COLUMN: New look men’s hoops squad is the team you need to see

By  Cole Sheeks , Sports Editor    Follow him at  @ColeSheeks

By Cole Sheeks, Sports Editor

Follow him at @ColeSheeks

The winter sports season has begun at EC and the men’s basketball team is off to a fast start with their 4-1 record.

After a disappointing season last year, the Bluejays have entered the 2017-2018 campaign with a roster that features a lot of new faces.

It was likely a lack of familiarity with those unproven players that led coaches around the CCIW to pick EC to finish eighth in the conference during their preseason poll; however, if their early season performance is any indication, the Bluejays may be poised to surprise a lot of folks around the league.

Forward Jeremy Ireland leads the way and currently averages a double-double with 14.2 points per game along with 12.2 rebounds. The junior transfer from North Central provides the Bluejays with a strong interior presence in the paint.

Junior Lance Gardner, sophomore Derek Dotlich and redshirt freshman Jake Rhode support Ireland, as the trio also features double figure scoring averages. Together, they combine to form an offense that has all the necessary tools to be a dynamic threat to CCIW defenses.

The impressive collection of talent was on display during the Bluejays conference opener against Carroll University on Dec. 2.

Gardner, an athletic, 6-foot-7 forward in his first year on campus, put his wide range of skills on display. Whether he was shooting from the outside or slashing through for a dunk, he brought energy to the court and gave fans something to cheer about.

Dotlich was also a dual threat, scoring from behind the arc in addition to a consistent performance in the paint.

Between the two of them and Ireland, EC appears to have a strong foundation as they head into the bulk of the CCIW schedule.

That being said, Rhode, the Bluejays’ 5-foot-10 point guard, might be the most compelling player on the team.

While aspects of his play have been inconsistent at times to begin the year, Rhode is constantly in on the action as he flies around the court and pesters opponents with his nonstop motor and a swagger that makes those in attendance sit up and pay attention when he has the ball in his hands.

Whether he is slinging no look passes or cutting through the lane, Rhode is a pleasure to watch and if he can harness his talent, the young playmaker has a chance to be a game changer for the Bluejays.

But the depth on this team runs deeper than that, as sophomore Ryan Patton fills out their lineup, senior Brandon Auker contributes quality minutes, and freshmen Justin Fox, Peyton Sampson, and Nick Perry pitch in off the bench.

While it remains to be seen just how well the group will be able to stand up to the heavyweights of the conference, their energized play on the court makes them the most exciting team to follow on campus at the moment.

Whether or not they continue to win at their current pace, head coach John Baines has his team playing inspired basketball and the Bluejays will certainly be fun to watch as the season progresses.

All together, this appears to be the team you need to see in action at EC this year.