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Muhlenberg College

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

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Season Preview
SIZE, EXPERIENCE HAVE MEN’S BASKETBALL THINKING BIG

The operative word for the Muhlenberg men’s basketball team in 2009-10 is “big.”

Big, as in the average height of the Mules’ starting lineup will be over 6-5.

Peter Barnes
Barnes led the Centennial Conference with 10 double-doubles a season ago.
Big, as in Muhlenberg will look to build off its big five-game conference winning streak that spurred it to the Centennial Conference playoffs last season.

And big, as in the Mules’ expectations for this season.

“Our ultimate goal is the conference championship,” said senior Peter Barnes. “Hopefully we can also get some recognition nationally. But we want to come home with the conference championship.”

If Muhlenberg is to win its first CC title since 1998, it will likely do so by taking advantage of the tremendous matchup problems its size presents. The Mules led the conference in rebounding and blocked shots a year ago and ranked 20th in Division III in rebounding margin and blocks per game. Muhlenberg was fourth in field-goal percentage defense, holding opponents to just 38.4 percent from the field, en route to a 16-11 overall record and an 11-7 mark and third-place finish in the CC.

“We have an even bigger lineup this year, and that will be a huge advantage offensively and defensively,” said Barnes. “What we might sacrifice in speed we make up for on the boards, in blocked shots and in halfcourt offense and defense. That size even gives us a big advantage in our zone defense.”

The Mules’ other big advantage will be experience. They return four starters from last season and will start four seniors in total. Though all those experienced players will be playing under a new head coach, Muhlenberg alum Scott McClary, Barnes thinks they’ll have no trouble adjusting to a new style of play.

“We played a different style over the last three years, but with the experience we have we’ll be alright no matter what,” he said.

The Mules’ adjustment period was also shortened by a late summer trip to Ireland, where they had a week-and-a-half to sightsee, play exhibition games and bond.

“The trip gave us 10 days to learn what Coach expected of us,” said Barnes. “Not only was it a great experience getting to play teams abroad, but we also got to learn the ropes.”

The conference’s coaches and sports information directors seem to think the Mules will learn the ropes just fine as well, as they picked Muhlenberg to finish second in the CC – only behind national semifinalist Franklin & Marshall – in the preseason poll.
CC Preseason Poll
School 2008-09 Record Points
1. Franklin & Marshall (17) 26-7 (14-4) 161
2. MUHLENBERG 16-11 (11-7) 125
3. Ursinus (3) 12-13 (8-10) 118
4. Gettysburg 18-9 (11-7) 107
5. McDaniel 18-8 (13-5) 104
6. Johns Hopkins 12-13 (7-11) 84
7. Washington 12-13 (9-9) 77
8. Haverford 12-13 (9-9) 58
9. Dickinson 12-12 (6-12) 34
10. Swarthmore 3-21 (2-16) 22

Barnes and sophomore Spencer Liddic are likely the key reason for that, as they form a dominant 1-2 punch at center and power forward, respectively. Barnes led the Mules with 12.1 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game as a junior. He shot 57.9 percent from the field, second-best in the conference, and was named to the All-CC second team.

Ryan Foster
Foster is eighth in Muhlenberg history with 111 career three-pointers. He needs just 28, exactly half his total from last season, to jump all the way to second.
Liddic had an extremely impressive season as a freshman, averaging 11.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He led Muhlenberg in scoring in CC games with an average of 13.1 points on 58.4 percent shooting and was All-CC honorable mention, becoming just the eighth freshman to be named All-CC.

Senior Obi Nwizugbo will man the other forward spot. Nwizugbo’s minutes and numbers fell last season after a solid sophomore season, when he averaged 9.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, but a shift to small forward is expected to bring out the best of his abilities and allow him to use his natural athleticism to its fullest potential.

Two more seniors will patrol a tall backcourt, as 6-6 Ryan Foster will start at shooting guard and 6-3 Brian Frankoski will start at point guard. Foster is the Mules’ most deadly three-point shooter; he finished third in the CC in three-pointers made a season ago and led Muhlenberg with 16 double-digit scoring games. He earned All-CC honorable mention after averaging 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

Frankoski came off the bench at both guard spots last season, but proved he is a more than capable ballhandler after finishing second in the CC in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.53). He was second on the Mules in assists, averaging 2.6 per game, a number that will almost certainly rise as he moves to point guard full time.

Junior Evan Tozer started 15 games last season, but he will become a valuable weapon as Muhlenberg’s sixth man. Tozer averaged 7.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game and was second on the team in three-pointers.

All that adds up to a team with high expectations and big dreams. Having seen CC foes Ursinus and Franklin & Marshall reach the “Final Four” the last two years, the Mules think it could be their turn this season.

“We had some close battles with F&M last year and Ursinus two years ago, so we know we can play with them,” said Barnes. “If they can do it, we can, too.”

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