There have been bigger surprises than the news that the IPFW men are the preseason pick to win the Summit League basketball title this winter. The sun popping up in the east this morning probably qualifies as one of them.
That's because this is one of those not-so-obvious predictions that becomes more obvious the longer you examine it. On the surface, sure, it's iffy: Leading scorer gone, point guard gone, new coach, higher expectations. But dig a little deeper, and you quickly discover how little all that means.
First off, the "new coach" is Jon Coffman, Tony Jasick's right-hand man and someone who, after 16 years of tutelage under a fistful of successful coaches, may be as qualified as anyone in the country for a first-time Division I gig. That he's not coming in cold from Whatsamatta U. only enhances his standing; the players all know him and respect him and know his system, which isn't terribly different from Jasick's: Push the tempo, find the open man, defend like crazy.
And speaking of the players ...
Yes, leading scorer Luis Jacobo is gone, but that's not nearly as big a blow as it might appear for a team that had eight different players lead it in scoring last year. The IPFW system -- Jasick's and also Coffman's -- put a premium on distributing the basketball, getting open looks and then hitting the shot. That isn't going to change now.
Point guard Pierre Bland's departure is more problematic, but Coffman envisions using last year's dazzling freshman, Mo Evans, in that role, because Evans was recruited as a point guard and played the position in high school. So he'll be a combo point/2 guard, with newcomer James Calder also playing some point.
Elsewhere, all the major characters are back, only better: Steve Forbes, the inside presence who made the Mastodons' inside-out game work so well last season, is back, and so is Joe Reed, who'll likely slide into the power forward slot to give the Dons a hefty1-2 punch on the blocks. Streak shooter Joe Edwards is back, and so is the athletic Isaiah McCray.
All of those players led IPFW in scoring in at least one game last season. And together they make up a sturdy core for a team that won 25 games last year and came within three points of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
Is there enough there this time around to make up those three points?
March is a long way off. But the consensus here says yes.