UWSP men’s basketball looks to build off postseason run
Portage County Gazette
By John Kemmeter
With most of its roster back from a year ago, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP) men’s basketball team will look to put itself in the hunt for a National Title this season.
The Pointers brought back 14 of their 16 players from last season’s team that reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament, to go along with the return of First Team All-Conference junior guard Ethan Bublitz from a season-ending injury.
UWSP was ranked 12th in the D3hoops.com Preseason Top 25, and will open the season on the road at 23rd-ranked St. Olaf (Minn.) at 7 p.m., Nov. 13.
“There’s been a lot of excitement and anticipation since the end of last year, to build upon what we did, because it was really a special season,” said UWSP men’s basketball head coach Bob Semling. “It was a year where we were extremely proud of how we hung together as a team and got better throughout the year and how well we finished the year, but yet it was disappointing too, because we didn’t fare well in that final game.
“And that’s driven me, it’s driven our guys in the off-season, to earn what we did all over again and to put ourselves back in a position to get into the NCAA Tournament, and then to make an even better accounting of ourselves,” he said. “That’s really what these guys want to do, especially with such a veteran group, with eight seniors.”
The Pointers lost First Team All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) guard MJ Delmore from last season’s team that won the WIAC Tournament to reach the NCAA Tournament, and then advanced to the Sweet 16 before a 65-55 loss to top-ranked Whitman (Wash.) to finish 21-9 overall.
UWSP is led up front this season by the return of First Team All-WIAC 6-5 senior forward Canon O’Heron and WIAC All-Defensive Team 6-7 senior forward/center Brett Tauber, with 6-8 junior forward/center Matt Koerner also part of the rotation.
“Canon at times was unguardable in the low post, he was getting double-teamed quite frequently in the second half of the WIAC and he’s a good passer, so he made people pay for that,” said Semling. “Brett is a very versatile defender and a very competitive kid, and they really lead us, one on the offensive end, one on the defensive end.
“And then Matt really established himself as a great backup in the WIAC last year, down the stretch he was very good for us and he’s picked up right there where he left off, so we’re looking for good things out of him as a junior,” he said.
Bublitz missed all but one game last year after he was a First Team All-WIAC selection as a sophomore, and he will be joined in the backcourt by 6-0 senior guard Drew Fredrickson, with Honorable Mention All-WIAC senior 6-3 guard/forward Nate Dodge and Honorable Mention All-WIAC senior 6-4 guard/forward Mark Nelson on the wing.
“We’re obviously glad to have Ethan’s ability on the offensive end, but he was an all-league defender, so he really is going to help this team on the defensive end and gives us a guy that can be a shut-down defender,” said Semling. “Drew has worked quietly to become a very complete player, ball-handling, passing, decision-making, making shots, and he’s a very solid defender now and we can put him on tough matchups and he can hold his own.
“And we have two wings with Mark and Nate, both of them are very different, but they can help make us a better team on offense, and they both are working hard to become more accountable on the defensive end,” he said.
Sophomore 5-11 point guard Garrett Nelson will also be part of the team’s rotation, with 6-4 junior forward Blake Ehrke, 6-1 senior guard Koko Songolo, 6-6 junior forward Brandon Spray, 5-11 junior guard Aaron Knez, 6-0 senior guard Chaz Mootz, and 6-0 sophomore guard Brady Wagner also looking to contribute off the bench.
The Pointers added a pair of freshman in 6-6 forward Peter Timmerman from Dubuque Iowa, and 6-2 guard Zach Mootz, who was a Unanimous First Team All-Wisconsin Valley Conference selection at Merrill High School last season.
“Garrett will be a backup guard, and Blake’s the next guy that has competed well enough in practice to be our ninth guy to climb into that rotation,” said Semling. “After that it could go Koko or Aaron as a guard backup, or Brandon, who was injured and missed most of our fall training, but he’s probably the most talented kid at 6-7 and he can play above the rim like nobody else can on our team.
“But our guys will be the first ones to tell you right now, we’re not where we want to be,” he said. “We have such a challenging opening game and our guys know that’s right around the corner and we’ve got a ways to go, so there’s definitely a sense of urgency in our camp right now.”
UWSP opens the season at St. Olaf Tuesday, and then will be at home to take on Buena Vista (Iowa) at Bennett Court at Quandt Fieldhouse at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 17.
The Pointers’ 10-game nonconference schedule includes a trip to the Los Angeles-area on Christmas break, before the WIAC season starts at home against 24th-ranked UW-Whitewater Jan. 2.
Last season, UWSP finished second in the WIAC (11-3) behind UW-Platteville (12-2), and was picked by the conference’s coaches and sports information directors to finish third in the conference this season behind second-ranked National Runner-up UW-Oshkosh and 10th-ranked Platteville, and ahead of Whitewater, UW-La Crosse, UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire and UW-Stout.
“The league was very good last year, and all through the year we said it’s going to be potentially even better this year, because Platteville was playing with mostly underclassmen, they had one senior (Matt Oestreich), and Oshkosh had one senior (Charlie Noone), and we had one senior that was playing,” said Semling. “All three teams that finished first, second and third had virtually everybody returning, we were all ranked, we all made it to the Sweet 16, and it was the first time that that’s ever happened, that three WIAC schools made it to a Sweet 16.
“So it was a special year for our league, and if you’re a fan, it’s going to be fascinating,” he said. “And then you can’t dismiss La Crosse and Whitewater and anyone else in this league, River Falls, Eau Claire, Stout, you just can’t look by anybody, so it will be a great league, and it’ll be a very entertaining to watch.”
Semling said the Pointers’ first goal this season is to compete on the practice floor and execute at a high level night after night, along with being a top team defensively and being very good at home.
“We want to prove to ourselves that we can play at a high level, the standard that has been set here before by so many other teams and players,” said Semling. “And if we do that, we know we’ll put ourselves in a position to compete for a regular-season championship.
“And this group of guys has been on a mission to put that 30th regular season banner up on that wall,” he said. “They had a hand on it last year, but just couldn’t quite pull it in, so I know that that’s something that would mean a lot to our guys.”