Relative to preseason polls, the University of Mary men's basketball team is hovering safely under the radar.
The Marauders, featuring a young and inexperienced roster, were picked last in the NSIC preseason coaches’ poll. But for Joe Kittell, whose team hosts the University of Jamestown at 7 tonight in the season opener, early-season measurements mean very little.
"That's the great thing about college basketball. On any given night anybody can beat anybody. You see it all the time in the NCAA tournament with 12 seeds beating 5 seeds," Kittell said. "Everything will play out over the course of the season. The other stuff is pretty secondary."
In relation to the Marauders, the polls have proven pretty worthless the last two years. Kittell has led his team to 22 conference wins, eighth-most over that span in the 16-team league.
"We have a lot of new guys, but we feel really good about how we've practiced and how we've played in our exhibition games," Kittell said. "Actually, I'd say it's been unexpectedly good. That doesn't mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things other than so far our guys have given great effort and we've seen a lot of good things."
The Marauders return just three letterwinners led by returning starter Trevor Zacher. The 6-foot-5 senior from Beulah is poised for his best season after averaging 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game as a junior.
Fellow senior Michael Gorder (6-6) and sophomore guard Jaylan White are the other two players back with experience. Both will come off the bench. Kittell said White has been "really good" through the opening month of practices.
Joining Zacher in the starting lineup tonight against the 6-2 Jimmies will be junior college transfers Brody Sharkey and Keith Hunter at the guard spots. The Marauders will have good size in the post with Australian Tom Kubank (6-7) and 6-9 redshirt freshman Matthew Kreklow.
"We like those five together, then we'll give our other guys opportunities," Kittell said.
Offensively, instead of relying on one or two players to pile up points, balance is likely to be the buzz word.
"We might have five, six, or seven guys score 10 points on a given night, and it could vary which guy it is from game to game," Kittell said. "As long as the ball isn't getting sticky, and we're turning down good shots for great shots, I think we can be pretty efficient."
It all starts on the other end, however.
"We want to be in a situation where even on bad shooting nights we can still count on our defense to keep us in the game," Kittell said.
The NSIC, which comes fast and furious, requires it.
"Most of our guys don't know what they're about to run into, so from that standpoint it's important for us to have success early," Kittell said. "That's something we've been locked in on since August as a coaching staff.
"We feel good about where we're at, but it's important for us to get off to a good start and hopefully continue to build from there."