Tabor men look for an edge in cloudy KCAC

In the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference?s preseason basketball polls released in October, the Tabor College men?s team was picked ninth by the conference coaches.

Given the loss of five key contributors and 55 percent of the Bluejays? scoring, the low selection came as no suprise?even though it was the first time under Micah Ratzlaff, now in his third year as head coach, the Bluejays were picked lower than in the previous year.

But more than anything else, the poll reflected just how thin the margins for error have become in the KCAC.

Tabor was picked third and finished fourth last year, but more tellingly, the Bluejays scored exactly as many points as they allowed: 1,935 in 28 games.

So the turnover the Bluejays expected?the graduation of all-KCAC forward Zack Vanselow and the loss of senior point guard Aaron Whitelaw?might have been enough to drop the Bluejays a few places in the polls.

But adding on the unexpected losses?all-conference defender Orson Thomas, reserve point guard Kyle de Blonk and winger Mike Rousell?and rationale behind the low pick becomes clearer.

But given an off-season of unusually high turnover across the conference and a strong incoming class, the Bluejays may be more competitive than the coaches poll suggested.

Tabor, 16-12 overall and 11-7 in the KCAC last year, was picked eighth in the media poll, which was characterized by a wide distribution of first-place votes. The Bluejays were one of seven teams that received at least one first-place vote.

The Bluejays have struggled in the early part of non-conference play, with two wins and five losses so far. Including the second win?an 82-65 romp against University of Science and Arts on Saturday?Tabor has been led in scoring by its two top returners: Damon Dechant and Kyle Kroeker.

Dechant, a 6-foot, 6-inch junior forward from Kit Carson, Colo., has averaged 15 points per game along with 6.3 rebounds.

Kroeker, a 6-1 senior from Hillsboro, has averaged nearly 14 points per game on the strength of 38 percent 3-point shooting and 79 percent free-throw shooting. Kroeker also has the team?s individual season-high single-game scoring total, with 24 points against USAO.

Kroeker also had the team?s previous high game: 20 points in a 76-60 win over Doane?Tabor?s only home game so far.

Senior transfer Daniel Hann, a 6-5 forward from Phoenix, Ariz., is also averaging double-digits, with 12.4 points per game. He is also leading the team in both assists (2.2) and rebounds (7.0) from the low block.

Three other Bluejays are averaging more than five points per game: freshman forward Ryan Chippeaux and transfer guard Cody Arnold have so far topped 7 points per game, and sophomore Jason Hett is averaging 5. Freshman guard Lawson Kingsley has averaged 4 points in three games.

Ratzlaff will look for increased contributions from returning sophomores Seth Hardiman, Alex Sutter and Micah Hiett, and a bevy of freshmen, including four Mid-Central Activities Association alumni, will contend for playing time and provide depth: Hillsboro High products David Loewen and Clay Shewey, Hesston High products Rob Moore and Michael Janzen, and Curtis Dick, Jordan Flynn, Nick Hampton and Will Pellet.

The Bluejays have shown flexibility in their style of play so far. They held a 45-44 halftime lead during a 104-94 barnburner loss at Baker, but also held a 32-26 halftime lead in a 68-54 loss at Haskell Indian Nations.

Tabor put Langston to the test by scoring 72 points on 57 shots, but the next day allowed 37 field goals on 76 attempts against Mid-America Christian.

While the Bluejays have been inconsistent so far, so has most of the conference?only four KCAC teams have won more frequently than Tabor.

It may be possible to obtain a measure of clarity about the Bluejays? chances through careful comparison of results against common opponents, but such an exercise will become a moot point on Thursday, when conference play begins.

Tabor will visit Sterling at 8 p.m.

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