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  • Jack Bergamini

Men's Club Early Season Update: 6 Up-And-Coming Teams To Watch

Men’s Club Basketball is not only back—but the season is already in full swing. And before we know it, teams will be facing off in their respective regional tournaments.

This means it's time to look at potential sleeper teams before the New Year.

There are plenty of under-the-radar teams for the 2022–23 season that have the potential to surprise many and make a run.

Here’s a look at six up-and-coming teams to keep an eye on for the 2022-2023 season and how each team will be affected by some preseason conference shake-ups.


Iona

The Gaels finished with a 5–5 record last season, with two of their losses came at the expense of COVID-related forfeits. The challenge of figuring out who was healthy and who could travel took a toll on the team, but the Gaels are enjoying a new season this year with much fewer restrictions.

Returning eight players, Iona is coached by the experienced Charles Jackson, who took Monroe College to the Division II NJCAA National Championship in 1998 and helped John Jay College win the CUNY Athletic Conference Championship in 2008, both as a head coach.

“I'm instilling a championship culture and I believe the students are buying into the system which gives us a chance to go far this season,” Jackson said.

Senior Rhamil Ousley will lead the Gaels throughout the season. A 6-foot-2 combo guard, Ousley is the starting point guard this season as fellow senior Oumar Fofana is out for the season with an injury. Ousley is a crafty scorer who always looks to get his teammates involved.

Junior Bruno Pozzoni, who transferred to Iona after Concordia College closed, will also be key. At 6-foot-5, Pozzoni is extremely versatile and can score inside and outside.

The Gaels have a strong freshman class as well: Lynai Dunwoody, Ariel Reyna, and Cameron Nicholas will provide useful depth all season. Dunwoody's ability to knock down the mid-range, Renya’s post-game and strong rebounding abilities along with Nicholas’s quick first step will carry the Gaels throughout the year.

“I'm very excited about our freshmen,” Jackson said. “We want to wear teams down, pick up full court, and apply pressure…Hopefully, the quality of depth will be to our advantage.”

Rebounding is the Gaels’ weak spot, with a lot of inexperienced, young big-men, but their depth on the wings and versatility on the perimeter will help minimize their potential struggles on the boards.

Iona is also in a new conference this year, moving from the North Atlantic - East conference to the New England - West conference. The Gaels will no longer have to play The College of New Jersey, who went 13–1 last year. They, however, will face the likes of Sacred Heart, Yale, Quinnipiac, Fairfield, Adelphi, and Wesleyan.

“We respect all of our opponents in the conference and understand we are playing for respect,” Jackson said. “Part of our advantage is none of these teams know us, so we are looking to surprise the conference and the nation.”

St. Joseph's

St. Joe’s ended last season disappointed. While they finished 10–6, the Hawks had many experienced seniors on the roster, and the team expected themselves to win its conference, the North Atlantic - South. But St. Joe’s finished fourth, as losses against Penn State and Delaware proved too costly.

Brad Atkinson, a senior point guard, will be crucial for the Hawks this season. He can shoot from anywhere on the floor and consistently leads the team in assists.

“He’s the core of our team,” said senior President Daniel DiSandro. “Without him on the floor, we struggle with ball movement and scoring.”

First-year player and senior Jimmy Bambrick is one of the Hawks most versatile defenders. He’s already moved into the starting lineup, and his stamina allows him to play for most of the game, guarding the opposing team's best player.

The Hawks play a fast-paced, transition-based game that likes to tire opponents out, and strives in having players in great shape, according to DiSandro.

Freshman point guard Julian Paulino fits the bill, as he comes off the bench in a Jamal Crawford-like manner with his incredible shot-making ability and tendency to take over the Hawks’ offense when it's struggling.

DiSandro himself is a three-point specialist and stud on defense. He’s able to move without the ball and, while standing at just 6-foot-2, is one of the Hawks’ most consistent rebounders.

St. Joe’s was in the North Atlantic - South conference last year, but for the 2022–23 season, the entire North Atlantic - South conference—besides Penn State—realigned to the Mid Atlantic - North conference, meaning St. Joe’s will face the same conference opponents this season, minus Penn State.

“We know those teams pretty well,” DiSandro said. “I think we are set up to have success this year. I would say that we cannot overlook any team because, in our conference, anyone can beat anyone any day.”

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

After a season filled with lackluster chemistry and attendance issues that resulted in a 7–7 season, the Engineers return only six players from the 2021–22 season. And with no freshmen on the roster, WPI will rely on plenty of new upperclassmen throughout the 2022–23 season.

Junior Ethan Rudometkin plays both guard and forward, and can take a defender off the dribble and get physical in the post. His ability to stretch the floor as well makes him a key player for the Engineers.

With a lot of isolation play last season, WPI is emphasizing more team play this year.

“I think individually the team is very skilled,” said senior President Kyle Mann. “We all carry something that we can bring to the team, like shooting, finishing, or attacking the rim. It’s also one of our weaknesses because if we all play individually, we will struggle.”

Junior Jack Melvin will help keep everyone involved. A 6-foot-3 point guard, he can push the ball up the court quickly and finish on the fast break, according to Mann. He can also spot up from the perimeter and find the open man.

Mann himself is a 6-foot shooting guard who can take the ball up the court while also facilitating the offense as a floor general, which helps the Engineers’ cutters attack the rim and finish effectively.

