Winter is coming, and it’s bringing St. Olaf men’s basketball with it. Heading into the 2018-19 season, expectations are high. Last year, St. Olaf placed second in a loaded MIAC conference during the regular season.
Come postseason, they earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament due to their strong schedule and marquee wins. At the tournament, they advanced after beating Sul Ross State in the first round. In the second round, they lost a close battle with UW-Platteville, a team who lost by a single point to the eventual national champions, Nebraska Wesleyan.
St. Olaf enters this year ranked 23rd in the nation. While the merits of preseason rankings can be argued, Coach Dan Kosmosku said play so far is “a testament to what the men accomplished last season.”
“Now we have a bit of a target on our back, but that is what we work hard for,” Kosmoski said. This season will be his 25th season at the helm of St. Olaf’s basketball program.
Opposed to last season, when they were predicted to finish seventh in the MIAC, this year’s team will not sneak up on opposing teams or merely be thought of as a plucky underdog.
“Being ranked higher this year does not change our approach at all,” Ben Scheffley ’19, team captain, said. “We know that if we go out and play our game, we have a good chance to beat anyone in the country.”
This season kicked off on Saturday, Oct. 27 with a scrimmage at home against Minnesota-Duluth. As an NCAA Division II team, Duluth was a great challenge for the team. Yet even when pitted against a difficult D-II opponent, St. Olaf did not flinch. The game ended with the team tied at 67.
When asked about other tough non-conference games scheduled for early for the year, Kosmoski said the team “will be humbled early. Not in the sense that we will necessarily lose any games, but that we play Whitworth and Stevens Point, who are ahead of us in the rankings.”
“There is a benefit in being challenged right out of the gate,” Frank Delaney ’19 said. “That way we can be better prepared for bigger games toward the end of the season.”
This year’s team understands what it takes to be successful. This squad features a wealth of game experience after graduating only one player.
The senior players Austin Korba ’19 and Scheffley (co-captains), Jake Lyle ’19, Delaney, and Sam Stensgard ’19, have compiled a record of 50-32, two NCAA tournament appearances, and a MIAC tournament championship in their three seasons thus far.
“It is not just the seniors, but the entire team is tightly knit,” Scheffley said. “We want to see each other succeed and have a lot of fun doing it.”
“As a team we love passing the ball and are not afraid to talk out issues,” Delaney said. “So when you put those two things together you have a pretty good recipe for success.”
Along with the core group of seniors, St. Olaf will also rely on point guard Dominic Bledsoe ’21, Nate Albers ’20 and Troy Diggins Jr. ’20 who were 3 of the top 5 scorers from last season.
St. Olaf plays Southwest Minnesota State University, another Divison II team, in an exhibition game on Nov. 2, before playing against UW- Eau Claire away on Nov. 8. They will return to Bob Gelle Court to play a nationally ranked UW- Stevens Point on Nov. 13.
The team will then travel to both Washington and Oregon to play Whitworth University (Nov. 16) and George Fox (Nov. 17).