GEORGETOWN, Texas - With nine of their top ten players returning from last year's squad that advanced to the SCAC Semifinals, Head Men's Basketball Coach Bill Raleigh and his Pirates have their sights set on their first SCAC Conference Tournament Championship.
"We are a veteran group with six seniors and six juniors with almost all of our top players back," said Coach Raleigh.
Probably the most experienced member of that group is four-year starter and 2012-13 Second Team All-SCAC selection, Michael Cantu. Cantu has been the floor general for the Pirates for three seasons at the point guard position and was the leading scorer for Southwestern last season, averaging 9.4 points per game.
"Mike has played a lot of games for us and he is hungry to take the next step this year by leading us to the conference championship game," said Raleigh. "He is a tireless worker and any time your hardest worker is your best player, that is a great thing to build off of."
Joining Cantu in the back court is Third Team All-SCAC pick Chase Kocher. Kocher decided to forgo graduation last spring in order to return for his senior season, and Coach Raleigh could not be more pleased. "Chase plays extremely hard and we are glad to have him back for his senior year."
Sean Myers, an Honorable Mention All-SCAC selection last year, emerged as one of the true difference makers on the court last season in the post position. He averaged 8.2 points per game while shooting 50% from the floor and led Southwestern in rebounds at just over four per game.
"Sean really came on last year and has given us a strong post presence," said Raleigh. "He played well in our exhibition games this season against some bigger opponents and can give us a vital presence in the low post."
Rounding out the senior class is Daniel Mataya, Josh Tates and Kenneth Brooks, who play important roles in their own right. "Mataya is the type of player that makes everyone else around him better and Tates provides us great energy off the bench with his outstanding defensive and rebounding efforts while Brooks is a good shooter."
The Pirates are focused on maintaining a stingy defense that allowed opponents just 65 points per game on 41.9% shooting from the field, 31.4% from beyond the arc. "We had a lot of success when we held teams to a low shooting percentage but need to match that this year and add a better rebounding average.
Southwestern saw themselves in tight games all season where rebounding margin was a deciding factor as they lost nine of their 16 games by ten points or less while being out-rebounded an average of six boards per game last season.
Coach Raleigh pulled no punches when planning the schedule for the 2013-14 year as SU takes on some of the toughest teams in the state and region, including the season opener on the road against the University of Texas at Dallas. UTD stands to be one of the top teams in the American Southwest Conference this season with preseason First Team All-American Kyle Schleigh. "We are challenging ourselves with our schedule," said Raleigh, "but I am a firm believer that in order to get better you have to challenge yourself and take on good opponents. You can beat bad teams anytime, but it is those games against tough opponents that make you better and reveal your true character."
The first nine games of the season will be a good indication of where the Pirates stand as they face top teams in the ASC in UTD, Hardin-Simmons and Mary Hardin-Baylor while also taking on upper division opponents in Incarnate Word and Wayland Baptist. The Pirates also open SCAC conference play in that stretch, taking on 2013 SCAC Conference Champion, Trinity, before traveling to Washington to face West Region opponents Whitman and Whitworth. "These first nine games are tough and challenging right out of the gate, but we will get better quick and find out where we are to prepare us for January."
January marks the start of the bulk of Southwestern's SCAC conference schedule. "Trinity and Colorado are obviously going to be two of the better teams in the league, but there isn't much that separates the teams," said Coach Raleigh. "With the addition of two good squads in Texas Lutheran and Schreiner, the conference is balanced and no one should run the table which will make for an interesting conference tournament."
"This team has a chance to be really good and has a shot at the conference title," summarizes Raleigh. And if history is any indicator, the Pirates are going to work every minute they can to make that a reality.