After a 2-5 preseason, the Southern Oregon men's basketball team looks to turn thinks up a notch as it opens Cascade Collegiate Conference play at home Friday and Saturday.

After a 2-5 preseason, the Southern Oregon men's basketball team looks to turn thinks up a notch as it opens Cascade Collegiate Conference play at home Friday and Saturday.

The Raiders host fifth-ranked Eastern Oregon Friday night and the College of Idaho Saturday night. The men's games get started at 7:30 p.m., following the women's games that start at 5:30 p.m.

SOU head coach Brian McDermott is hoping that a tough preseason schedule that included exhibition games against NCAA Division I Oregon and NCAA Division II Humboldt State and games against NAIA Division I Lee University and The Master's College and also NAIA Division I top-ranked Oregon Tech will prepare them for what should be a tough Cascade Conference schedule.

In this week's NAIA Top 25 poll, CCC juggernauts Oregon Tech (No. 1), Eastern Oregon (No. 5), Warner Pacific (No. 16) and Evergreen (No. 20) were all ranked.

"We've taken some big strides and there has been a big improvement since Day One and playing a number of very good teams has something to do with that," McDermott said. "We still need to experience winning.

Until you do that you don't know what it takes to get the job done."

The 2008-09 version of Raider basketball is pushing the ball up the court and scoring 77 points per game and shooting .466 as a team.

Defensively, the Raiders lead the Cascade Conference with 11 steals per outing.

Senior guard Eli Thornton ranks 13th in the conference in scoring at 14.1 points per game. Thornton is sixth in field goal percentage at .631, seventh in steals at 2.14 per game and eighth in assists at 3.71 per game.

Eastern Oregon is off to a 6-1 start. The Mountaineers are averaging 91 points per game and own a scoring margin of plus-22.9.

Eastern is also shooting .545 as a team. Kris Groce leads six Eastern players in double digit scoring at 16.4 points per game.

The College of Idaho is 3-5 on the season, but has won two straight games. Craig McGee leads the Yotes in scoring at 16.5 points per game.

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.zavala@dailytidings.com