Monday, October 28, 2013

Western Carolina Preview: What A Difference A Year Makes

This year in Cullowhee, expectations are high for this veteran team contending for a conference championship and the first trip back to the NCAA Playoff since 1996.  

The Catamounts were recently selected third, behind both Elon and Davidson in the coaches and media polls for the 2013-14 season.   

“Our seniors are very hungry,” Catamount head coach Larry Hunter explained.  “They realize this is their last go around, and they really haven’t left a legacy here to remember themselves by.  These guys understand that, and you can see that in the way they worked in the off-season.”

Western Carolina finished 9-9 in SoCon play (14-19 overall) last season, losing a total of 6 games by 4 or less points.

“I think it was just the nature of our team. We were more inexperienced and didn’t have any seniors a year ago,” Hunter told NBC Sports.  

But a lack of seniors will not be a problem for the Catamounts this season.

Returning Players

Under ninth year head coach Larry Hunter, the Catamounts return five seniors to this years team – Brandon Boggs (guard), Tawaski King (forward), Josh Mendenhall (forward), Trey Sumler (guard) and Tom Tankelewicz (guard).  This group of seniors is expected to provide the veteran leadership that was lacking from last season’s team, void of any seniors. 

 “I like this team.  We have five seniors, and perimeter-wise, this is one of the better groups I’ve had in my coaching career,” Hunter said at the preseason tip-off event in Asheville.  “We’re legitimately two deep at all three perimeter positions, and all of them could start, and they all might depending on who is playing well.”

This year’s Catamount team also returns all five starters from last season, including player of the year candidate, senior Trey Sumler.   Sumler was an all-conference selection last season averaging 18.4 points per game (second in the SoCon), scored in double figures 29 times, while averaging  nearly 38 minutes per game. 

Sumler will be joined in the backcourt by senior guard Tom Tankelewicz, one of the conference's better shooters from behind the arch (80 3-pointers), and senior guard Brandon Boggs (10.3 ppg) who made 22 starts last season.  Senior forward Tawaski King (11 ppg, 6.3 rebounds pg) started in all 33 games and scored in double figures 21 times along with  junior guard James Sinclair (7.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) who made 27 consecutive starts for the Cats, round out the probable starting five. 

“Obviously we are going to build around Trey and Tawaski,” said Hunter  “We don’t have as much depth as I would like inside and I wish we were a little more consistent offensively around the basket, but we’re OK.”   

New Faces

The Catamounts only added one player in the offseason, Charlendez Brooks, a post player
from Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C -  (6-9 / 270 - forward) .  Last season, Brooks
averaged 7.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.   He was selected to the All-Region II 4-A
basketball team in March of 2012, helping Byrnes HS to a playoff victory over defending 4-A
state champion, Gaffney, in the first round of the South Carolina state  playoffs. Brooks was  
listed as the third-best recruit out of the state of South Carolina . He played AAU basketball
for the SC Raptors Elite.  At the time of Brooks signing, Hunter said, "With our entire squad
returning for next season and only having one scholarship to offer for the 2013 class, we
targeted a talented big man as our priority. We are very pleased and excited that Char will be
joining our basketball family. At 6-9 plus and well-over 200 pounds, he has good size, length
and natural strength."

2013-14 Schedule

"Our players have had the best offseason workouts and improved their basketball skills and bodies to a man of any team I have had at Western Carolina”. Hunter said of this season’s returning Catamounts. “They are an excited and hungry bunch of Catamounts. We will need to carry this ‘I will not be denied’ attitude throughout the season because we again have a very challenging schedule."

This season’s schedule includes seven games against teams that made it into postseason play in the 2012-13, including three games against NCAA tournament teams.

The Catamounts open the season with Wittenberg on November 8 in the Ramsey Center. Coach Hunter spent 13 seasons as the head coach at Wittenberg and in the 1976-77 season, led them to the NCAA Division III National Championship and was named NCAA Division III Coach of the Year.

This year’s schedule includes out of conference games against Oregon, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Niagara, Wright State, and Georgia. The Cats also face Big South foes UNC Asheville, Liberty and Coastal Carolina.   In the conference schedule, Georgia Southern, Wofford, Davidson, and  Furman are the four teams the Cats will play only once this season. 

The Cats will be in the Ramsey Center 13 times during the 2013-14 season where the Cats have won 54 of the last 69 games back to the 2007-08 season, including 36 of the last 48 (.750) SoCon games in the same stretch.

Best case/worst case   

The Cats could have three players over the 1,000-point career plateau before the end of the season.  Sumler crossed that threshold last year and now sits at 1,439 points.  Brandon Boggs has 945 career points and Tawaski King has scored 749 points up to this point.   The Cats are one of the most experienced teams in the conference and scoring should not be a problem. 

The problem may be the defense, Western’s man-to-man defense has resulted in a high number of costly fouls, many times costing the Cats a game on the free throw line, as well as lacking in interior defense.   Josh Mendenhall should be able to provide help in the interior, after being injured most of last season.   Best case, a late season run at both Elon and Davidson for a regular season crown and a bye in the conference championships, worst case – another mid-pack finish for the Cats. 

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