MEDFORD – The No. 6 Tufts men's basketball team opens their season on the road on Friday and the Jumbos are excited for what they hope is a promising season that they hope ends with an exciting NCAA Tournament run. But, the Jumbos won't get ahead of themselves. They know they have a lot of hard work to put in before then and they know that starts this weekend.
A trip out to the 34th annual Lopata Classic at No. 9 Washington University will help the Jumbos face some good competition out of region and give them an idea of where they stand early in the season. The Jumbos start with a 6 pm (EST) game against Webster on Friday as the host Bears take on Wabash. Saturday features the tournament's title game and consolation game.
|Everett Dayton is one of six seniors and returns having started all 29 games for the Jumbos during his junior campaign.|
"We are excited to get out to WashU and face some good competition," head coach Bob Sheldon said. "It will give us a great benchmark of where we stand and what we need to work on."
The Jumbos welcome back a talented squad from last year's team that finished with a 22-7 record, earned NESCAC Tournament hosting rights for the first time in program history and made their second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance where they fell to eventual National Champion, Babson, in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.
Leading that pack of returners is senior Vincent Pace, who averaged 13.9 points per game and six rebounds per game during his junior campaign.
"We are expecting a lot from Vinny," Sheldon said. "He averaged 18.5, then blew his ACL and then averaged 14, so we are expecting him to be back up in the 18-20 range and to be a leader and hopefully have a breakout senior year."
Classmate Everett Dayton started all 29 of the Jumbos games last year, turning in 8.7 points per game and 4.7 rebounds per game. Sophomore Eric Savage came off the bench and was big for the Jumbos in his rookie campaign, helping with 8.9 points per game. Averaging 7.9 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game, senior KJ Garrett was also a solid contributor for the Jumbos off the bench last year.
"Eric Savage, who had a great freshman year last year, is going to come back and hopefully go from nine to 15 or 16 points per game and he has been playing well," Sheldon said. "And then we have the experience of Everett Dayton and he will provide some leadership for us along with Thomas Lapham. And KJ [Garrett] is back and Kene Adigwe has been playing really well. All of our guards are experienced."
Also back for the Jumbos are seniors Adigwe and Lapham, both of whom have been playing well in practice and look to promising contributors this year. Senior Ben Engvall, who started all 29 games last year, is recovering from an injury and will look to contribute towards the second half of the season. Sophomore Miles Bowser and freshmen Justin Kouyoumdjian, Brennan Morris and Will Brady along with sophomore transfer Manny Anderson will all look to help the Jumbos cause this year.
The biggest shoes for the Jumbos to fill will be from graduated senior Tom Palleschi (10.3 points per game, 6.2 rebounds per game, 2.5 blocks per game). Sophomore Pat Racy got good experience as a freshman and is ready for the task. Also helping him will be freshmen Luke Rogers and Max Oppenheim.
After the Jumbos trip out to St. Louis, games against MIT, WPI and Newbury are on the schedule before Tufts hosts the Big Four Challenge with Salem State, Brandeis and Babson. The Jumbos will take on Salem State in the opening round of play, but could end up facing off with defending national-champion Babson on Sunday. Contests against Emerson, UMass-Boston and Framingham State will wrap up the pre-Christmas schedule.
Following that will be a trip to California to look forward to, where they will take on Pomona-Pitzer and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (December 28 and 29). The January schedule opens up NESCAC play, and the Jumbos will have their work cut out for them, as the Williams team that advanced to the Final Four didn't graduate many, and Middlebury was ranked No. 8 in the preseason poll with Amherst and Hamilton receiving votes.
"We are excited to head out West because we have five California guys on the team this year," Sheldon said. "So in addition to getting to play some great out of region competition, we also get our guys back out there so they can play in front of their parents and friends. It's something we try to do every other year."
Like many of their counterparts, the Jumbos are taking it day by day and are looking to be playing their best basketball come late February and March.
"Practices have been going well," Sheldon said. "Because we have so many returners the transition period has been shorter than you would expect with six new members of the team. Everyone has been working hard, they have really been showing up and we are ready to go."