The Drake University Bulldogs men's basketball program will look to rebound off last season's 17-16 record and return to the form that lead the team to an NCAA Tournament berth in 2008.
Head coach Mark Phelps enters his second year hoping fresh faces will add a boost in the right direction. If Phelps can lead the Bulldogs to a fourth straight winning season, it will be the first time in school history since 1968-71.
The task won't be an easy one in a strong Missouri Valley Conference but—on paper at least—Drake is poised for the fight.
The Bulldogs return only three starters from last year's squad, and 10 players on Drake's roster have yet to see action in a college basketball game. The young faces have abundant talent and potential, but experience and leadership will be required to bring this squad together.
Returning starter Josh Young will attempt to recover from an injury-plagued junior campaign and lead the Bulldogs back to the front of the MVC pack. Young averaged 15.4 points per game and 3.8 rebounds per game, a high among MVC guards.
Young sits at seventh among Drake's all-time leading scorers. If he matches last season's total of 509, he'll easily surpass Red Murrell for the honors of Drake's all-time leading scorer.
A healthy Young will be downright hazardous to opponents. He'll need help if Drake is to be successful this season.
Most of the assistance will come from Young's fellow guards. The Bulldogs' backcourt will be the team's strength.
Arkansas State transfer Ryan Wedel is now eligible. Wedel brings a much needed three-point and scoring threat to Drake. As a sophomore, Wedel earned All-Sun Belt Conference honors, averaging 15.1 points per game.
Senior point guard Craig Stanley will help dish out the ball after ranking fourth in assists in the MVC last year. The Bulldogs will need Stanley's improvement, as moving the ball was not their strong suit last year.
If the guards are Drake's strength, the big men are its weakness.
Adam Templeton is the lone returning starter for the Drake front line. He will need to step up his game, but returning senior letter-winner Bill Eady and a lot of new faces will help carry the load.
Last season, Jonathan Cox and Brent Heemskerk did all the work for the Bulldogs in the paint. Both were lost to graduation. New faces will have to step up to fill in the gap that remains.
The Bulldogs have five players over 6'8". All are freshman.
2009 Michigan Class B Player of the year and Michigan Mr. Basketball runner-up Ben Simmons could see a lot of action at forward in his first year.
Also predicted to see a lot of action are fellow freshmen Aaron Hawley, Reece Uhlenhopp, and Seth Van Deest.
Hawley was a two-time first team Arkansas 7A all-state selection in high school, and the most valuable player of the Arkansas All-Star Game. Look for him to see a lot of early action.
Uhlenhopp is a former Iowa prep star for Urbandale High School. Uhlenhopp was named 4A first team all-state by the Iowa Newspapers Association and received second team all-state honors from the Des Moines Register as a senior.
Looking to fill the shoes at center will be Van Deest. He was named first team Iowa Class 4A by the Iowa Newspapers Association, IowaPreps.com and the Des Moines Register. The former Bettendorf standout averaged 17.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.1 shot blocks per game. Van Deest will compete with seven-foot red-shirt freshman Sean Jones for the start at center.
Talent is everywhere for the Bulldogs. The key will be to unleash that talent and for Drake to show its potential. The new faces will need to step up to the plate early if Drake is to be successful. Josh Young will also need to return to his sophomore year form.
It would appear Drake is set to take a step backward in a strong MVC, but if the team gels quickly, the Bulldogs could surprise.