SPU men’s basketball comes in with high expectations, long memories
Despite a No. 1 ranking in the Sporting News preseason rankings and a No. 2 spot in the polls, SPU is still thinking about those three losses to Western Washington last season.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Will David Downs rewrite the record books?
Senior point guard David Downs, a two-time GNAC first-team postseason all-conference selection, began the season ranked 46th all-time in points with 1,132, ninth in assists (411) and 18th in three-pointers made (163).
What about the new guys?
Junior center Cory Hutsen replaces departing Andy Poling and Idaho transfer Matt Borton assumes a spot in lineup created when last season’s leading scorer Jobi Wall graduated.
How does he do it?
At 6-4, Riley Stockton became the shortest player to lead the GNAC in rebounding, averaging 7.5 boards. The junior guard, who won the conference Defensive Player of the Year award, is averaging a team-leading 5.7 rebounds this season.
What’s in reserve?
There’s a significant drop off in production after SPU’s top four players. The Falcons will need a little scoring help from the bench, but no one averages more than five points.
Will the shooting hold up?
It’s no secret Seattle Pacific lives and dies with the three-pointer. Forty-two percent (59 of 140) of its field goal attempts are behind the arc this season. The Falcons are shooting 47.5 percent on threes.
• Two GNAC player of the year candidates square off 7 p.m. Dec. 7 at Brougham Pavilion when conference preseason POY pick David Downs and the Falcons host Mark McLaughlin, last season’s league scoring champion, and Central Washington.
• On Jan. 15, SPU returns to Bellingham to face two-time defending GNAC Western Washington. The Falcons’ season has ended the past two years at Carver Gym in the Division II Western Regionals.
• The most daunting road trip in the GNAC is the two-game trek to Alaska. The Falcons travel to Alaska Anchorage on Feb. 6 before their Feb. 8 game at Alaska Fairbanks. SPU last won both road games in 2002.
David Downs, quite possibly the best Division II men’s basketball player in the country, is motivated by past failures.
For starters, there’s the three losses the Seattle Pacific men’s basketball team suffered to Western Washington last season, including a heartbreaking defeat in the Western Regional title game.
It was the second straight year the Falcons came up short against the Vikings in the regionals.
Despite a No. 1 ranking in The Sporting News preseason rankings and a No. 2 spot in the polls, Downs admits he’s a little obsessed with Western.
“To me they’re still No. 1 because we haven’t proven anything to them,” said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior point guard. “Until we beat them or until we beat the top teams in the league, then that’s when we’re No. 1.
“To me we have some work to do this year to prove not only to ourselves but to other people that we’re ready to start playing in the big games.”
Next up for the Falcons (3-0) is Friday’s 7 p.m. home opener at Brougham Pavilion against Colorado Christian.
Downs, who is averaging 25 points, is looking to build on an incredible start after leading SPU to the Disney Tip-Off Classic title and winning GNAC player of the week honors.
“Because of what he did, in some of our upcoming games it may be different going forward,” coach Ryan Looney said. “He’s going to have to then make the decision to get other people involved.”
The Falcons boast a diversified attack that features 6-8 forward Patrick Simon, a Washington State transfer, junior center Cory Hutsen and guard Riley Stockton, the nephew of Hall of Famer John Stockton.
Downs, Simon and Stockton are prolific three-point shooters, while Hutsen is a low-post threat.
“With what we have and everything we’ve been through, the season is a success only if we get past the Sweet 16,” Downs said. “We do that, then I think we have to re-evaluate our goals and take it game by game.”
Talking about the postseason in November makes Looney cringe. “The message that we deliver to our guys is it’s not about winning and losing, it’s about the process,” he said. “We try to handle every single day — whether it’s practice or a game — as its own unique entity. ... You do that, then wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
Still, admittedly Looney relives the postseason defeats to the Vikings in his private moments.
“I think about it all the time,” he said, laughing. “I just don’t always communicate it with my team.”
The Falcons posted a 27-4 record last season, including a loss at San Francisco State.
“If we would have won that game, then we play that (regionals) game right here in this gym,” Looney said. “You never know which game will decide your season.”