The team that set the Southern Oregon University men's basketball wins record last season is, for the most part, intact. There is no shortage of numbers to back up the No. 4 ranking assigned to the Raiders in the NAIA preseason poll.
All that's left to do is go head-to-head with some of the heftiest expectations laid on the program since its inception. The Raiders will start at Bob Riehm Arena with home games today at 9 p.m. against Pacific Union and Monday at 7:30 p.m. against Simpson.
The Raiders return every starter and lost only two players who got on the floor in 2012-13, when they collected their third-ever win at the national tournament and compiled a record of 25-10. They were 13-5 in the Cascade Conference, which they led in points per game (77.2), field-goal percentage (48.1), 3-point field-goal percentage (40.7) and assists per game (17.3).
Their abundance of proven resources influenced the league's coaches to pick the Raiders as the favorites to win their first CCC championship since 2004-05.
Senior guard Kyle Tedder and junior forward Eric Thompson start the season as the 12th- and 13th-leading scorers in school history. Senior point guard Jeff Bush was the conference leader in assists last season. Senior post David Sturner was the conference newcomer of the year. And forwards Dex Daum and Tim Weber split starts and were instrumental in sparking an eight-game win streak that SOU rode into the conference championship game.
It all starts with Bush, who enters the season third on SOU's all-time assists list. He averaged 5.2, led the league with a 2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, and orchestrated a Raider team that shot over 50 percent in half of its conference games and didn't let opponents reach that mark once.
"I think he kind of gets overlooked because of the scorers we have," 18th-year SOU coach Brian McDermott said. "He runs us really well, he's our best communicator and his plus-minus stuff is off the charts. We're just so much better with him on the floor."
McDermott believes SOU will be improved at the position, too, due to the progress of Bush's backup, Joel Spear, who played 11.7 minutes per game as a true freshman.
On the wing, Tedder averaged 15.7 points and led the league in 3-pointers made per game (3.4) and 3-point percentage (40.7). With his sixth triple this season, he'll break Ryan Harbert's SOU career record of 220.
"He's very capable of exploding on any given night and carry us offensively," McDermott said. "We'd been waiting for him to improve in some other areas and now he's kind of doing that senior thing — making a big effort to get better defensively."
Weber, a 6-foot-7 junior, shot 48.6 percent and emerged as a starter and one of the team's best passers as last season went on. Now solidified in their roles, he and Tedder will be backed up by senior Matt Carpenter, sophomores Jacob Kaler and Drew Henderson, and redshirt-freshmen Cade Knutson and Justin Martin.
Thompson and Sturner — SOU's two all-conference picks — will again key the frontcourt. Thompson has been in double digits in all but five games the last two years, posting 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds during his sophomore campaign. Sturner was 13th in the league in scoring (12.8) and second in rebounding (10.4). The duo also combined for 88 3-pointers on 39.4-percent accuracy.
"They both look so much more comfortable," McDermott said. "(Thompson) I think has made the biggest change because he's very comfortable in what we're doing for the first time and he's bought into the extra pass. When you can get that from your leading scorer, it makes you a lot better."
Daum — a fifth-year senior who averaged 5.4 points and made 20 starts on the wing — will also back up the post this year and serve as "probably our best motion (offense) guy and the closest thing we have to a lockdown defender," McDermott said. Sophomore Jordan West shot 51.7 percent as a freshman and will have an increased role, and redshirt-freshman Jordan Browne-Moore will see his first action as a Raider off the bench.
After Monday's game, SOU will be on the road until the Flagship Inn Tournament on Nov. 29-30. The Raiders start conference play at home on Dec. 6 against Concordia.