Fresh off the season-opener in Eugene, Ore., the NAU men’s basketball program has the look of a new team after the past season’s disaster. While it was just one game with nothing to lose, taking a lead with five minutes left on the road against a Pac-12 program should be considered a positive.
Despite the current losing streak of 17 games stretching back to the previous year, a new coach, some fresh faces and a new attitude have the Lumberjacks looking better after just one game.
“We just have a lot of energy. Everybody is so energetic and enthusiastic about this season. We have been waiting for this day for so long,” said senior guard Michael Dunn. “To finally have it come and play the way we did, it shows a lot for us. We hope that translates later into the season.”
Whether that translates to wins will remain to be seen, but a team with the lowest of expectations has nowhere to go but up. At the very least, the team should be a bit more fun to watch than it was last year.
“We didn’t want to be too tense going out on the court today,” Dunn said. “We just wanted to come have fun, feed off the energy from the people on the court, on the bench and in our small little contingency of fans up there.”
Part of the fun comes from the team’s perimeter game, which, despite struggles against Oregon, could get hot during stretches and provide a fair amount of entertainment when hitting.
The Lumberjacks only hit 10-of-29 from outside against the Ducks, but some of those were forced shots playing from behind late. Senior guard Gabe Rogers, who head coach Jack Murphy considers one of the best shooters in the nation, never could get going against the Ducks and bared responsibility for a number of those misses.
If Rogers, Dunn and freshman DeWayne Russell all get hot at the same time, the show the three put on could be thrilling to watch.
Part of the heavy emphasis on outside shooting comes from the Lumberjacks’ occasional running of four guard sets. At times against Oregon, NAU threw out: Dunn, Rogers, Russell, senior Stallon Saldivar and senior Luis Flores onto the floor together.
Joined by one post man, primarily senior Max Jacobson with others in foul trouble, the quartet of guards under 6’3” provide an offense based on the outside.
Murphy emphasized situations like this would be a game-to-game occurrence and against schools with post players at 6’11”, it isn’t plausible to keep it up.
He did acknowledged the team’s talent and experience come from the backcourt. With Murphy’s praise for Dunn and Flores’ play at the power forward spot, along with the depth currently available at the guard position, it seems inevitable we will see this off and on through the season.