Ready or not: Samford Men’s Basketball team is coming for the SoCon this year

COURTESY OF SAMFORD ATHLETICS

 

The Samford Men’s Basketball team is looking to build upon what was a very successful season during the 2016-2017 year. This past season saw coach Scott Padgett’s team post a 20-16 record, which was its first winning season since the 2005-2006 season. The Bulldogs also picked up their first ever postseason win after beating Canisius at the end of last season. Last year, the Bulldogs were able to set school records in many statistical areas, including total points, field goal attempts, free throws and assists.

In Coach Padgett’s fourth season, the team returns all five starters from a year ago, with senior Christen Cunningham and sophomore Tristan Chambers at the guard positions; senior forwards Demetrius Denzel-Dyson and Alex Thompson; and junior center Wyatt Walker. With the amount of experience these Bulldogs have, they’re looking to capture a SoCon title and a potential bid to the NCAA Tournament this season.

“Cautiously optimistic,” said Padgett when asked about his overall thoughts on his team leading into this upcoming season. “I think we’ve got all the pieces there. (We) are getting some preseason hype and accolades, that doesn’t win you games. People can give you all the hype in the world, but you still have to go out there, work, and win the games.”

Some of the hype that Padgett was referring to comes from the fact that Samford has been picked to finish second in the SoCon this year behind conference opponent Mercer. The Bulldogs’ tough non-conference schedule early in the season should provide key tests to the strength and character of Padgett’s team. Key non- conference matchups include games against Arkansas, LSU, Memphis and Clemson. Not to mention a tough slate of conference opponents both at home and on the road.

“These are the type of teams that will, one, get us ready for the SoCon, and they’re also the type of teams that if we’re in position to win the SoCon we are going to play in the first round of the NCAA Tournament,” Padgett said.

With all five starters returning from last year’s team, there’s hopes of improvement on both sides of the ball for the Bulldogs, especially given the experience and chemistry on this year’s team. Samford’s offense averaged nearly 79 points per game last season, with four starters averaging at least 10 points per game for the Bulldogs.

“Well I think you have to take the things you did well last year, move forward with them, and build on them,” Padgett said. “I think we were a pretty good offensive team last year, but we need to build on our defensive end of the ball. We need to be that team where if you have an off night shooting the ball, we can still win the game if we’re off.”

Both Denzel-Dyson and Walker were vital parts of the Bulldogs’ team last year. Both share a common goal for the season: winning a SoCon championship.

“I feel like we can definitely win a SoCon championship, and go as far as we can in the NCAA Tournament,” Denzel-Dyson said. ”We have most of the same team returning from last year. The tough non-conference games that we have scheduled for us are really good in preparing the team for the conference tournament. If we can go out there and win those games, then we can put ourselves out there and build confidence to know that we can beat any team in our conference.”

Walker echoed much of what Denzel-Dyson had to say regarding his expectations for the upcoming season.

“I think we are a really talented team,” Walker said. “We are returning all five starters from last year. We have athletic guards that can get to the rim, athletic shooters, strong physical post players that can rebound. I think we have pretty much every piece you want. I truly think this will be a positive year.”

Denzel-Dyson averaged 16.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game last season in his first year with the Bulldogs after having sat out the 2015-2016 season due to NCAA rules resulting from his transfer from UMass.

“Demetrius is a big time shot maker,” Padgett said. “He shoots the ball from deep, mid range, and can also finish at the rim. A lot of guys can make shots when they are open, but he can make tough shots even with a hand in his face. If we can win this league, he has a good chance to be player of the year in this league.”

Walker was a dominant low post presence for the Bulldogs last season. He averaged 12.9 points, 9.7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game last season. Walker has been a consistent starter for the Bulldogs ever since his freshman season during the 2015-2016 season.

“Wyatt is a guy who we can get the ball in the post to when we are struggling to get a bucket,” Padgett said.  “You can throw it in to him and he can get us that tough bucket. He can also draw double teams out of the post, which then opens up plays for other people. He can go and get us 10 rebounds a game. Just a steady, steady workhorse type player that gives us a lot of confidence when he’s out there on the floor.”

As their first regular season game is fast approaching, Padgett and the entire Bulldogs team will be preparing for what looks to be another season of Samford basketball. Samford opens up their home schedule on Nov. 13 against Alabama A&M at 7 p.m. at the Pete Hanna Center.

Collin Reese, Staff Writer

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