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October 30, 2013

WMU men's basketball 2013-2014 season preview







With college basketball season right around the corner, the BroncoBlitz.com staff breaks down and analyzes what fans can expect to see from the Broncos heading into the 2013-2014 season.


Roster Break-down


Jr. guard Austin Richie (6.1 ppg, 3.0 apg, 0.6 spg)

It's easy to forget that Richie actually played a lot of point guard in high school and in AAU ball growing up, so he wasn't completely out of his element last season. Though, playing point guard at the Division 1 level is very different and Richie did seem somewhat conservative at times.

With a solid year now under his belt, look for Richie to be even more aggressive with the basketball this upcoming season. He's kept improving his shot also, so it's easy to see him playing both point guard and shooting guard at various times throughout the season. Look for a slight uptick in numbers in 2013-2014.


So. guard Jared Klein (3.2 ppg, 1.0 apg, 0.7 spg)

Klein experienced his share of growing pains as most freshman do, in 2012-2013. With that being said, he also had some spectacular moments, showing his upside in particular against Cornell, Oakland, and Ohio earlier in the season. As Austin Richie established himself as the team's best overall point guard and Hawkins became more comfortable with him out on the floor, Klein's minutes took a dip towards the end of the year.

With the graduation of Brandon Pokley, there are some minutes there to be had for someone. Although Klein isn't best-suited to play at the off-guard spot, a rotation-change with Richie and Brown could directly benefit Klein and give him some added opportunities on the floor throughout the season.


Fr. guard Bishop Robinson

Robinson comes in as an established, well-known local standout from Loy Norrix H.S. in Kalamazoo. With that comes high expectations. Robinson has always been the slashing two-guard type, but he'll eventually need to become a threat from long-range also for MAC opponents to respect that part of his game.

It appears that Hawkins sees potential for Robinson to play point guard, as his length and athleticism could give opponents at the next level fits defensively. A redshirt year during his freshman season would probably do him a huge favor, allowing Robinson to adjust to the overall transition. One advantage he's always had is that his work ethic and passion for the game have never been questioned.


RFr. guard Von Washington

Similar to Robinson, Washington came to Western Michigan two years ago as a preferred walk-on, being the first to take advantage of the Kalamazoo Promise. Washington played a limited role last season, taking a redshirt in 2012-2013. Not much was (and maybe still is) expected from Washington at this point.

However, Bronco fans might be surprised to hear that Washington has made some pretty considerable impressions on Hawkins during the offseason, and according to him, is "in the mix" for playing time as a walk-on redshirt freshman. Washington has a great feel for the offense, and has improved his outside shooting and perimeter defense. Don't be surprised to see Washington out on the floor before the game is clinched.


RSr. guard David Brown (11.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.5 spg)

Brown is a player that really symbolizes what the Bronco basketball program is all about under the direction of head coach Steve Hawkins. "DB" has persevered through some difficult situations and has continued to fight his way back each and every time. For a brief moment, it was thought his career could be over after suffering yet another knee injury in December of 2011.

Brown finally came back midway through last season, having a career year off the bench, earning him the MAC's Sixth Man of the Year Award. Look for Brown to build on last season and have another big year in 2013-2014. It's possible he plays anywhere from point guard to wing, depending on the look Hawkins wants to give to opponents throughout the season. Simply put, Brown has All-MAC potential if he stays healthy.


Jr. guard Hayden Hoerdemann (0.3 ppg, 0.2 rpg)

After contemplating a transfer during the offseason, Hoerdemann decided to stick it out and fight for playing time at a position the Broncos are relatively set at for the time being. Hoerdemann's collegiate career took a significant dip last season after playing nearly 11 minutes per game, averaging 3.4 points, and shooting 44.4% (20-45) from behind the arc during his freshman campaign.

For Hoerdemann, offense has never been the issue. Hawkins has made it clear that if Hoerdemann wants to see the floor more often, he'll need to improve on his positioning and defensive. Until then, Bronco fans are probably more likely to see him in a reserve role in 2013-2014.


Fr. guard Leo Svete

We've followed Svete and his journey to Western Michigan about as closely as anyone. He shares a similar path of adversity -- albeit earlier in his career -- as redshirt senior David Brown. After multiple knee injuries, Svete is finally on the road to recovery and looks to be back close to 100%.

Although he hasn't been involved in full-speed drills or scrimmages yet, it appears Svete could be on track for making a return mid-way through the 2013-2014. Barring significant losses, we still believe Svete is headed for a redshirt season due to the strength in numbers at the two and three spots on this team.


