QUINCY — A day many within the Quincy University men’s basketball program feared may never arrive is finally within reach.
The Hawks are scheduled to open their season at 7 p.m. Friday at Illinois-Springfield, knowing the coronavirus pandemic could alter their plans at any moment. They also are supremely confident should they complete all 22 scheduled games or at least a large portion of them they can keep the program on its current upward trajectory.
So what will it take to accomplish that?
Here are five storylines to follow as the Hawks embark on a season unlike any other:
Cleaning the glass
Last season, the Hawks were one of the Great Lakes Valley Conference’s best offensive rebounding teams with Aziz Fadika averaging nearly three offensive boards per game. They finished the season slightly outrebounding opponents, but the ability to clean the glass kept them in games. Three players who averaged between 4.2 and 5.8 rebounds per game are gone, so there will be a need for others to engage in the rebounding effort.
Mick Sullivan, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward who transferred from DePaul and will be part of the frontcourt rotation, will be a pivotal part of the rebounding effort, as will the full complement of new guards. The Hawks don’t have one person who will get 10-12 rebounds, but collectively, they need to be glass cleaners at a consistent level.
Run, Hawks, run
Quincy basketball fans grew accustomed to the phrase “Run, Devils, Run” in the late 1970s and early 1980s when the Quincy High School boys basketball program won three state trophies and had a penchant for running teams out of the gym with the ability to score in transition. QU coach Ryan Hellenthal’s late father, Mike, was an assistant coach for those QHS teams and imparted plenty of knowledge about the importance of transition scoring on his son.
With a lineup blessed with shooters and forwards who run the floor well, the Hawks should be able to create some mismatches and easy baskets if they take advantage in transition. It starts with clearing the rebound and executing a good outlet pass, and the guards must take care of the basketball and play with their heads up.
Shoot to thrill
Through recruiting, the Hawks believe they upgraded their efficiency on the wings and in the backcourt, but that’s only if shots fall. The way they shot it in their lone preseason scrimmage – 44.4 percent from 3-point range – is a good sign this team won’t rank near the bottom of the GLVC in 3-point shooting again. Ball movement is critical to getting jump shooters open, as is off-the-ball movement in QU’s motion offense. If the Hawks force defenses to extend, it’s going to open up driving lanes for slashers like Charles Callier and Jamaurie Coakley and give bigs like Tanner Stuckman the opportunity to maneuver.
Defend, defend, defend
The Hawks finished 11th in the GLVC last season in scoring margin, outscoring their opponents by 1.1 points per game. They were 12th in scoring defense, allowing 75.4 points per game, but were very respectable in field goal defense (fourth 42.9 percent) and 3-point defense (seventh at 35 percent). The problem was with turnovers. Quincy finished last in the league in steals at 4.5 per game and second to last in turnover margin, committing nearly two more miscues per game than its opponents.
Those numbers must be markedly better for QU to win games. The defense must be aggressive and create havoc, especially if the Hawks want to score in transition. Flipping the turnover margin from negative-1.79 to positive 1.79 or somewhere thereabouts would benefit this group more than it imagines possible.
Names to remember
Sullivan is the truest form of a back-to-the-basket type of player the Hawks have, and as he adjusts to the QU style and the league, he will have an impact. Crisler is the shooter the Hawks need to complement the floor-stretching abilities of Callier and Stuckman. If he gets on a roll, he can knock down a bevy of shots in a hurry and in perfect rhythm.
But look to the freshman class to have an impact, too. Will Wolfe, a 6-foot-6 swingman from Oswego East, not only has good bloodlines, but he has a high IQ and has the potential to develop into an all-conference performer. His main concern right now is getting in shape as he spent multiple weeks in quarantine because of exposure to those testing positive for COVID-19. Solomon Gustafson, the 6-foot-8 forward from Rock Island, does a variety of things well and will be a tough matchup because of his quickness and bounciness. He must get stronger, but his upside is tremendous.