"We have a lot of options and that may hurt us early on," states Raleigh, "but we are going to have a lot of looks to throw at opponents. It is going to be a work in progress with the amount of new faces we have and our lack of experience but we are focusing on where we can be come January."
Southwestern is looking to continue the momentum from last season as they closed out the year winning three of their final four games and were just outside of earning a spot in the SCAC Conference Tournament.
The Pirates have the leadership they need on the perimeter. Behind the guidance of two year starting point guard Michael Cantu and seniors Nick Atiee and Chase Kocher Southwestern will have the on the floor leadership needed to guide this young squad to victory.
Cantu was the second leading scorer for Pirates last season, averaging 9.4 points per game while shooting 47.9% from the floor and 32.1% beyond the arc. "Mike is the engine and has done a good job of setting the tone," shares Raleigh. "While he isn't a big vocal leader, he plays really hard and the guys are following in his footsteps."
Atiee and Kocher have been strong forces off the bench for the Pirates and will continue to be effective on the floor for Southwestern on both ends. Atiee averaged 6.3 points per game and 2.2 rebounds. Kocher added in 2.7 points per game but led SU in steals with 40 on the year despite playing just 16.5 minutes per game. "Nick and Chase have done a great job as the only seniors. They have really bought into the system and set the tone for the younger guys."
Five juniors and six sophomores will step into important support roles this year, maintaining a deep and flexible bench for Coach Raleigh. While most have seen limited action, they have come back ready to go and are playing the game their way. "This team has done just what they need to do which is not forcing things to happen but are taking advantage of the situation presented," states Raleigh. "They are doing a good job of spreading the ball around, taking what the defense gives them and taking shots they can make. Playing to their strengths is important and we need to keep that going forward."
Rounding out the attack is a large and talented class of first-years that will waste no time making an impact on the court for the Pirates. "It is a very talented group and we are expecting big things out of them as they continue to improve as the year progresses."
This season's schedule will provide ample opportunity for the Pirates to test their mettle. They open the season in Chicago on Friday, facing two teams who are traditionally nationally-ranked in the University of Chicago and Washington University (Mo.). "This tournament will be a tough task for us but is a great opportunity to find out where we are right off the bat," states Raleigh. "They both play very conventional styles which is similar to the teams in our conference and will therefore be a good challenge for us."
The Pirates return to Texas to face one of the top teams in the state in Mary Hardin-Baylor before coming home for the first time to take on Wayland Baptist. All these games will prepare the Pirates to open SCAC conference action on November 30th at Austin College.
The SCAC also has a new look this year and will feature the Pirates taking on each team three times. For most teams this will be a difficult task, but Raleigh sees it as a positive for his team. "I think it helps us more than other people because of how we play. We don't try to trick people. Our game plan is bigger and broader than game-by-game and by taking what the defense gives us we can score any way, it just depends on what is available. If a team wants to take something away we have built in options right off the bat."
The "us against them" team mentality will be a recurring theme throughout the season as the strength of the Pirates is truly their team mentality. With a deep bench and the possibility of any player being the difference maker for the win, SU will be a nightmare to prepare for.
"This year is about improving. They have been a very enjoyable group to work with and are extremely coachable and wanting to get better. This is a special group that has a ton of potential and I am excited to see where they can take us as a team."