SPOKANE, Wash. - The Whitworth men's basketball season officially gets underway on Saturday when the Pirates host NCAA Division III powerhouse St. Thomas University in the Fieldhouse. Tipoff is set for 7:00 pm.
The Pirates: Whitworth returns three starters and nine total letter-winners from 2011-12 when the Bucs went 26-4 overall and 15-1 in the Northwest Conference to win the league's regular season title. Whitworth then earned its sixth straight NWC tournament championship and followed with two wins in the NCAA Division III tournament in Texas before falling to Virginia Wesleyan in the round of 16.
The Pirates have been picked first in the 2012-13 Northwest Conference men's basketball preseason poll, receiving seven first place votes and 70 total points in the poll. Whitman College finished second in the poll with the other two first place votes and 54 total points.
Wade Gebbers, who was a Second Team All-NWC honoree last season, returns to lead the Pirates in 2012-13. He is joined by returning starters Dustin McConnell and Mack Larkin. Also back are Colton McCarger, who was the team's first guard off of the bench last winter, and key contributors Robby Douglas, Zach Payne and Taylor Farnsworth.
Whitworth played close with Idaho State University, a member of the NCAA Division I Big Sky Conference, last week in an exhibition game at Pocatello, falling 68-65. Dustin McConnell had a long three-pointer at the buzzer bounce off of the back iron. McConnell and first-year player George Valle led the Bucs with 15 points each, while Taylor Farnsworth added a dozen.
National Raking: Whitworth is ranked 14th in the preseason D3hoops.com top 25 poll. The first poll of the regular season will come out in early December. Going back to the 2009-10 season, the Bucs have been ranked in the D3hoops.com top-25 for 35 consecutive polls.
Team Captains: The members of the Whitworth basketball team and coaching staff have voted Wade Gebbers, Mack Larkin and Zach Payne as team captains for the 2012-13 season. It is the second season in a row that Gebbers has been voted as a team captain.
Twenty for Seven: Whitworth extended its school record for consecutive seasons with at least 20 victories to seven in a row in 2011-12. Prior to this current streak, the most 20-win seasons in a row the Pirates had ever had was two (on three different occasions).
Rolling On: It's not exactly a streak, but the Bucs have won 79 of their last 87 games, an amazing run of success matched by few other college teams at any level. Within the Northwest Conference, Whitworth has won 52 of its last 54 – including the six wins from the last three NWC tournaments.
Home-Sweet-Home: Whitworth has been stellar in the Fieldhouse throughout the 1990's and 2000's. Since the 2001-02 season the Pirates are 113-12 (.904) in the Whitworth Fieldhouse. Since the 2005-06 season, the Bucs are 80-5 (.941) at home. During the decade of the 1990s the Pirates won more than 80% of their games played at home.
The Pirates have had two home-court winning streaks of more than 40 games since 1990. A 41-game home court winning streak from early 2009 until December of 2011 was the second-longest in Pirate history. The school record for consecutive home victories is 43, beginning during the 1994-95 season and ending during the 1997-98 season.
Road Warriors: As good as Whitworth is at home, the Pirates were even better away from the Whitworth Fieldhouse last season. The Pirates went 14-2 away from home, 8-0 in true road games.
Wade Leading the Way: Point guard Wade Gebbers earned Second Team All-Northwest Conference last season after averaging 12.8 points per game. He led the team in assists per game (3.5), which ranked third in the NWC. Gebbers led the league in three-pointers made per game (2.8) and ranked third in the league in three-point percentage (42.1). He scored a career-high 26 points on January 17th against Whitman.
In 2010-11 Gebbers averaged 3.35 assists per game (5th in the NWC) and his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.07 - 1 was third highest in the league. He scored a season-high 20 points on Feb. 12, 2011 against George Fox, all in the second half, to lead Whitworth back from a three-point halftime deficit to an 89-66 win.
The Glue Guy: Successful Whitworth teams have always had the unsung hero who does all the little things that help the team succeed, but don't always show up in the box scores. In recent years that role has been filled by the likes of Clay Gebbers ('11), Calvin Jurich ('09), and Mike Larkin ('05). Now Mack Larkin has stepped into that role. Larkin is most often tasked with guarding the opponent's best offensive player.
Last season he averaged 7.0 points and 3.8 rebounds with 39 assists and 19 steals, despite missing four games in early January after suffering a mild concussion in practice.
Driving Mr. Dusty: Dustin McConnell became a starter during the ninth game of last season and remained so the rest of the way. He was dangerous from three-point range, making better than 38% of his shots from beyond the arc. But he was even harder on opposing defenses with his hard drives to the basket, often getting the shot to go down while drawing a foul. He ended up with a 7.7 scoring average last winter.
The Opponents: St. Thomas University is one of the elite NCAA Division III men's basketball programs in America. Over the last four seasons the Tommies are 105-15 and have won four straight Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletics Conference titles with a cumulative league record of 72-8. STU won the 2011 NCAA Division III championship, after which several key players graduated and long-time and highly-successful coach Steve Fritz retired. New head coach, but long-time assistant, John Tauer took a revamped lineup to a final record of 22-7 and another MIAC championship last winter, falling to eventual national champion Wis.-Whitewater in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
The Tommies are led by two All-MIAC guards – seniors Will DeBerg and John Nance. DeBerg averaged 12.9 points last season while making nearly 42% of his three-pointers and Nance added 11.8 points and a team-high 83 assists. STU also has back senior post Tommy Hannon, who was averaging 16.3 points and 7.0 rebounds last year before he was injured nine games into the season.
Whitworth and St. Thomas have never played in men's basketball. The Tommies are ranked 11th in the D3hoops.com preseason poll.
Coming up Next Week: Whitworth will host University of Mary Hardin-Baylor the day after Thanksgiving (Friday, Nov. 23rd) at 3:00 p.m.
The Coach: Matt Logie led Whitworth to a 26-4 record in 2011-12, his first season as coach of the Pirates. He was also selected as the NWC Coach of the Year by his peers after directing the Pirates to a 15-1 conference mark and their sixth straight NWC tournament championship.
Logie previously worked eight seasons as an assistant coach at Lehigh University (Pa.) his alma-mater. He also spent a season as an assistant coach at Kent State. In 2010 Logie was named as the top Patriot League Assistant Coach in men's basketball in a Foxsports.com Coaches Poll and in 2011 he was recognized as one of the top 50 assistants in Mid-to-Low Major college basketball by Hoopscoop on-line magazine. Logie is originally from Mercer Island, Washington where he won a pair of state basketball championships while playing for his grandfather, Ed Pepple, a legend in Washington's high school ranks who won 952 games and four state titles in 49 years of coaching.