Preseason MVP: In high school, Hunter Janacek was a spot-up shooter. He’s turned himself into an active defensive player. Not just a shooter, he is also capable of playing the point and small forward.
The Ceiling: A significant jump in the won-loss record is attainable, but players like Hunter Janacek and Jason Thompson must prove they can stay healthy for that to happen. Team chemistry must improve as well. If newcomers like Pedro Castro and Darius Lee deliver, the Huskies should be more competitive.
The Floor: If the returnees and newcomers aren’t willing to play defense and make the sacrifices, the season could go downhill fast and anything near a .500 season would only be a dream. It’d be hard to do worst than last year, but it’s a fine line between improvement and stagnation.
Game of the Year: Sam Houston State
Projected Starting Five:
G | 6-2 | So. | Charlotte, N.C.
G | 6-5 | Jr. | Houston, Texas
G | 6-4 | Sr. | Houston, Texas
F | 6-5 | Sr. | Nassau, Bahamas
C | 6-10 | Sr. | Westminster, MD.
Impact First-Year Player: Pedro Castro
Scoring points wasn’t a problem for Houston Baptist last season. And neither was it for the opposition. Out of 350 NCAA Division I teams, the Huskies ranked 350th in points allowed. That’s the main reason for their 4-25 record.
“There’s no doubt to anyone who watched us play last year, there’s no doubt to our coaching staff and guys on our roster who are returning, that we have to become a better defensive team,” Huskies head coach Ron Cottrell said. “I can’t put it any more plainly.
“We were not nearly the defensive team that we needed to be last year to be able to win games when it came crunch time. We could score points, we could hang with teams, but at the end of the day we did not get stops when we needed stops.”
The Huskies, who were 4-16 in the Southland, averaged 80.1 points in 2019-20, 11th in the nation. But it’s tough to win with a minus 13.8 scoring margin average. And the Huskies have to replace their best player Ian DuBose, who transferred to Wake Forest after leading the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals and making All-SLC second team.
Perhaps the return of several veterans, the return of two healthy players who missed considerable time with injuries, and the addition of six newcomers – three freshmen, three junior college transfers – will result in more wins.
Of a core group of returnees, 6-foot-5 Philip McKenzie is a jack-of-all-trades. The four-year player is a rebounding machine and good defensive player who Cottrell is counting on to be a steadying force. Multi-positional Ty Dalton is a swing man who can score, averaging 5.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists. At 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, Ryan Gomes is a true post and brings mobility. Those three seniors are mainstays.
Myles Pierre started at point some last year, but he is battling freshman Jade Tse as the starter. Jason Thompson, 6-foot-7, played only four games before succumbing to an injury. He is as athletic as anybody on the team.
Hunter Janacek did not play last season because of injury. If he plays up to his potential, he may be the team’s most valuable player. The 6-foot-5 junior put up solid numbers two years ago at Angelina College.
Of the newcomers, 6-foot-6 Pedro Castro is a player to keep an eye on. Castro is expected to do big things playing a variety of positions at guard or on the wing. He averaged 10.8 points and 6.8 rebounds at Blinn College last season. A 6-foot-6 wing, Darius Lee averaged 18.1 points and 9.1 rebounds in helping SUNY Sullivan Junior College to a 28-2 season.
HBU wants a change in its defensive philosophy, but the Huskies will still run a four-out, one-in set, and at a quick pace.
“Our style is not going to change that much,” Cottrell said. “Our DNA will always be, we want to push the ball and force the tempo, both offensively and defensively.”