A 76-42 exhibition loss to Kentucky left Transylvania feeling more good vibes than bad.
After all, the Pioneers are a Division III (non-scholarship) team, while UK is big-time Division I.
"I really like that our top guys were able to play in that environment without panic," Coach Brian Lane said of his Transy team, which opens regular-season play Saturday at Cincinnati against Heidelberg. "We came out of that first half very optimistic in terms of how we can handle pressure. ... We will not go up against that size or the speed in any game, and maybe at any position. So going against the No. 1 team in the nation and being able to not get completely run over like a lot of people were expecting was certainly a positive."
A plus that was perhaps better than any Transy backer might have a right to expect.
The Pioneers lost seven of their top eight scorers from last season's 20-8 club, and 58 of their 70.5 points per game.
Nine of Lane's top 12 players this season are freshmen.
The one returning player with significant experience, Parker Stansberry (8.9 ppg), did not play against UK because of a lower back injury.
There are enough unknowns about this team to make most coaches shudder.
Lane sees potential.
"I think we may be able to show the most improvement from day one to the end of the season as any team we've had," he said. "That really has to do more with just how much learning has had to take place. With this team, you can't take anything for granted.
"A coach will be saying something about a particular defense and the other coaches will stop and say 'OK, raise your hand if you know what he's talking about,' and half the hands go up."
The Pioneers are learning, though.
"I can see an improvement just from Monday to Friday," said Trevor Tiller, a freshman out of Paintsville. "We're getting a lot better. A lot more intensity in practice. And just skill-wise, everybody's putting their work in."
With Stansberry possibly out this weekend, Tiller is expected to be among three freshmen guards in Transy's lineup. He'll be joined by Logan Wade and Daniel Parke.
Garrett Dorfman, who started at point against UK, is expected to miss six weeks because of a torn meniscus.
Joe Jennings, who is the big story of the pre-season, and fellow sophomore Chris Taylor will be counted on for rebounds.
"Joe Jennings went from last year not being able to play more than three or four minutes to playing 32 minutes in the Kentucky game, and he's lost 35 pounds since he got here," Lane said. "If he keeps improving, he could be one of the better big men that we've had since our move to Division III. ... He's probably shown the biggest improvement from this year to last year."
Now, the Pioneers aim to have an entire team make similar strides in one season.
Conference: Heartland Athletic
Coach: Brian Lane
Last season: 20-8 (14-4 HCAC)
No. Name Pos. Ht. Yr. Hometown
0 Trevor Tiller G 6-1 Fr. Paintsville
1 Mason Monroe G 5-9 Fr. Falmouth
3 Ethan Rowe G 6-0 Fr. Pikeville
4 Lowell Gordon G 5-10 So. Lawrenceburg
10 Tommy Sirkin G 5-9 Jr. West Boca, Fla.
11 Shae Goodlett G 6-1 Fr. Crestwood
12 David Keyer F 6-4 Fr. Louisville
14 Parker Stansberry F 6-6 So. Erlanger
15 Isaiah Dooley G 5-10 Jr. Hopkinsville
20 Alex Jones G 6-3 Fr. Louisville
21 Zach Caggins G 6-2 Fr. Louisville
22 Logan Wade G 6-3 Fr. Louisville
23 Robert Igo F 6-6 Fr. Corbin
25 Jay Smith G 6-1 Fr. Lawrenceburg
30 Daniel Parke G 6-1 Fr. Richmond
31 Derek Jeffries F 6-5 Fr. New Castle
33 Chris Taylor F 6-6 So. Gulf Breeze, Fla.
35 Garrett Dorfman G 6-1 Fr. Durham, N.C.
44 Joe Jennings C 6-9 So. Alexandria
Nov. 1—x-at Kentucky; 16—a-Heidelberg, 6; 17—a-Wilmington, 3; 23—at Thomas More, 3; 26—CENTRE, 7:30
Dec. 4—MT. ST. JOSEPH, 7:30; 7—ROSE-HULMAN, 3; 14—at Defiance, 3; 17—b-PIEDMONT, 7:30; 18—b-TBA, 5 or 7; 21—SPALDING, 3
Jan. 4—ANDERSON, 4; 8—HANOVER, 7:30; 11—MANCHESTER, 3; 15—at Earlham, 7:30; 18—BLUFFTON, 4; 22—at Franklin, 7:30; 25—at Rose-Hulman, 3; 29—EARLHAM, 7:30
Feb. 1—at Manchester, 3; 5—at Mt. St. Joseph, 7:30; 8—at Anderson, 4; 12—FRANKLIN, 7:30; 15—DEFIANCE, 3; 19—at Hanover, 7:30; 22—at Bluffton, 4; 25—c-TBA
x-exhibition; a-Mt. St. Joseph Invitational; b-Don Lane Classic; c-HCAC Tournament
Coach: Brian Lane (211-112 entering his 12th season)
Last season: 20-8 overall, 14-4 Heartland Conference (tied for second place)
What to watch: Transy, which lost to Illinois Wesleyan in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, is loaded with freshmen and without a senior.
Much-improved 6-foot-9 Joe Jennings and 6-6 Parker Stansberry and Chris Taylor, all sophomores, will give the Pioneers an inside presence.
Add to that an all-freshman three-guard attack of Trevor Tiller, Logan Wade and Daniel Parke.
"We're really young, but I think we have a lot of talent," Tiller said. "So if we buy into what Coach is telling us, I think we'll be all right."
The first wave off the bench will include junior Tommy Sirkin, along with freshmen Mason Monroe, Ethan Rowe, Zach Caggins, Alex Jones and David Keyer.
As for tempo, "game to game we're going to have to really adjust to the personnel of the other team," Lane said.
One thing the Pioneers have going for them, according to Lane, is camaraderie.
"They really enjoy each other. They really like each other. They're going to learn to push each other," he said. "From a group that was so young, I think that they've bonded as a unit quicker than a lot of teams we've had."
Tiller, for one, isn't selling this team short.
"I don't think that you need to change any lofty expectations or anything, because that's why most of us came to Transylvania, is because they have a winning tradition," he said. "I think we're just going to try to continue that."
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com