#143 Toledo Men's Basketball 2015-2016 Preview

Toledo Rockets

2015-2016 Overall Rank: #143
Conference Rank: #6 MAC

Toledo Team Page#143 Toledo Men's Basketball 2015-2016 PreviewBuy Toledo Basketball Tickets

One of the most surprising teams in the country in 2013-14, high expectations followed the Toledo Rockets into the offseason last year. With a ton of quality returning talent, a proven head coach, and a less-than-stellar conference to compete in, the Rockets were chosen by many (including myself) to win the MAC. Instead, they were merely a “good” team, finishing 6th in the MAC and missing a postseason tournament. Although the year as a whole could be viewed as a failure and not living up to Toledo’s basketball standards (at least under Tod Kowalczyk), the Rockets still captured a rare feat that not any of the elite 8 teams did: all five of their starters scored in double digits. That, among other things, shows just how valuable Kowalczyk’s offensive schemes are to the program.

2014-15 Record: 20-13, 11-7
2014-15 Postseason: None
Coach: Tod Kowalczyk
Coach Record: 85-70 at Toledo, 221-190 Overall

Who’s Out:
Although the Toledo Rockets didn’t lose an absurd amount of players (numbers wise) they lost a lot of talent in the few players that left the program. Like all D-1 programs, not everybody on the roster is going to be happy. This was the case with Toledo, as over 5 players that received little to no playing time last season left the team. The most notable of those five or so departures was Aubrey Williams. Williams didn’t do a whole lot for the team stats-wise (2.6 minutes per game, .6 ppg, .5 rpg, 40% FGP) but he was a vocal leader on the bench and seemed to be getting more comfortable and confident as a player (two more years of eligibility). Although they weren’t killed by transfers, this team lost a whole lot of talent to the other deadly word in college basketball: graduation. Three of the Rockets starters-Julius Brown, Justin Drummond, and JD Weatherspoon-will not be with the team next season. Obviously, this is a tough blow, as these three players combined for 56.4% of the teams 75 points per game last season. And although losing Weatherspoon and Drummond hurt a lot, they don’t compare to the devastating loss of Julius “Juice” Brown. A four year starter with the Rockets, Brown will end his career at Toledo with 1,838 career points; a truly impressive mark. Not only that, but he was also an excellent teammate both on the floor (over 4 assists per game in each of his four seasons) and off. Replacing a guy like Brown could be a really tough task for the Rockets.

Who’s In:
This incoming class has a lot of good pieces to it. Let’s start with the freshman; six of them, to be exact. Four of these recruits are unranked: Jaelan Sanford (point guard), Nate Navigato (small forward), Luke Knapke (power forward), and Taylor Adams (power forward). Although unranked recruits have shocked people in the past, none of these four guys are expected to do much in their first season with the Rockets. However, two other recruits, Nick Rogers (point guard) and Chandler White (shooting guard) could be in a different boat. Rogers, a big bodied and athletic point guard, is most likely the one who’s going to step into “Juice’s” position, and I think he’s absolutely ready for the challenge. A smart play-maker who can also beat you from the midrange, Rogers could be a 9-5 type guy as early as this upcoming season. With no glaring issue with his game, he could become the point guard of the future for Toledo. Chandler White is a little more one dimensional, but is very good at his main skill: shooting the basketball. He blew scouts away with his raw shooting ability from as far as the three point line in high school, and seemed very comfortable moving and shooting threes as well. The biggest complaint when talking about white is his inability to attack the basket. He has excellent size and strength (6-2, 192 pounds) but seems more content to shoot rather than attack, even when the latter is the easier option. Unfortunately for White, he plays the same position as Jonathan Williams, a double digit scoring junior. Either way, I’d be surprised if White played any less than 15 minutes per game in his first season. The biggest incoming player isn’t a freshman at all, but rather a senior. That player is of course Steve Taylor Jr., a former four star Marquette power forward. Big, mean, athletic, and above-all: talented, Taylor is a guy that could be the difference between a CBI berth and an NCAA Tournament berth next year for the Rockets. If he can stay healthy and focus on basketball, this could very well be the case.

Who to Watch:
Although a lot of incoming talent should be a good selling point for the Rockets, the returning talent is what’s going to carry this team all year long. Three guys in particular-Nathan Boothe, Jonathan Williams, and Jordan Lauf-will be the difference makers for this program. Obviously, senior Nathan Boothe seems most likely to become “the guy” for the Rockets. He’s a three year starter who’s played in big games before and seems like a good enough leader both on and off the floor. And although I agree that he will be a huge part of next year’s team, I don’t think he’s going to be the real “X-factor” returner. No, that honor should be given to rising junior Jonathan Williams. A versatile, smart, and dangerous offensive player, Williams showed flashes of dominance all of last season, most notably in his 19 point outburst against Oakland. In the game, we saw a different Jonathan Williams, a Jonathan Williams that did a lot by simply not doing too much. He took only nine shots from the floor, but made five of them. Also, he showed he was a capable slasher, shooting six free throws (and making five). A capable outside shooter and midrange scorer, Williams needs more confidence than anything else. He took only 8.2 shots per game last season, while star Julius Brown took 12.6. I firmly believe if Williams takes over 12 shots per game he could become a 15-16 point scorer next year, which could be all the Rockets need. Another guy that will need to step up is Jordan Lauf. Just about the only capable backup the Rockets had last year (19.2 minutes per game, 4.3 points per game) he could be the opening day starter at the small forward position (unless Chandler White blows away the coaches). A solid shooter (35.3% three point percentage) and smart player (47.3% field goal percentage) the only problem Lauf has is his less than stellar defense. He averaged 0.9 steals per game last season, which isn’t bad, but he also committed 2.3 fouls per game in 19.2 minutes, which comes out to 4.7 per 40 minutes, a horrible number. If he can improve his defense (both on and off-ball), he could become a 10-12 point scorer and a consistently dangerous outside threat. Steve Taylor, Nick Rogers, and Chandler White will help, but these three will all need to be better than they were last season (which was already pretty good).

Final Projection:
Overall, it’s going to be a different year for the Toledo Rockets. Losing Julius Brown is not going to help, but this team has enough incoming freshmen, transfers (most notably Steve Taylor Jr. of Marquette) and returning talent to compete in the MAC once again. However, the MAC isn’t what it used to be. No longer will the Rockets be battling only a few other teams for the NCAA tournament spot. Teams such as Central Michigan, Buffalo, Bowling Green and Kent State are much better than they were in years past. If Jonathan Williams becomes “the guy,” a 15-17 point scorer and a confident leader and Nathan Boothe and Steve Taylor live up to the hype in the frontcourt, this team will be battling for a top three spot. If any of the instances stated above fall through, this team doesn’t have the depth to make up for it, and they will struggle to fight for the 6th spot.

Projected Postseason Tournament: CBI/CIT

Projected Starting Five:
Nick Rogers, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Jonathan Williams, Junior, Guard, 12.9 points per game
Jordan Lauf, Junior, Guard, 4.3 points per game
Steve Taylor Jr., Senior, Forward, 5.9 points per game
Nathan Boothe, Senior, Center, 10 points per game

By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 75.2 (25th in the nation, 2nd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 71.0 (287, 11)
Field-Goal Percentage: 47.0 (35, 1)
Field-Goal Defense: 43.6 (205, 7)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.9 (224, 10)  
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 36.6 (77, 2)
Free-Throw Percentage: 74.2 (26, 1)
Rebound Margin: 3.9 (57, 1)
Assists Per Game: 13.1 (136, 3)
Turnovers Per Game: 12.3 (149, 8)


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