So. guard Taylor Perry (1.8 ppg, 1.2 ppg)

Nothing about Perry's numbers last year will jump off the stat sheet, but nonetheless he provided some valuable "effort-minutes" as a freshman when the Broncos needed him. We're likely to see a similar role for him this upcoming season, as Perry provides very good perimeter defense and is known for his scrappy, somewhat unorthodox playing style.

When a player is in the right spots at the right times, usually good things happen. He's still a little buried on the depth chart behind Brown, Richie, and Haymond, but WMU fans can still expect to see improvement out of Perry this season as he'll probably see a slight uptick in minutes at the off-guard and wing positions.


RFr. wing Charles Harris (2.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg)

Harris logged some early playing time last season, but decided to take a medical redshirt after sustaining an injury in his sixth game of the season. Harris practiced with the team for the first few weeks this fall, but then his knee flared up and he sprained it again. Undoubtedly, it's been a tough journey for Harris since he first stepped foot on campus last year.

Harris might be the best kept secret on this team, as it appears he's improved his shot (release and follow-through) in the off-season, making him even more of a threat offensively. But again, Bronco fans are still kind of in wait-and-see mode as to whether or not he can get healthy and make a significant impact.


Jr. wing Tim Brennan (0.3 ppg, 0.6 rpg)

As a walk-on reserve who doesn't see much playing time, it's hard not to give Brennan a lot of credit for showing up every day at practice and being an integral part of the team. At 6-foot-5, 200 lbs., he fits into Hawkins' system rather well and can play a physical role in practice for game-simulation purposes.

As an example of his versatility, he was seen practicing with Larry Farmer and the bigs in drills and simulations just last week. Brennan is likely to find himself in a reserve role once again, but he's thought to be among this year's team leaders as far as experience and knowledge of the system goes.


Fr. wing Tucker Haymond

At the beginning of camp, Haymond was struggling to adjust at the next level and seemed to be having trouble picking up schemes. All of which is typical for any incoming freshman. Unsurprisingly, hard work and talent took over and now he's looking at cracking into the starting lineup.

Haymond looks to have put some serious work in the weight room and has filled into his college-ready frame nicely. To add to that, he is noticeably becoming more comfortable in the offense and seems to be hitting his spots with precision, setting himself up for some open shots. I have big expectations for Haymond his freshman season, and assuredly so does Hawkins.


So. forward Connar Tava (4.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.7 spg)

Last season's departure of Darius Paul provides a big opportunity for our next three highlighted players. I think Tava is the guy that ultimately becomes the biggest benefactor. Tava's development late in the season earned him increased playing time, despite Paul's presence. And his gritty performances last year and over the off-season have all but guaranteed him a spot in the starting lineup.

Most of the time, WMU fans can expect to see Tava at the power forward position. But if the Broncos want to go big (or small), they'll have the luxury of putting Tava at the wing or center position due to his physical, yet athletic versatile playing style. Look for Tava to have a breakout season and be one of this team's most improved players.


So. forward A.J. Avery (1.1 ppg, 0.8 rpg)

Speaking of improved players, A.J. Avery has gained more than 20 pounds in the offseason and has continued to make strides both offensively and defensively. With his height and length, it's no secret that his biggest strength is his presence on the defensive side of the ball.

Avery has one of the prettiest mid-range jump shots on this team, but if he could find more consistency offensively, he might battling Tava for more minutes than initially expected. Still, Avery is a vital piece to the puzzle in filling the gap in an already thin front line behind Whittington. Hawkins will likely look to him for a significantly increased role this year, and Avery seems to be ready to step up to the plate and contribute.


RFr. forward Kellen McCormick

McCormick decided early on last year that it was in his best interest to take a redshirt season last year. Little did he know, the Broncos would need his services sooner rather than later with Darius Paul leaving the program and leaving a huge void in the interior.

McCormick shows an amazing knack for being in the right spots and knocking down shots consistently along the perimeter when called upon. However it's perhaps his defensive strength and mobility that look to be limiting his overall effectiveness. Regardless, look for Hawkins to tinker with the 3-5 spots in an attempt to get McCormick some additional minutes on the floor. I have a feeling the Broncos are going to need some of his scoring ability in order to stay in some games this year.


Fr. forward Mario Matasovic

Matasovic was a late pickup for Steve Hawkins in the 2013 class, due to the unexpected departure of MAC Freshman of the Year Darius Paul. He's certainly traveled great distances to get to Kalamazoo, and comes from a unique background. Time will tell if the 6-foot-7 freshman can crack into the rotation, but there's almost no doubt he'll get playing time of some sort due to a relatively thin and undersized front court.

