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SOU men ready to open hoop season

ASHLAND — With 13 returning players and its largest senior class this decade, the pieces are in place for the Southern Oregon University men’s basketball team to make a run at the last-ever NAIA Division II National Tournament if it can put them all together.

Last season, the Raiders implemented the defensive ingredients that had recently been missing, ranking ninth nationally in opponents’ field-goal percentage (41.6) and sixth in blocked shots (4.2).

Starting this weekend, they’ll hope to bring back the efficient offensive base that was previously taken for granted.

The Raiders’ up-and-down 2018-19 campaign peaked with an appearance in the Cascade Conference Tournament championship game, and most of that roster is still intact — only one newcomer will be in uniform.

The lows they experienced were the product of atypical shooting woes that sunk them to No. 7 on the CCC field-goal percentage leaderboard after they’d topped if four times and finished no lower than third in six preceding seasons, and put them last in 3-point marksmanship after they hadn’t been in the bottom half for 10 years.

Two four-year starters in the frontcourt, Tate Hoffman and Jordan Hunt, will be relied on to lead a return to form, as will increased production from fourth-year seniors Aaron Borich, Conor Carroll and Kerry Cook.

Another boost should come from a more experienced backcourt, which will again feature Tez Allen and Teron Bradford after they broke into the starting lineup as freshmen last year.

“You never know until you play someone, but it seems like our ability to run stuff is better, our shot selection has come along and we should have a little more pop off the bench,” said 24th-year head coach Brian McDermott, who enters the season four wins shy of 500. “Overall I think we’re quite a bit better than we were last year at this time.”

PRESEASON POLLS: The Raiders were picked to finish third in the Cascade Conference preseason poll behind two teams that were among the last standing in the country last year: Oregon Tech, which reached the national championship game, and College of Idaho, which was eliminated by OIT in the national semifinals.

Like SOU, the Owls had almost no roster turnover and will start at No. 2 in the national poll. C of I is No. 3 in the preseason NAIA Top 25, while the Raiders are the CCC’s only other ranked team at No. 18.

FIRST UP: The NAIA’s two divisions will merge into one in 2020-21, and the Raiders will get a taste of what’s to come early as they start on the road tonight against Carroll (Mont.) — which advanced to last year’s NAIA Division I championship game — and Saturday against Montana Tech, another Frontier Conference member.

SOU has two ranked opponents on its nonconference slate: NAIA Division I’s No. 15 Vanguard (Calif.) on Nov. 23 and No. 4 Morningside (Iowa) on Dec. 1.

LAST SEASON: The 2018-19 Raiders went 21-11 overall, marking their sixth 20-win season in seven years, but were hindered by some disappointments at home — particularly a three-game losing streak over a five-day stretch in January.

They finished sixth at 9-9 before pulling off two road upsets in the CCC Tournament, ultimately going down in the title game at C of I.

They graduated three seniors, including two-time all-conference performer Tristen Holmes, who was the first player in team history to record over 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 400 assists.