SARATOGA SPRINGS — Last season, it was a “disaster” if the Skidmore men’s basketball team lost consecutive games.
Head coach Joe Burke, who opens his 10th season leading the program at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hartwick, knows his expectations have to be a bit different this season. From last season’s team that went 19-9 overall and won a program-record 15 games in Liberty League play, the Division III program graduated starting guard Chase Ta and its all-time leading scorer in Edvinas Rupkus, plus lost Noah Meren — last season’s leading scorer for the Thoroughbreds — as a transfer to Division I Brown.
Plenty of size and potential.
Plus, a healthy dose of motivation since the team gets that most outsiders expect the Thoroughbreds to take a step back this season after dominating the Liberty League for much of the last five seasons and making four NCAA tournament trips in those years.
“Silencing our doubters,” Skidmore sophomore Ryan Murunge said, “is the most exciting thing for us.”
Murunge, a 6-foot-8 forward, added: “We’re a winning team.”
Burke expects his team to compete at a high level this season. There was more teaching than fine-tuning this preseason, though, and the coach had to rethink his plan for the 2019-20 season several months before it started. Skidmore was supposed to be built around Meren — a 6-foot-5 guard — but instead the Thoroughbreds need to base their offense around forwards such as 6-foot-10 sophomore Greg Skoric who averaged 7.3 points per game last season.
“We have a lot of size and strength this year,” Skidmore senior Pat Gallagher said. “We can use that to our benefit and outwork teams on the glass.”
“I love our length, love our energy, and their ability to learn on the fly has been good,” Burke said, “but there’s a lot of youth.”
Skidmore only has one junior and two seniors. To start this season, Burke said he’ll start three sophomores, a junior and a senior, but it’s likely at least three freshmen play right away.
“We’re going to be young,” Burke said. “There’s no other way to slice it.”
“So it’s going to take a little time for us to get everything going and mesh as a team,” Gallagher said. “But we’re going to make a lot of strides as we get into this season.”
After playing Hartwick, Skidmore plays five consecutive games at home. The last two games in that stretch start league play for Skidmore, but Burke said he knows his team will still have plenty of growing to do when it starts conference action Dec. 6 against Hobart.
“We want,” Burke said, “to be the best team we can be in February.”