With a prototypical European playing style, Matasovic possesses a different kind of skill set than what WMU fans are accustomed to seeing in the Mid-American Conference. To his credit, Matasovic has adjusted relatively quickly, and could surprise some people from time to time. That being said, his best basketball may be further down the road.


RSr. center Shayne Whittington (13.2 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.7 bpg)

Whittington returns for his final season in a Bronco uniform after having a huge breakout year in 2012-2013. At nearly seven-feet tall, Whittington is automatically a nightmare of a matchup for just about everyone in the Mid-American Conference. The Broncos will lean on him heavily this year both offensively and defensively, as the 29.7 mpg he logged last season might not cut it this time around due to the relative lack of size on this roster.

It will be a delicate balance for Hawkins, in order to pace the big man and keep him healthy and fresh throughout the year to maximize his effectiveness on the floor. Look for another All-MAC year out of Shayne, and depending upon the Bronco's success, he could emerge as a candidate for MAC Player of the Year.


Projected 3-Deep Depth Chart

PG: 1) Austin Richie 2) Jared Klein 3) David Brown
SG: 1) David Brown 2) Austin Richie 3) Von Washington
SF: 1) Tucker Haymond 2) Taylor Perry 3) Charles Harris
PF: 1) Connar Tava 2) A.J. Avery 3) Kellen McCormick
C: 1) Shayne Whittington 2) A.J. Avery 3) Connar Tava


Schedule

The first thought that ran through my mind when putting eyes on the 2013-2014 schedule was that this is excellent scheduling by Steve Hawkins. While there are no games completely out of reach, there is some opportunity there for this team to score some nice wins and face some quality non-conference competition.

Cornell, Drake, Missouri, New Mexico St., North Dakota St., Northwestern, Oakland, and Tennessee St. are all formidable opponents that will give the Broncos a variety of challenges before conference play. That's great news for WMU fans since ESPN has eliminated February's annual "Bracket Buster" challenge.

Also new this year, the Mid-American Conference has implemented an 18-game conference schedule (as opposed to 16). In crossover games with the East, the Broncos will have some tough match-ups, as they draw road games against Kent St. and Buffalo, home-and-homes with Miami and Ohio, and home games against defending MAC champs Akron and Bowling Green.



Season Outlook

Overall, Hawkins is fielding yet another very solid team for WMU fans to enjoy in 2013-2014. And like many WMU teams in the past, I expect them to overachieve somewhat and steal some games throughout the year.

In our 2013-2014 MAC MBB Season Preview, we picked the Broncos to finish in third place in the MAC West, behind Toledo and Eastern Michigan respectively. It's possible this team will leave some to be desired offensively, plus overall depth is a slight concern.

On the flip side, I believe Western Michigan fields a strong starting lineup, and team defense looks to be a strength for them yet again. Shayne Whittington and David Brown will predictably lead the charge on both ends, but likely starters Austin Richie, Tucker Haymond, and Connar Tava will also make their fair share of contributions on both ends of the floor, keeping every game competitive.

If the Broncos want to surprise people this season, at least one or two players will need to emerge from the bench as reliable scoring options. Whether it's Jared Klein or Charles Harris at the guard spots, or A.J. Avery or Kellen McCormick in the post, someone will need to fill that role for the Broncos to keep up with most MAC teams on the scoreboard.

Expect Richie and Western Michigan to up the tempo on offense a bit this season and be more of a perimeter-oriented team, moving the ball inside to out and playing to their strengths. It will also be interesting to see how the new foul rules effect a defensive-minded team like the Broncos.

For the most part, there is some valuable experience with this group, and these guys truly enjoy playing with one another. Hawkins has seemingly received complete buy-in from the players. As we witnessed last year with a similar group dynamic, these kinds of teams are usually very fun to watch and can often times be special. Expect another good year, but maybe temper your expectations just a bit compared to last year.


Projected Season Record: 16-14 (9-9)


The Broncos begin the pre-season this Saturday, November 2 at 2:00 p.m. in an exhibition game against nearby Kalamazoo College at University Arena. On Monday, November 4, they'll host Aquinas College at 7:00 p.m. The 2013-2014 regular season officially kicks off in Hawaii as the Broncos will face New Mexico State, Hawaii, and Tennessee State at the Rainbow Classic November 8-11.

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