VIDEO Interview: Paluchniak's perspective
MEQUON, Wis. - Coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history and a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Concordia University Wisconsin men's basketball team has continued their recent success into the 2011-12 season.
Looking at the schedule prior to the start of the season, it absolutely looked daunting. The Falcons had three straight road games against Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference members, which is generally regarded as one of the best conferences in the nation, and seven of their first 10 games away from home.
Head coach Shawn Cassidy knew it was going to be a difficult start to the year, but he had one of several key aspects of the game on his side, depth. CUW has seven seniors on its deep roster, two of which were All-Northern Athletics Conference selections a season ago - Luke Doedens (Cedarburg, Wis.) and Mitchell Schneider (New Holstein, Wis.).
Thus far in the season it hasn't been uncommon to see Cassidy play as many as 12 guys in his regular rotation. There aren't many teams in the country that can play that many guys regularly and not witness a drop off in intensity, scoring or defense.
"The biggest thing is we don't have to deal with individual egos," Cassidy said. "We have one collective ego, which wants everyone to win and everyone wants to do what it takes to win. With our mindset, we have the freedom to play a lot of guys until the job gets done.
"Everybody obviously wants to play, but if we are willing to give up ourselves for the greater good of the team, then we are doing our part as members of this team. Guys understand that if they play less minutes and we get the same production, our goals can still be obtained."
The Falcons know that their 7-2 overall record and 4-1 record in Northern Athletics Conference play is good, but playing well in February and March is more important. CUW's style of play is appealing to watch, especially when Doedens and Schneider can drain NBA-range 3-pointers like wide open layups.
To date the Falcons rank 12th in the nation in 3-point field goal percentage (43.3) and ninth in 3-point field goals made per game (9.8). Doedens, a deep threat assassin, has twice made seven triples in a game and recently made six long balls in a 90-68 NAC home victory over Aurora University last Saturday. It was CUW's fifth 20-point victory this season and fourth in conference play.
"I am happy with what we have done so far," Cassidy said. "Mitch and Luke are outstanding players, but our true strength is the collective effort on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Our bigs have been controlling the paint, which has freed up our guards."
It is no lie the Falcons' roster is guard-heavy, with seven of the 16 players who have seen the floor being listed as a forward or center. The big men on the roster are somewhat inexperienced but they have made the most of their minutes on the court. Even though the guards have received most of the attention thus far in the season, the forwards/centers approach to getting the job done has been to do it by committee.
Steve Zielinski (junior, Brown Deer, Wis.) and senior Erik Condia (Orange, Calif.) have split time as starting centers, while freshman Ben Brooke (Viroqua, Wis.) leads all bigs with a 7.0 points per game average.
"Our big guys are doing a great job of getting better every day," Cassidy said. "They are doing to be a key factor for us in the remaining two-thirds of our season. The greatest testament I can give those guys is how much pride and heart they show in every minute they play."
Many of the headlines have been devoted to CUW's potent offense which ranks 41st in the nation (80.0 points per game) - also 14th in scoring margin (17.7) and 13th in field goal percentage (50.6) - but its defense has been just as imposing through the first nine games of the season.
The Falcons rank above many NAC schools in several defensive categories - first in field goal percentage defense (41.0), first in 3-point field goal percentage defense (27.5), rebounds allowed (31.2), second in blocks (3.6) and second in points allowed (62.3).
"We are a defensive team," Cassidy said. "Our defense is fueling our explosive offense. We lost a great defensive player last year in Edward 'Skip' Newton-Kemp and because of that we have had to change our defensive scheme. I feel we have the chance to be one of the top defensive teams in the country."
Despite the fact that CUW"s offense has been on cruise control for most of its games and the defense has frustrated opponents, it has played nine games during a 26-day span. The Falcons have also twice played three games in a week's time.
"This time off is very important for us," Cassidy said. "The players need this rest, mentally and physically. This has been a difficult start to the season with so many road games and with us now in the middle of final exams, I can see we are not as sharp as we were six weeks ago."
CUW travels to Carroll University on Saturday for a non-conference showdown before taking a week off from basketball. The Falcons then return to the court on Thursday, Dec. 29 with a non-conference neutral site contest against UW-Oshkosh before finishing the year against NAC opponents.
"We have to keep this in perspective," Cassidy said. "This is still a game, it is still fun. Fortunately for us we have a lot of family members that travel to a lot of our road games. We have to keep family first, then school and basketball, in that order. As long as we keep our priorities straight we will be fresh for the most important part of the season, February and March."
Season update: Men’s Basketball
VIDEO Interview: Paluchniak's perspective