LANCASTER, Pa. – The Ursinus College men's basketball team was pegged for a third straight trip to the playoffs, occupying the fourth slot in the Centennial Conference preseason poll released Wednesday.
Defending champion Johns Hopkins narrowly edged Swarthmore in a sampling of the league's head coaches and sports information directors, garnering 11 first-place votes and 155 points to the Garnet's nine first-place ballots and 152 points. Franklin & Marshall was third with 122 points, followed by the Bears (110) and Dickinson (106) in the projected postseason field.
Muhlenberg was sixth in the poll at 78 points and succeeded by Haverford (58), Gettysburg (53), Washington College (36), and McDaniel (30).
Ursinus won a first-round playoff game each of the last two seasons and hopes to take the next step in a stacked CC that features three returning NCAA squads. The pieces appear to be in place to do just that as head coach Kevin Small begins his 19th season at the helm.
The Bears return three starters – including three of their top four scorers and two of their top four rebounders – from a group that finished 12-6 in CC play (17-10) overall a year ago, earning a first-round home game and edging past Dickinson before falling at Swarthmore in the semifinals for the second year in a row.
To get over the hump, Ursinus will need another big leap from junior guard Ryan McTamney. After coming on strong down the stretch as a rookie, McTamney averaged 13.4 points per game to rank second on the team last season, and much will be expected of a deadly shooter who made over 50 percent from the field and hit better than 40 percent from 3-point range.
Senior Eric Williams Jr. resumes his place as one of the region's most feared marksmen after another consistent performance on the perimeter. He has averaged between 11.6 and 12.8 points per game and made between 40.9 and 42.2 percent of his triples every year of his career. Williams already ranks seventh in CC history with 225 career 3's, leaving him 81 shy of the all-time record held by Dennis Stanton (2001-04). He is 85 points away from 1,000 for his career.
Junior forward Shane Stark gives Ursinus a physical, athletic presence in the paint. Stark averaged 9.0 points and a team-high 7.4 rebounds per contest last season, and has shot 55.7 percent from the floor for his career.
Seniors Matt Williams and Zack Muredda give Small two more experienced veterans to call upon. A two-year captain, Williams averaged 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds a year ago, while Muredda stuffed the stat sheet with 3.1 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists.
Several sophomores figure to step into much larger roles. Matt Paulus enjoyed a terrific offseason and is ready to take the reins at point guard, while swingman Bruce Edwards (3.7 PPG, 1.4 RPG) and forward George Gordon (3.1 PPG, 1.8 RPG) are hoping to build upon valuable minutes as rookies.
Junior center Jake O'Neill and sophomore guard Lucas Olshevski provide additional depth, and Small is hoping for contributions from a four-man incoming class that includes guard Ryan Hughes, Jack Packer, and Peyton Vostenak as well as forward Luke Godzieba.
The Bears tip off the 2018-19 campaign on November 9, when they take on Roanoke in the opening round of a tournament hosted by Messiah.