The University of Southern Indiana men's basketball team enters the 2005-06 season as it has never before -- the defending GLVC regular-season and tournament champions.
In their fourth season under Head Coach Rick Herdes, the Screaming Eagles won the program's ninth conference regular-season crown and their first league tournament title on their way to posting a 27-5 overall record. Herdes' Eagles also reached the NCAA Division II Tournament for the 12th time in 13 years and was ranked number one nationally for the eighth time in the last 12 years.
The 27 victories mark the 13th straight season that USI has reached 20-or-more wins and the 10th time since 1992-93 that the Eagles have reached the 25-win plateau. USI ranks seventh among Division I, II, and III programs in victories, averaging over 25 wins a year in the last 13 seasons.
In addition to defending their GLVC championships, the Eagles will have to contend with changes within the league. The GLVC has expanded to 14 teams and has been split into divisions with USI being placed in the West Division. The West also includes Drury University, the University of Missouri-Rolla, the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Quincy University, Rockhurst University, and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
USI will play each team in the division twice, while playing each team from the East Division -- Bellarmine University, the University of Indianapolis, Kentucky Wesleyan College, Lewis University, Northern Kentucky University, Saint Joseph's College, and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside -- once.
Herdes, who is 102-27 since taking over the Eagle program in 2001-02, will lean heavily upon six returning players. Three of the returners were honorable mention All-GLVC players in 2004-05.
In the frontcourt, senior forward Chris Thompson and junior forward Geoff Van Winkle lead the way.
Thompson is USI's top returning scorer after nearly averaging a double-double as a junior. He was second on the team in scoring with 11.3 ppg and was third in the GLVC with a team-high 9.2 rpg. Thompson also produced a team-high 12 double-doubles and 15 double-figure rebound games.
Van Winkle started the final 24 games of 2004-05 and was fifth on the team in scoring, recording 9.3 ppg. He posted a team-high 75 three-point field goals as a sophomore and has hit 147 long-range bombs in just two seasons.
The Eagles also will look for increased contributions from sophomore forward John Hoover. Hoover played in 29 games off the bench as a freshman, averaging 2.4 ppg and 1. 6 rpg.
To replace the loss of last year's starters, Randy Holbrook and Reque Newsome, the USI coaching staff has brought in six newcomers --junior forwards Nick Brooks, Keith Christmas, Marty Wise; freshman forward/center Mike Harrington; and freshman forward George Cunningham and Mike Kalicak.
Wise was named third team NJCAA All-American in 2004-05, averaging 13.0
points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 2.0 steals as a sophomore at Moberly
Area Community College. MACC was 30-7 overall and was the NJCAA Division I
runner-up in 2004-05.
Brooks transfers to USI after two seasons at Butler University where he averaged 5.0 ppg and 2.3 rpg in 52 appearances for the Bulldogs. He also had 14 starts, 12 coming last season.
Brooks was the Bulldogs top scoring freshman with 4.5 ppg in 29 games and posted a career-high 21 points in 21 minutes against Youngstown State University. He also grabbed 1.9 rpg and sank 20 three-point field goals in 2003-04.
In 2004-05, Brooks saw action in 23 of the 28 Butler contests and averaged a collegiate best 5.7 ppg and 2.8 rpg. He shot 47.5 percent from the field (48-101) and ranked second on the team in blocked shots and fifth on the team in steals.
Christmas transferred to USI after two seasons at Middle Tennessee State University where he averaged 1.7 ppg and 1.1 rpg in 33 games. He averaged 14 ppg and 12 rpg as a senior at West Side High School in Gary, Indiana.
Cunningham will begin his collegiate career at USI after averaging 16.4
points and 12.6 rebounds per game for Steele Canyon High School in Spring
Valley, California. SCHS was 30-2 last year under the direction of former
University of Evansville standout Brad Leaf, who was recently named to the
Aces’ all-time team.
SCHS was ranked as high as 21st nationally in the USA Today High School Top 25 and defeated number-one ranked St. Anthony’s High School, coached by former Duke All-American Bobby Hurley.
The 6-foot-7 forward was named first team San Diego California Interscholastic Federation Division II All-Grossmont Conference in March. He also was a first team CIF All-Academic performer in 2004.
Harrington is USI's top candidate to fill the post position.
Harrington, who transfers to USI from California State University-Fullerton, was a three-year standout at Rich Central High School (Olympia Fields, Illinois). He averaged 11.0 ppg and 9.0 rpg as a senior and helped RCHS to a 20-9 record in 2003-04.
In the backcourt, the Eagles will have to replace All-GLVC performer Cris Brunson. Brunson finished his four-year career ranked number one in three-point field goals made and fourth in scoring.
USI will look to senior guards David Bryant and Danny Gibson to pick-up the slack from Brunson's departure.
Bryant, who was honorable mention All-GLVC, was second on the team with 3.4 assists per game while ranking sixth on the squad with 8.7 ppg. Gibson averaged 4.3 ppg as a junior, but posted 6.4 ppg during the GLVC and NCAA II Tournament.
Junior Melvin Hall and freshman Alex Gravelle are new to the USI backcourt.
Hall transfers to USI from John A. Logan College after averaging 19.0 ppg during his two-year career. He posted 18 ppg and was named third team All-American last year. The Great River Athletic Conference dropped in 20.0 ppg as a freshman..
Prior to attending John A. Logan, Hall was the 2002-03 Evansville Courier & Press Player of the Year while playing for Harrison High School. He averaged 21.0 ppg and shot 85 percent from the line as a senior at HHS.
Gravelle was a four-year varsity performer at Louisville Male High School. He posted 13.9 ppg and 5.2 assists as a senior after posting 14.5 ppg and 4.2 assists as a junior.
USI opens the 2005-06 campaign with a pair of exhibition games, sandwiched around the Disney Division II Tip-Off Classic.
The first exhibition game will be at the University of Tennessee, directed by former USI Head Coach Bruce Pearl, on November 3. This will be the second time Herdes' Eagles have taken on their former coach.
Following the exhibition opener, the Eagles fly south to play in Disney's Division II Tip-off Classic. The tournament, at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida, will feature USI, Philadelphia University, Columbus State University, Bridgeport College, the University of Alaska-Anchorage, Caldwell College, the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and Presbyterian College. The preseason tournament will run November 11-13.
USI concludes the preseason with an exhibition game at the University of Louisville on November 20.
The home opener at the Physical Activities Center will be November 22 when the Eagles host Robert Morris College to begin a three-game homestand. USI concludes its first homestand of the year by hosting the USI Invitational November 25-26, featuring Bellarmine University, Central State University, and Glenville State College.
The Eagles start the conference schedule on the road at Missouri-Rolla
December 1 and begin league action at the PAC by hosting the University of
Wisconsin-Parkside December 8.
The highlights of the USI games with the East Division are on the road when the Eagles play at Northern Kentucky University January 7 and at Kentucky Wesleyan College on February 4. USI will host the University of Indianapolis January 26.
The USI Homecoming Game will feature the Eagles against Rockhurst University February 11, while Senior Day is scheduled for February 25 when the Eagles host Missouri-St. Louis.