During a three game-stretch last December, the Whitworth Pirates scored 362 points, crushing three nonconference opponents in a show of offense never seen before at the Fieldhouse.
Yet in the long run, it wasn’t a fruitful stretch for the Pirates.
“The games weren’t very competitive and, to be honest, I don’t know how much we got out of them because we weren’t really challenged that much,” said Pirates senior Jordan Lester, who scored 39 of those points.
Three wins over teams that combined for 18 victories last season – La Verne, D’Youville and Concordia Chicago – didn’t do anything for Whitworth’s strength of schedule, a crucial component of the regional rankings that determine at-large bids to the Division III men’s basketball tournament.
The Pirates failed to win the Northwest Conference, and despite a 21-6 record, Whitworth was left out of the tournament for the first time since 2007.
But new head coach Damion Jablonski did what he could this offseason to prevent a similar result this season, which starts at 7 p.m. Friday at home against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
“I definitely think it’s going to be challenging,” Jablonski said. “The strength of schedule, we’ve pretty much already accomplished it.”
The Pirates will play two teams ranked in the d3hoops.com preseason Top 25 poll – a list Whitworth is not on for just the second time since 2008. That includes No. 15 St. Thomas (Minnesota), which comes to the Fieldhouse on Nov. 16, and a date with No. 21 Wooster on Dec. 29 in Ohio.
Friday’s opponent, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, eliminated Whitworth from the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and 2018, so the opener affords the Pirates an opportunity for some payback, as well as a potentially important result come the end of the season.
At-large bids to the tournament aren’t determined by such polls, however. All that matters is the regional rankings, for which strength of schedule is a major factor.
Last season, the Pirates played five games against opponents in the final regional rankings and won only one of them, 76-74 over Johns Hopkins. Three of those losses came to Whitman, including one in the NWC Tournament championship game.
This year, though, Jablonski hopes he has filled the schedule with enough quality opponents to give the Pirates more opportunities to earn such crucial victories and also to improve their overall strength of schedule.
Last season, for example, the nine teams on Whitworth’s nonconference schedule finished 107-130. The eight known opponents on this year’s slate went a combined 126-91 in 2018-19, and their ninth foe could potentially be seventh-ranked Washington University at the Lopata Classic on Nov. 23 in St. Louis.
Whitworth senior guard Ben College was chosen as a member of the All-America second team earlier this week by d3hoops.com.
College led the Pirates in scoring a year ago (19.7 points per game) as well as 3-point shooting (43.1%) among regular contributors. No other NWC players were listed on any of the four All-America teams or honorable mentions.
“That’s a tremendous honor. He really has the work ethic to deserve it,” Jablonski said of the senior captain. “It’s nice recognition, but there’s a lot of basketball to be played.”
College was an honorable mention on the list at the end of last season.
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