Dom Mastascusa—a former WPI varsity basketball player who graduated in 2014—coaches the Engineers and will help navigate the challenge of three new teams (Northeastern, Clark, and Brandeis) joining the New England - East conference, WPI’s conference.

“Northeastern will be the biggest challenge,” Mann said of the 14-win 2021-22 team coached by Knox Lendall. “They’ve been putting in a lot of out-of-league games and doing pretty well so they seem like a solid team.”

Michigan

The Wolverines had a very talented team last season, finishing second in the Great Lakes North conference with a 6–4 record. But a loss to rival Central Michigan cost Michigan a trip to the regional tournament, leaving the Wolverines disappointed yet ready to improve for the 2022–23 season.

Senior President Brooks Moore and junior Vice-President Mac VanRenterghem are the leaders for the Wolverines this season, a team that is completely self-funded and separate from the University of Michigan itself.

Moore is a three-point shooter and is complimented well by VanRenterghem, who was recruited to play Division I basketball before deciding he wanted a big-school experience like Michigan. VanRenterghem is the floor general and carries the scoring load for the Wolverines.

“He’s super talented,” Moore said of VanRenterghem. “He brings a very high intensity, mature personality to practice, and is just a huge leader for our team.”

Freshmen Andrew Zimmerman and Mauro Vallejo have been having an immediate impact already this season. Zimmerman’s superb fundamentals allow him to guard any position, with Moore comparing Vallejo to Gonzaga’s Drew Timme.

Vallejo, meanwhile, grew up in Spain and brings a European style of basketball to the Wolverines as a point guard, with the ability to score while also being a pass-first player.

The Wolverines play positionless basketball but use their depth to their advantage. They’re comfortable playing any of their 16 players, according to Moore, in order to keep fresh legs on the court and play their fast-paced style of basketball.

“We live and die by the three,” Moore said. “Threes are better than twos. We’re just focused on the three-and-d style of play, to get out in transition, and play our way of basketball.”

Michigan will have to slay the dragon of Notre Dame in order to reach the top of the Great Lakes North conference. The Fighting Irish went 10–0 last season and will look to continue their conference dominance.

Harvard-Hoopsters

The Harvard-Hoopsters are one of two NCBBA men’s teams at Harvard University—the other being the Harvard-Classics. The Classics were established first, but recently, the Hoopsters have had superior talent, according to Hoopsters President Ike Okereke.

“Both teams are usually pretty solid,” Okereke said. “But the past few years I feel like we’ve been, overall, a better team.”

The Hoopsters’ big three of Okereke, Max Booker, and David Hill—all co-captains—carry the team on and off the court. Booker's three-point shot-making ability has improved significantly this season, and through two games he’s averaging around five made threes per game. Okereke can guard the one through five and is looking to get everyone more involved offensively this year. And if the Hoopsters go small, Okereke can slide into the center position and crash the boards.

Hill—a 5-foot-10 senior—rounds out the trifecta as the starting point guard.

“He understands where we like to get the ball,” Okereke said of Hill. “So he facilitates the offense really well.”

The two freshmen on the team—Ben Seklir and Michael Xiang—will look to provide a spark on an upperclassmen-heavy team. Seklir’s ability to move the ball quickly and Xiang’s ball-handling skills and streakiness give the Hoopsters even more options to turn to and play to the team’s strengths well.

“I would say we're definitely really talented offensively,” Okereke said. “Like when we get hot, it's very hard to stop.”

The only change to the Hoopsters' conference, the New England - North, was a big one, as Northeastern departed for the New England - East conference. The Huskies were the top team in the New England - North conference last season.

“The biggest impact was definitely Northeastern leaving,” Okereke said. “That changed the playing field. So we feel like it’s [the conference] is definitely more open, and I’m confident about our postseason chances.”

Yale


The Bulldogs—a fellow Ivy League team—also have the potential to make some noise this season. They finished 9–7 last year, but three of their losses came from COVID-related forfeits due to Yale’s mandates. With more relaxed restrictions this year, the Bulldogs shouldn’t have to worry about any COVID-related forfeits.

Two-straight losses to UConn, however, kept Yale out of the regional tournament last season—leaving a sour taste in the Bulldogs’ mouths, ready for revenge this season.

Eric Leubner—the tallest player on Yale standing at 6-foot-6—can play on the perimeter but also take advantage of opposing players in the post with his size.

President and senior Andy Vittoria fits with Leubner extremely well, standing at 6-foot-5, forming the Bulldogs’ own Karl Anthony-Towns-Rudy Gobert pairing. Vittoria is certainly more so Gobert, being much more of a defensive anchor while having a solid post-game.

Freshman Brennan Columbia-Walsh also provides size with his 6-foot-5 frame, having a good low post presence and subpar interior defense. Amahriyon Sapenter, a fellow freshman, also contributes, using his slashing skills and rebounding abilities to be a strong, physical player for the Bulldogs.

“Versatility on the wings is definitely our strength,” Vittoria said. “We have a really strong group of guys who are both spot-up shooters and slashers with guys who can score in many different offensive sets.”

Yale will play most of the same teams this year—just in a different conference. The Bulldogs are no longer in the New England - South conference but instead have joined the New England - West conference. Yale will most definitely be keeping an eye on Iona and Sacred Heart throughout the 2022-23 season, and the battle for the top seed will be a competitive one.

Unfortunately for Yale, it's no longer in UConn’s conference—but the Bulldogs still have a non-conference game schedule against the Huskies this year.


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