By Nick Corrigan
The 2017-18 regular season for the SJU basketball team was one to remember. They put together an impressive 23-2 record and capped it off as MIAC Champions.
The Johnnies led the conference in almost every statistical category including points per game, points against, field goal percentage, rebounds and assists.
On the other hand, the playoffs were less memorable as they went 0-2 and were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
“I think it’s on people’s minds, but we’re not talking about it a lot. Every season is a new one,” Assistant Coach Connor O’Brien said. “It’s definitely a motivator and hopefully we can use it to get back there.”
After a long break since last season’s abrupt end, the new season, like O’Brien mentioned, is finally upon us with much anticipation surrounding the team. The Johnnies are early season favorites to win the MIAC and were voted to repeat as champions in the preseason coaches’ poll.
“We don’t put a ton of stock into the preseason polls, we just have to focus on the task ahead,” O’Brien said.
Johnnie fans will be seeing some players in new and larger roles after losing last year’s seniors who were all key factors to the team’s success, including three starters. Those players accounted for 38.7 points per game—nearly half of the team’s total scoring.
“It provides an opportunity for guys to step up,” O’Brien said. “We have had some really competitive practices.”
One key returning player is junior wing Jubie Alade.
“With a new team our main focus was finding a new identity,” Alade said. “The younger guys have stepped up to the plate and are doing a great job.”
Along with Alade, who averaged 11 points last season, is senior guard David Stokman. A major factor on last year’s team, Stokman was the second leading scorer on the team averaging 13.8 points a game.
The Johnnies bring back a big piece in their frontcourt as well with junior post Lucas Walford, who was second in the MIAC in rebounds per game with 9.3.
“We are more defensive-oriented this year,” Alade said, referring to the new identity. “We have kind of taken pride in that.”
The switch in identities and lost players did not stop the Johnnies from keeping up with their stellar offensive pace set last year.
In their first game of the season on Nov. 12, they put together a great all-around performance including shooting 49.3 percent from the field in a 95-54 win over Minnesota-Morris.
“We shot the ball really well and had good rhythm offensively,” O’Brien said.
Stokman led the scoring with 19 points and was efficient from beyond the three-point line, shooting 5-of-7. Alade and sophomore guard Oakley Baker cashed in for 14 and 11 points, respectively, while Walford continued to own the boards hauling in a team-high eight rebounds.
With a commanding lead, the Johnnies were able to rotate in majority of the team throughout the game giving the younger players a chance to gain more in-game experience.
“As soon as we start to play and kind of mesh together I think the rest will follow,” Alade said. “I think we are trending in the right direction.”
Up next for the 25th-ranked Johnnies is a trip to Wisconsin. They will be taking on No. 24 UW-Whitewater and No. 10 UW-Platteville on Nov. 16 and 17 where they will be tested early on in the season before MIAC play arrives.