Pieces in place for long season

The men’s basketball team has been tabbed as the favorite to win the ASC East. The Comets will open their season with a home game against Trinity on Nov. 15. The team said they will rely on the experience gained from last year as momentum for this upcoming season. Mercury File Photo.

A year removed from having a roster with no seniors, the men’s basketball team now has key upperclassmen with valuable experience under their belts.

According to an ASC poll of the league’s coaches, sports information director and select media, the Comets have been picked as the favorites to win the ASC East — a division they haven’t won since 2013.

The Comets picked up six of the 15 first place votes available, barely edging out the defending divisional champions East Texas Baptist University.

Although the team doesn’t have a true go-to player on the roster as in past years, it will continue to rely on the system that head coach Terry Butterfield has implemented. The system is predicated on spreading the floor with ball movement and having everyone involved.

Last year, the team had nearly four players average double digits despite being a young team. Senior guard Dapo Ogunfeitimi said going into last year he wasn’t sure what to expect.

“This past year we were just a bunch of young guys,” he said. “We had no seniors, I think we had two starters return and those two starters were freshmen when they started (the program). It was definitely, especially in the beginning of the season, very up in the air. No one knew how it was going to go, but honestly it turned out to be a pretty successful season.” 

Now the teams’ starting line-up features two seniors and three juniors. Ogunfeitimi said this shows what was established last year will be used as momentum going forward.

“Even though we didn’t win a championship or anything, we definitely built some ground to work (with) for this year,” he said. “We didn’t lose anybody. We have everyone coming back.”

Key players to watch include junior guard Caleb Banks, senior forward Kyle Coulter and Ogunfeitimi. Banks took the reins as the team’s starting point guard and was named honorable mention All-ASC East along with teammates Coulter and junior guard Jon Hatcher.

From the ASC West side, perennial power house Hardin Simmons — the team that knocked out UTD in the conference tournament in each of the past two seasons — has once again been tabbed as the favorite to win its division.

The Comets, who have statistically held opponents to low scoring averages in comparison to conference rivals, allowed 69.9 points per game last year which continues to be part of a downward trend. The team held opponents to 69 points per game in the 2014-2015 season and to 67 points during the 2013-2014 season.

The team hasn’t enjoyed a double digit-scoring margin since the 2013-2014 campaign, where they went on to advance to the NCAA tournament Sweet 16. Amid these trends and a pair of early conference exits, Ogunfeitimi said the valuable experience the team gained last year shouldn’t be understated.

“It is going to work wonders for us (this year),” he said.

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