Maybe it isn't fair, but expectations are high when Vincennes University's opens its men's basketball season at 7 p.m. today against Indiana Elite Prep at the P.E. Complex.
The Trailblazers return only two of their five starters off last year's 32-3 team that reached the NJCAA quarterfinals before being eliminated.
Even with three new starters, the NJCAA preseason poll ranked the Blazers fourth last week.
With that comes the hopes that they should look like they belong among the elite junior college teams in the country, starting as soon as tonight.
VU coach Todd Franklin said this team still has plenty to room to improve and is far from a finished product.
"The players will tell me who I can lean on. I'm not going to be picky if it's a sophomore or a freshman. I hope the sophomores step up, and I think they should. They have an advantage, having the knowledge of what they experienced last year," Franklin said. "But basketball has so many moving parts, it's hard to get it all coordinated, plus trying to play with enthusiasm, intensity and focus. Boy, it's difficult.
"Then there's a different pressure here, because the expectation is to win every game," he said. "I have to be careful to not get too caught up in that, that we need to be chasing what we should be doing."
Indiana Elite Prep shouldn't be too much for the Blazers to handle tonight. VU shot 60 percent and scored a season-high against Indiana Elite in last year's 123-55 opener. It becomes more of a factor this weekend in the Kiwanis Classic when the Blazers take on Kankakee (Ill.) and fifth-ranked Eastern Florida State on Friday and Saturday.
"I saw Indiana Elite play John A. Logan for about 10 minutes at our jamboree, but I didn't glean much out of that," Franklin said. "So we're going into this game blind, and it's going to be kind of like our jamboree games, except on a higher stage.
"We're looking for players who are going to take ownership
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of their games, play solid, hard and with some confidence."
VU has two proven sophomore players in 6-1 Pun Tisdale and 6-9 Rade Kukobat, who averaged 15.0 and 9.2 points per game last year. The other projected starters are 6-0 sophomore C.J. Hedgepeth, 6-6 sophomore Sehill Mouliom and 6-6 freshman Lony Francis. Three other sophomores, 6-5 Ohio transfer Rodney Culver, 6-6 Nikola Andric and 6-7 Hugo Mbumba figure heavily in the early rotation off the bench, along with 6-1 freshmen Ty Gadsen and Keith Clemons, and 6-5 freshman George Dixon.
Tonight starts three games in four days for VU, which isn't ideal, but Franklin noted that he thought it was important to get a game in before the weekend classic.
"Early in the year, the rotation of players expands a little when you get up. We hope that everybody gets a chance to play (tonight) and gets some of the jitters out of them," Franklin said. "It's good for the fans, having three games in four days, but there's not much turnaround time for us."
The 23rd-ranked VU women also open their season today, beginning the doubleheader with a 5 p.m. tilt against the Lindsey Wilson junior varsity.