Men’s basketball preview: Team tips off season in Michigan

Returning senior Justin Hightower led the UMSL men's baskeball team with 95 assists and 35 steals and ranked third in scoring with 2.4 points per game during the 2010-11 season.

SETTING THE SCENE
The University of Missouri–St. Louis men’s basketball team begins its 46th season of intercollegiate play when it opens the 2011-12 campaign at the Great Lakes Valley Conference/Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Challenge, hosted by Northwood University (Midland, Mich.) tonight (Nov. 11) and tomorrow (Nov. 12). The Tritons will face Lake Superior State University (Sault Sainte Marie, Mich.) at 5 p.m. tonight before meeting Northwood University at 6 p.m. tomorrow.

UMSL IN SEASON OPENERS
In the previous 45 season openers, the UMSL Tritons have posted a record of 28-17. UMSL has won its last three lid-lifters, including an 82-71 victory over Northwood last season.

THE SERIES
UMSL and Lake Superior State met for the first time last season in the second game of the year with the Lakers posting a 74-71 victory.

UMSL is 3-0 all-time against Northwood. Before last year’s meeting, the two programs last squared off on November 25, 2000, with the Tritons recording a 76-62 victory in Midland, Mich.

AN UMSL WIN AGAINST LAKE SUPERIOR STATE WOULD…
… give the Tritons a season-opening victory for the fourth straight year.
… improve the Tritons’ season-opening record to 29-17.
… be head coach Steve Tappmeyer’s 425th career victory.

SIZING UP THE TRITONS
UMSL is coming off a 16-11 record, the best finish since the 1990-91 team posted a 22-6 mark. The Tritons also finished 10-8 record in the GLVC, marking the first GLVC winning season in program history. Five letterwinners return from that squad. UMSL has been picked to finish third in the GLVC West Division Preseason Coaches Poll.

HEAD COACH STEVE TAPPMEYER
Steve Tappmeyer enters his second season as the head men’s basketball coach at UMSL and owns a career coaching mark of 424-219 (.659) in 22 seasons. In his first season at the helm, Tappmeyer wasted little time in directing the program in the right direction as the Tritons posted a 16-11 record, its most wins since the 1990-91 season. Additionally, the team finished with a 10-8 GLVC mark, equaling the most GLVC wins in program history and marking the first winning GLVC record in program history. Prior to his appointment at UMSL, Tappmeyer coached 21 seasons (1989-2009) at Northwest Missouri State (Maryville) with an overall record of 408-208 (.662). The all-time winningest coach in program history, he directed the Bearcats to 10 NCAA Tournament berths and three regular season and four conference tournament championships. Tappmeyer is the sixth head men’s basketball coach in UMSL program history.

RETURNING CREW
Five letterwinners, including two starters, return from last season, including seniors Justin Hightower and Zach Redel. Hightower led the team with 95 assists and 35 steals and ranked third in scoring with 2.4 points per game, while Redel finished with averages of 5.5 points and 4.4 rebounds and led the team with 22 blocks. Junior Vinnie Raimondo (1.0 ppg) and sophomores Kevin Dwyer (2.0 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.55 bpg) and Eli Weigley (1.7 ppg, 0.3 rpg) also return.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
UMSL welcomes 10 newcomers this season, three four-year college transfers, two junior college transfers and including five freshmen.

Senior guard Troy Long comes to UMSL following one season at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and two years at Southeastern Illinois College (Harrisburg), where he was an all-conference and all-region performer. Juniors Joshua McCoy and Charlie Woods are transfers from Cleveland State University, where they helped the Vikings to a 27-9 record and the second round of the National Invitation Tournament last season. McCoy averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds per game and also recorded 26 assists and 17 steals, while shooting 40.8 percent from the field, including 36.3 percent from three-point range, while Woods averaged 2.6 points and 2.5 points per game and led team in blocks (29).

Junior forward Isiah Nunn played two seasons at Southwestern Illinois College (Belleville), averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, while junior center Ibou Fall played last season at Triton College (River Grove, Ill.) where he averaged 3.2 points and 3.2 rebounds per game.

Freshman guard Jack Connors prepped at Saguaro (Ariz.) High School, where he earned Arizona Class 4A first team all-state honors as a senior after averaging 16.5 points, 6.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game, while shooting 40 percent from three-point range. Freshman guard Neil Branham averaged 15.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.6 steals per game as a senior at Troy Buchanan (Mo.) High School, while helping the Trojans to a Missouri Class 5A state basketball runner-up finish. He was a Missouri Basketball Coaches Association and Missouri Sportswriters and Broadcasters all-state selection. Freshman guard Janeil Hatchett was a first team all-state performer at Sikeston (Mo.) High School, where he helped his team to a 30-0 record as a senior and the Missouri Class 4 state championship. He earned first team all-conference and all-region honors while averaging 12.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Freshman guard/forward Aareon Smith averaged 14.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.6 assists per game as a senior at LaFayette (Mo.) High School, earning first team all-Suburban West All-Conference and all-district honors. Freshman forward Ben Reuther averaged 14.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.5 assists per game as a senior at St. Francis Borgia (Mo.), while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor.

GLVC PRESEASON POLL RELEASED
UMSL was picked to finish third in the West Division of the Great Lakes Valley Conference Preseason Coaches Poll. The Tritons recorded 84 points, and received one first-place vote, finishing behind preseason favorite Drury University (Springfield, Mo.) who collected 113 total points, including 15 first-place votes, and Quincy (Ill.) University, who finished second in the poll with 96 points. Newcomer William Jewell College (Liberty, Mo.) is picked to finish fourth in the division with 62 points, while Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla) (46 total points), University of Illinois Springfield (42), Rockhurst University (Kansas City, Mo.) (39) and Maryville University (Town and Country, Mo.) (30) round out the poll.

Defending NCAA Division II national champion Bellarmine University (Louisville, Ky.) is the preseason favorite to finish atop the GLVC East Division as the GLVC will return to a two-division format after spending the previous two seasons in three divisions. The Knights, ranked first nationally by both The Sporting News and Division II Bulletin, collected 113 total points, including 15 first-place votes. Bellarmine is followed in the division poll by Kentucky Wesleyan College (Owensboro) and University of Southern Indiana (Vanderburgh County) who finished with 84 and 83 total points, respectively. Northern Kentucky University (Highland Heights) is picked to finish fourth in the division with 73 total points and the Norse are followed by Lewis University (Romeoville, Ill.) (60 total points), University of Indianapolis (53), Saint Joseph’s College (Rensselaer, Ind.) (26) and University of Wisconsin–Parkside (20).

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