On Nov. 5, the MIAC released the pre-season coaches’ poll for the 2019-2020 basketball season. The Oles were picked to finish fifth behind St. John’s, St. Thomas, Augsburg and Bethel.
Coming off a 12-8 season that ended in the MIAC playoff quarterfinals on a Booker Coplin buzzer beater, this year’s team has a lot to look forward to. The Oles return key players Dominic Bledsoe ’21 and Troy Diggins ’20, who are both expected to contribute mightily on both ends of the floor. Bledsoe, a two time all MIAC defender, finished last season averaging 10.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. With the departure of Austin Korba ’19, a four-year starter and the dictionary definition of a volume shooter, Diggins will likely see his load increase on the offensive end the most of any returning players.
The best defensive guard in the conference will share the backcourt with senior Noah Beck ’20, who came into his own offensively down the stretch of last year. Beck is expected to play big minutes each game at guard, being a main contributor to the offense along with Bledsoe and Diggins, as well as a top rebounder.
Starting in the front court along with Diggins will be Nathan Hendler ’22 and Carter Uphus ’22, both sophomores who didn’t see many minutes on the floor last season. With the departure of Frank Delaney ’19, these two will have lots of rebounds to grab in a conference that features more than a few dominant big men.
Injuries have already taken a toll on the Oles’ depth this season, with Nico Polydorou ’22 suffering a torn ACL and Travis Fauchald ’20 breaking his hand in the pre-season. Both versatile forwards, the rest of the bench will have to step up in their absence, which will include a large freshman class new to the program.
Expected to make an immediate impact for the Oles in his first year at St. Olaf will be forward Jake Weber ’23. Weber scored over 1,000 points in his high school career at Pine Island and received two all-conference selections. The first-year played nineteen minutes off the bench in the team’s exhibition against Division II Southwest Minnesota State University, shooting four of six from the field, good for ten efficient points. Weber’s dynamic offensive skill set will fit right into Coach Kozmaski’s offense, which values three point shooting and perimeter pick and rolls to start the action.
Personally, I think a fifth place finish would be an underachieving year given this roster’s potential. I predict the Oles will finish second behind St. John’s and in front of St. Thomas and Augsburg, who have struggled to win in Skoglund the past two seasons. No matter what, the team will be exciting to watch come conference play, which starts on Nov. 23 against St. Mary’s on the road.