Men's Basketball

The best team in years? Veteran squad aims to put Transylvania back on top.

Photo slideshow: Transylvania University open basketball practice

Transylvania Pioneers open basketball practice at the Beck Center
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Transylvania Pioneers open basketball practice at the Beck Center

When March rolls around, it will have been six years since Transylvania men’s basketball last made a trip to the Division III NCAA Tournament.

The Pioneers haven’t won a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament since 2009.

Picked by conference coaches to finish second in the HCAC this season with an experienced core led by senior point guard Cooper Theobald, Transy aims to put both those streaks to an end.

“I think it’s one of those seasons where we’re really looking to be in that championship game at the end of the year, hopefully in the Beck Center,” said head coach Brian Lane, a four-time HCAC coach of the year in his 18th season at Transy.” If we play well enough in the conference schedule to host (the conference tournament), I think it will give us a huge advantage. We did that a few years ago, and we need to get that done.”

Transy brings back several major contributors from last year’s team, including Michael Jefferson, Gabe Schmitt, Bo Schuh and Theobald, who carries the majority of the ball-handling duties. The Pioneers got one first-place vote in the HCAC coaches’ poll, and will be looking to supplant Rose-Hulman, a 2017-18 HCAC tourney finalist picked to win it this season.

“This is one of the most competitive basketball teams I’ve been on since I’ve been here, said Theobald, who scored 13 points and had four assists against Kentucky in their exhibition game last month. “Last year, we were a little up and down. We had our good moments and some bad moments. I think this team, the main thing with us is we’re going to be consistent because of how much talent we have and the depth. We have a lot of players who can play.”

Theobald’s toughness and court awareness has helped make him a team leader and the staff has encouraged the Covington Catholic product to become more vocal, as well.

“We’ve got to be able to feed off his emotion and his toughness. He’s one of the toughest players to ever wear a Transylvania uniform,” Lane said.

Jefferson, who came off the bench against Kentucky to score a team-high 14 points, started every game last season, averaging 9.8 points and a team-high 3.3 assists per game. Schmitt is the team’s leading returning scorer at 12.1 points per game.

The newcomers include a pair of freshmen from Australia, 6-8 forward Luke Schroeder and 6-4 guard Alex Cunningham, as well as Oldham County’s Zach Larimore, a 6-4 forward who helped lead the Colonels to a pair of Sweet Sixteen wins last year. Lane played every player on his roster against UK, with 10 of them logging more than 10 minutes.

“Every year, it’s been the goal to win the HCAC championship, and the first couple of years, we didn’t have the talent, we really didn’t,” Theobald acknowledged. “We still played with heart and as hard as we can. This year, I don’t feel pressure, but I know I’m going to do everything I can to win an HCAC championship, play in the Beck Center in front of our fans for the HCAC championship and then make a run at the NCAA championship.”

Season opener

Mount Union at Transylvania

When: 7 p.m. Friday