2017-18 Men's Basketball Season Preview

2017-18 Men's Basketball Season Preview
The Oglethorpe men's basketball team returns on Wednesday, as they get their regular season underway with an in-state showdown against Covenant at 7 p.m. from Dorough Field House. The Stormy Petrels will feature a largely new look with only around 30 percent of their minutes and points returning from the previous season, but it's a team that Head Coach Philip Ponder is excited about.
"This will be a very different team from last year," said Ponder. "We've lost a lot of our guard play and aren't bringing back much of our scoring or minutes from last season. However, we had several season-long injuries last year, and five of those guys will be back for us this season. So we do have some experience returning, and I think that will serve us well."
The Petrels didn't have any problem scoring last season, as they led the league in field goal percentage and were second in three-point shooting. The Petrels also played good overall defense in 2016-17, finishing third in field-goal percentage defense in the SAA. However, the team was in the bottom half of the league in rebounding margin, finishing sixth in that category, and they'll look to improve upon that going into the 2017-18 season with a team that's bigger and has more experience in the frontcourt.
At the center position, junior Tom Inungu is back and will look to continue to improve. He's gotten better each season he's been a member of the Petrels, and he'll look to have his best season yet in this, his junior campaign. He returns after averaging 8.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game during his sophomore season, having started all 26 games the team played.
The Petrels also get three important frontcourt players back from year-long absences, as sophomore center Stefan Britvar, junior forward Will Perry, and freshman forward Will Koch combined to play in a single game in 2016-17. All three will be back at full strength for the 2017-18 campaign. Britvar averaged 1.2 blocks and 8.2 minutes per contest in his freshman season of 2015-16, blocking five shots in the first game of his career, a 123-99 victory over Toccoa Falls. Perry will bring versatility and length, with the ability to play both inside and out, while Koch is also a versatile player, with the ability to help the team both on the inside and from the perimeter. Perry averaged 14.2 points per game and shot 47 percent from the field in his sophomore season of 2015-16.
In the backcourt, seniors Connor Smith (returning from an injury that caused him to miss all but six games last season) and Chris Lawrence will provide experience and outstanding shooting. Both have earned All-SAA accolades in their careers, with Smith garnering All-SAA First Team honors in 2015-16 and Lawrence earning the SAA Newcomer of the Year award in 2014-15, along with All-SAA Honorable Mention in 2015-16. The pair of Petrel guards were the top two 3-point shooters in the league in 2015-16, with Smith sinking 42.2 percent of his shots from distance and Lawrence making 42.1 percent of his.
Sophomore Justin Hughes played his way into the rotation as the year went on in 2016-17, and he returns to the Petrels this season. He'll provide excellent length and solid three-point shooting, as well, as he sank 37.5 percent of his shots from distance last year. Junior Taylor Bourdage will also return after averaging 6.9 minutes per game at the shooting guard position last year. Sophomore Will Springer also returns from the 2016-17 squad, having averaged 3.4 minutes per contest last season. He'll serve as a swing man off the bench for the Petrels.
Junior Devin Huffman and freshman Lane Foster will share time at point guard. Huffman averaged 1.1 assists in 9.3 minutes a game last year, while Foster returns from an injury that cost him the entire 2016-17 season. Both will provide defensive tenacity at the position.
The Petrels will also welcome four true freshmen into the fold. Malik Brown and Cameron Crowe will provide depth for the Oglethorpe frontcourt, while Sam Schneidmiller and Keagan Stromberg will do the same in the backcourt.
The Petrels will face a difficult non-conference slate, with crosstown rival Emory coming in at No. 17 in the D3hoops.com preseason top 25. That game will take place on Jan. 2 at Dorough Field House. They'll also get a matchup against a Maryville (Tennessee) team ranked No. 23 in the DIII News poll as part of the Lee Richter Classic over Thanksgiving weekend in LaGrange. 
The Oglethorpe non-conference slate will also feature a season-opening contest against a Covenant team that beat Division II Lee in a preseason exhibition game on Nov. 4. They'll head to Sewanee, Tennessee, for the Lon Varnell Classic this weekend, where they'll take on a Methodist team that beat them 85-59 and won the USA South regular season title last year, as well as a tough Washington and Lee squad. Then they'll take on Maryville and LaGrange at the Lee Richter Classic before traveling to Demorest to take on Piedmont on Dec. 3. They'll wind up their non-conference season with a pair of holiday events.
They'll head to Florida for the Daytona Beach Shootout Dec. 20 and 21, where they'll take on Lawrence and Concordia, a pair of difficult opponents from Wisconsin. After that, they'll host Ozarks (Arkansas), Geneva and Manchester at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Tournament at Dorough Field House. The Petrels will go against Ozarks on Dec. 29, then will face off against either Geneva or Manchester the following day.
"This is a very difficult non-conference schedule," said Ponder. "Six of our 11 opponents would probably be good enough to win our league. It's a very challenging early-season schedule, but it should prepare us very well for our conference slate."
The SAA will feature a resurgent Centre team that brings back 90 percent of their scoring from 2016-17, as well as the defending SAA champions from Rhodes. The league slate, as a whole, will prove tough, as always.
"There are no easy games in the SAA," said Ponder. "Every weekend provides a big challenge, and you have to bring your A game every night. It'll make for a competitive regular season, I think, with lots of parity throughout the league. I think we could be a dark horse this season and, especially with our tough non-conference schedule leading in, could surprise some people as we get into league play."
The Petrels have not finished worse than fourth in the SAA since the league's inception in 2012-13, and they'll look to move further up the standings in 2017-18. Their quest starts Wednesday night at 7 p.m. from Dorough Field House.