A Tough Act to Follow for Skidmore Mens Basketball
With the start of a new season less then a week away, the Skidmore College men's basketball team is in the process of working on a short "To Do" list.
t's pretty much the same short list every team faces - it has just two items - replacing lost players and lost scoring. In the case of Skidmore, that means finding replacements for five starters, who just happened to be the team's five leading scorers from a year ago.
As it happens, Skidmore third-year coach Joe Burke doesn't see either as being a problem for the Thoroughbreds.
"The guys know we lost five starters," he said. "They know we lost our top five scorers, but we're a balanced group, so it's not like we lost a guy that got 20, we lost a bunch of guys that got between 10 and 15 points.
"So I think the mission is still the same. We can be a very good basketball team. It's just that early on we're going to have to learn to gel quickly just because they haven't played together as a group. I feel confident about our talent and our ability."
It's a daunting mission for the Thoroughbreds.
Last season, Skidmore won its second straight Liberty League title, beating Hobart on the road to capturing its second straight NCAA tournament bid. The team's 19 wins was a program record, breaking the previous mark set two years ago.
Returning to lead what is a young team are the Thoroughbreds' two seniors - Kevin Dahill (6-6, forward) and Sakhile Sithole (6-4, forward). Just two juniors are on the roster, Quenten Howard (6-5, forward) and Eli Johnston (6-3, guard).
"We're not going to be the team we were last year, that's what people need to know," Dahill said. "What we do know is as long as we're the best team we can be in February, I think we're going to be just as competitive as we've been the last two years and we're excited for that."
Though the rest of the roster is populated by sophomores and freshmen, Burke only sees that as a minor issue.
"It's no secret you win with juniors and seniors and we don't have that," he said. "But that being said, if your freshmen and sophomores can play like juniors and seniors, then you can absolutely win. I think we have those guys on our roster right now that can stop into those roles.
"These guys, regardless if someone tells them we lost this much are not hearing it and I'm not hearing it and that's a great thing. In the meantime, we're trying to be the best team we can be in February. That's what happened the last two years. We came together at the right time."
As an example of what players might fill key roles this season, Dahill pointed to sophomore Connor Merrill (6-6, forward).
"He was one of the key pieces to our team as a freshman," Dahill said. "He played big minutes coming down the league schedule into the playoffs last year. Without coach's ability to mix him in and get him that experience, he'd be a different player now and we'd be a different team - that goes with everybody."
To a point, the Thoroughbreds are hoping that having a lot of new faces seeing a lot of minutes on the court will be a bit of an advantage. Players not showing up a lot on any last season film might have the opposition asking, to borrow a line from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, "who are those guys"?
"That's pretty much what the whole season is about," Sithole said. "I feel like since I've been at Skidmore, we've always been overlooked - nobody expects us to win a lot of games. But I'm excited. I'm motivated, everybody in the locker room is motivated and can't wait to play."
The Thoroughbreds will get that chance to play for real Nov. 16 in the Widener Tip-Off Tournament at Chester, Pa. Skidmore opens Liberty League play Jan. 4 against Bard. Burke expects league play to be a tough road.
"I think it's pretty balanced and I don't think there are nights off," he said. "I think the fact we had two (Skidmore and Hobart) NCAA tournament teams last year is a tribute to that. I think it's anybody's game."
In the meantime, Skidmore gets things started Saturday with a 1 p.m. exhibition game at Siena College. Burke likes that challenge.
"You don't play a game to lose," he said. "Our intentions are going in and trying to win the basketball game.
"At the same time, I'm a realistic guy, so I know what we're up against. I'd be lying if I didn't tell you this was an exciting time for our guys to go in and playing in an arena which will probably be very crowded against a team that good and talented."
ON THE WIRE