to do a lot of things on the defensive end that we couldn’t do last year with our length and our size,” Welsh said.

If Welsh is right, for UCCS fans it will look like the Denver Broncos transition this year. From the Peyton Manning (Derrick White) show, we will get a distribution of play-making that will showcase the defense.

Culver highlighted “the most veteran front line in the RMAC” anchored by Welsh and Dalton Patten. He mentioned Kendall Godley, who has been “waiting for his turn.” And he brought up Wilford, “probably one of the most underrated players in our league.”

Not to mention the crop of new faces that can have an impact immediately, including Ryan VanPelt, who transferred from Weber State.

The win-loss category may look a bit bleak to start the season. But it could also set the tone, as three of the first six games are against teams ranked in the top 25 nationally in the Division II Bulletin Preseason Ranking.

“It’s going to be good basketball,” Welsh said. “We’ve had some transition, but I think it’s gone over really well because the young guys are smart and the old guys know what it takes to play at that high level.”

Patten, Wilford and Welsh will be your cornerstones. But they will be cornerstones to a team building, not a player tower, a building with something to prove.

“We’re a hungry team,” Culver said. “Everything’s in front of us, the opportunity is there.”

Speaking of Welsh, he is ready to go from Robin to Batman.

“It’s my senior year, so I’m trying to make the most out of it and make the most out of every day,” Welsh said. “Now, it’s like, this is it for me.”

I’ll take the same approach to the season as Welsh does to that preseason poll.

“(Polls are) based off people’s opinions, and opinions can change real quick,” he said.

They sure can.