A second half collapse in last year’s ASC quarterfinal against Hardin-Simmons all but ensured the Comets’ post-season fate, leading to a 77-63 rout at the hands of the Cowboys.
The first round exit was the earliest the men’s basketball team had been sent home packing since the program’s 2007-2008 campaign.
“That was an eye opener last year,” sophomore forward Reagan Keogh said. “I just think having that experience for the first time is the biggest thing — being able to actually know what it’s like.”
The hill of challenges continues to get steeper as this season’s roster will feature no seniors — something uncommon to UTD head coach Terry Butterfield.
“It’s hard to be on top of the heap every year,” Butterfield said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever had, in all my years of coaching, such a young team as we have. I don’t remember ever not having a senior.”
Butterfield said the team wasn’t as sharp on the defensive end of the floor last season in comparison to previous years, allowing 69.5 points per game resulting in a plus 4.7 margin of victory — the highest number of points allowed per game and the lowest scoring margin since 2005.
“The foundation of our program has to start with good defense and excellent rebounding,” he said. “We’re going to be really looking for guys this year who can really bring the defense… and work in a team oriented defense. Guys who can do that for us will certainly see minutes increased.”
Last season Keogh played with a knee brace after suffering an ACL tear during his senior year of high school. He said that the knee brace has been shelved and that he’s getting used to playing without it. Keogh also gained six pounds this offseason in preparation to bang down low against bigger players in the paint.
Only one player on the roster is over 6-foot-6-inches but Keogh, a 6-foot-6-inch forward who served as the team’s primary center last season, said he doesn’t necessarily see it as disadvantage.
“Last year was kind of a learning process for me trying to figure how to score and defend against bigger guys,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys on the team that are 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6 that are going to play the four so we can end up with some pretty big line-ups.”
Butterfield said no one true star has emerged from the bunch, so the team will have to ride the hot hand on any given night. As a low possession team, he said ball security is paramount to their success offensively.
Last season the Comets turned the ball over at a 15.5 per game — 3.7 times more than their opponents.
“This early in the season I would say our weakness would probably be execution offensively,” said sophomore point guard Caleb Banks. “We’re putting in a new system offensive wise but it’ll get better as the year progresses.”
Originally a walk-on last season, junior forward Kyle Coulter started in all but one of the 26 games last season while averaging a team best 10.3 points per game. He said he and the other returners have taken on a bigger leadership role.
“We think we’re going to be a much more balanced team offensively this year,” he said. “It’ll definitely help with team chemistry and getting everyone involved.”
Regardless of the questions surrounding the team Coulter said claiming the ASC championship remains the goal. The team has been predicted to finish third in the ASC East, behind Louisiana College and defending ASC champions East Texas Baptist.
Coulter said Butterfield has preached to the team a mindset of being a more cohesive group of players.
“Our team motto this year is to just be a together group,” he said. “We have to play as one. We’re going to be a balanced together group of guys who are all clicking on the same cylinder. That’s how we’re going to beat people.”