The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

    Men’s hoops gears up for weekend home tournament

    Since 1978 the men’s basketball team will begin its season with the Pepsi All-Sport Tip-Off Tournament Friday and Saturday at Zorn Arena.

    The Blugolds won’t be facing their usual opponent, though. In the first round of the four-team tournament Eau Claire typically plays Northland College, but instead will take on Cornell College (Iowa) at 6 p.m. Friday.

    Coach Terry Gibbons, in his eighth season with Eau Claire, said the Blugolds wanted to play Cornell because it is one of the 52 teams in the West region.

    Northland is not part of the West region, and has yet to gain complete affiliation with the NCAA. The school currently has dual affiliation with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and the NCAA.

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    A team’s record within its region is considered when the NCAA selection committee chooses teams for post-season play.

    “We decided we’re not going to waste our time playing a team that’s not in our region,” Gibbons said.

    Cornell, one of 10 teams in the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, should be a more challenging opponent for the Blugolds. The team finished the 2001-02 season with a 12-15 record overall, 9-9 in the conference. It will be the first meeting between the Blugolds and Rams.

    The Blugolds are looking to regain their dominance of the Tip-Off Tournament after falling to Augsburg College (Minn.) in the championship game last season. It was just the second time the ‘Golds failed to win the event.

    Sophomore guard Casey Drake said he realizes the importance of starting the season strong, but doesn’t believe the Tip-Off Tournament games are more important than any other games on the schedule.

    “Of course, you want to win all the time,” Drake said. “But it isn’t going to make or break our season.”

    The Blugolds have bigger goals than winning the annual tournament. They hope to bounce back from one of the worst seasons in school history. Last season the Blugolds finished with a record of 11-14 overall and 3-13 in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. It was their first losing season since 1968.

    “You learn a lot when you go through a season like that,” Drake said.

    Gibbons said he hopes the Blugolds can show the type of dramatic improvement this season that UW-La Crosse did from 2000-01 to 2001-02. The Eagles pushed their WIAC record from 5-11 to 10-6.

    UW-Whitewater also recently went from being a cellar dweller to an elite team. The Warhawks went 5-11 in the conference in 1999-00, but have been a force since then. After a 10-6 campaign in 2000-01, the team went 11-5 last season.

    “Last season we had to rebuild and take some lumps,” Gibbons said. “We looked at it as a 50-game schedule. Now we’re into the second phase.”

    The Blugolds are still a young team, but they have two seniors on the roster with a great deal of experience, guard Jason Larson and center Andy Witte.

    In addition to having more experience than last year, this year’s team also has more size. Freshmen Chad Honl, Kale Proksch, Nate Pinkham, Tyler Birkel, Eric Johnson, Spencer Peck and Josh Glampe are all at least 6 feet, 6 inches tall.

    Peck suffered a season-ending injury, but Gibbons said he expects contributions from the other new additions.

    The Cornell game is only the beginning of a non-conference schedule that will be tougher than that of previous years.

    After the Tip-Off Tourney and a Nov. 26 road game versus the Milwaukee School of Engineering, the ‘Golds will head to Rochester, N.Y., to play in the University of Rochester Holiday Inn Airport Invitational during Thanksgiving break. Gibbons called the invitational “the premier Div. III tournament in the nation.”

    The Blugolds’ first-round foe is Calvin College (Mich.), the team that beat Eau Claire in the championship game of the 2000 Div. III National Tournament.

    Calvin is ranked No. 15 in the preseason poll compiled by Host Rochester is ranked third in the poll.

    Gibbons said he believes the tough competition will help the ‘Golds prepare for battle against teams of the WIAC, which he referred to as “the toughest (Div. III) conference in the nation.”

    Three WIAC teams – UW-Oshkosh (No. 4), UW-Stevens Point (No. 13) and UW-Whitewater (No. 18) – are included in the poll.

    The Blugolds start their conference schedule Dec. 4 at Zorn Arena against La Crosse.

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    Men’s hoops gears up for weekend home tournament