LMU men’s basketball preview

Published 10:21 am Friday, November 3, 2017

HARROGATE, Tenn. — The Railsplitters embark on the 2017-18 season with the abnormally high expectations that have become the status quo. Lincoln Memorial has won at least 30 games in each of the last three seasons, won an unprecedented five consecutive South Atlantic Conference regular-season titles and made back-to-back trips to the national semifinals.

The Railsplitters have won 25-plus games in seven consecutive seasons, making Lincoln Memorial the second-winningest team in Division II men’s basketball of the decade.

While the past informs the present, history doesn’t always repeat itself. As with every season, the 2017-18 team will be responsible for writing its own story and forming its own identity in order to continue to build upon the legacy that Lincoln Memorial has built.

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“What will be answered over the next few months is how committed we are, how together we are and how willing we are to sacrifice,” Lincoln Memorial head men’s basketball coach Josh Schertz said. “All those things play into what it takes to be successful and have a special year. Everything starts with being committed to getting better individually and collectively. If you’re not committed in those areas then you have no chance. If you are then you’ll see if you’re good enough.”

The pieces are in place for Lincoln Memorial to make yet another deep postseason run. The path to realizing that potential will hinge largely on the team’s commitment on the defensive end of the floor.

“What level are we able to reach defensively,” Schertz said. “We don’t have a definitive defensive stopper right now and we are going to have to find that lockdown guy. We are also going to have to be even better than in previous years in terms of team defense. I like our team offensively. I think we have a lot of guys that can put the ball in the basket. We have a lot of depth of scoring. So I think navigating the defensive end and becoming really solid and stout on that end is the number one challenge.”

On a more philosophical level, Lincoln Memorial must also be committed individually to the group as a whole.

“One of our great strengths is going to be that we are about 12 deep. But that’s a lot of mouths to feed,” Schertz said. “How do guys handle it when it’s not their night? Do they have the character to be in on the team and put the team first and understand it’s not going to be your night every single night? That’s part of the togetherness. That they respect one another, are compassionate towards one another, they care about each other and about each other’s respect.”

The Railsplitters graduated two All-Americans off of last season’s team that went 30-6, captured the program’s second straight Southeast Region title and made a return trip to the Final Four. That dictates that a number of unfamiliar and unproven players will be asked to step into prominent roles right from the jump.

“You’re always integrating and assimilating new pieces in and we’ve got to do that,” Schertz said. “We have a lot of guys that haven’t played here that are going to have to play roles for us. Again, they have to do what they do well. It’s not about doing stuff they can’t do or trying to get outside of themselves. Those news guys have to do what they do at the highest level possible.”

The newer pieces will fill a variety of roles for the Railsplitters throughout the season, but returning starters Dorian Pinson, Emanuel Terry, Trevon Shaw and Cornelius Taylor as well as key backup point guard Deshawn Patterson will be asked to carry the brunt of the load.

“When you look at the five guys that are back that have been here, we have high expectations for those guys,” Schertz said. “Those guys have to be great for us. By great, I mean they have to perform at a high level on a consistent basis. They’ve got to be able to sustain it and be consistent game in game out for us to have a chance to be good.”

Pinson and Terry, in particular, will be leaned on not only for their production, but to provide a calming veteran influence in times of need.

“They have to set the tone with how we respond to adversity,” Schertz said. “Every season and every game has adversity. They have to set the example for how we are going to handle adversity.”

The Railsplitters have questions that need to be answered. How can the team compensate for the loss of Luquon Choice, one of the best two-way players in the history of the South Atlantic Conference? How will a group composed of equal part returners and veterans gel? Will the team stay committed to what it takes to being successful on a daily basis, particularly on the defensive end? How will the team deal with the massive expectations that come with the territory at Lincoln Memorial?

Those questions will get answered in the coming months.

“We are going to focus on trying to grow together and trying to hit our head on our ceiling every single game,” Schertz said. “Obviously we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but I enjoy the group. I think we have good kids that are talented and unselfish.

“Like every year we want to grow together as the year goes on and want to get sharper and sharper. We want to be playing our best basketball at the end of the year when it matters the most in the postseason.”

The story of the 2017-18 season will begin to write itself on Nov. 4, when the Railsplitters invade Hinkle Fieldhouse for an exhibition against Butler University. The season officially begins on Nov. 10 as Lincoln Memorial faces Lees-McRae in Banner Elk, North Carolina.