The Trojans are ready to go to war on the court.
After narrowly missing it last year, the men’s basketball team is looking to earn an NAIA national tournament berth.
“Last year, from our league there were five teams that went to the national tournament in the field of 32 teams that finished first, second, third, fourth and fifth (in the conference,)” Head Coach Josh Andrews said. “We finished sixth.”
The team is trying to navigate its way through a Crossroads League filled with competition. In order to earn that tournament nod, the Trojans are going to have to prove people wrong. The Trojans are currently ranked ninth out of the ten Crossroads League teams, according to the preseason poll.
The Trojans aren’t discouraged by the ranking. In fact, it is something that the team is using as additional motivation.
“We see the Crossroads leagues preseason ranking, and we’re ranked ninth right now, after we had a really good season last year and finished sixth,” senior James McCloud said. “So, that puts a little fire under me. I'm ready to kind of prove, you know, the rankers wrong in that matter.”
Playing in a tough conference means that there are no nights off. Five out of the ten Crossroads League teams are ranked, and an additional team is receiving votes. Each night is a battle, and each win is important.
The coach and the players all echoed the same sentiment that any team can win any matchup on any given night for inter-Crossroads matchups. This is why Taylor believes that they can make some noise in their conference.
“These guys have what it takes in the program to be able to keep pushing and reaching for that, we want to be a national tournament team,” Andrews said. “That's hard to do in our league; it's so talented and the depth is incredible. The tenth place team can be the first place team.”
The Trojans have many key returners on the team this year. Juniors CJ Penha and Jason Hubbard return to the team after averaging 16.6 and 13.2 points per game respectively, while Penha also added 9.5 rebounds. Seniors Vincent Miranda and James McCloud are also key returners for the team. Miranda was the team’s leading scorer off of the bench last year, averaging 9.1 points per game, while McCloud contributed 6.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
The Trojans did lose two key players from last year to this year. Mason Degenkolb and Ryan Robinson made up two of the top three scorers on the team last year, so replacing them is not going to be easy.
“I don't think it falls on one person's shoulders to kind of pick up what we lose from losing them,” Miranda said. “I think it's kind of a team effort from the scoring end from just that leadership role all around.”
Despite these losses, the Trojans don’t expect to fall back a step. This year’s team boasts more length than they’ve had in the past, which is something they believe will help them on the defensive side of the ball. The potential starting five could contain at least four people who are above 6’4”.
This season will be a battle night in and night out. The Trojans will have a rough road to securing a tournament berth, but they believe they have what it takes to get there.