Joey Witthus

Senior Joey Witthus joins Ryan Welty as one of two Bearcats who have had previous starts ahead of the 2018 season. 

Ben McCollum recognizes the challenges the Northwest men’s basketball team could face during his 10th season as head coach.

Out for the Bearcats are Justin Pitts, Chris Ebou-Ndow, Xavier Kurth and Brett Dougherty. In are Xavier Rhodes, Diego Bernard, and Luke Waters.

Returners to the team include redshirt-freshman Trevor Hudgins, sophomores Daric Laing and Ryan Hawkins; juniors Kirk Finley, Tyler Dougherty and Ryan Welty; and seniors Joey Witthus and Dray Starzl.

Of the eight, Welty and Witthus are the only ones with starting experience. Most of the others have seen significant minutes on the court throughout their time at Northwest.

“Obviously we’ve got kids that sat out last season that I think will be good for us,” McCollum said. “We signed a few freshman that we will have to rely on. Hopefully we compete at a high level early. Hopefully we can stay consistent throughout the season.”

With the separation in experience, the team may turn to its freshman for minutes. Adding new pieces into Northwest’s culture comes naturally.

Getting newcomers to adjust to playing NCAA Division II basketball requires maturity. McCollum faced a similar situation heading into the 2014-2015 school year.

“We lost five seniors that were really good, then we had a freshman point guard named Justin Pitts coming in,” McCollum said. “We had a good year that year. Then it started then on too. Hopefully we can kind of continue down that path.”

Coaches from around the MIAA picked the Bearcats to finish second this year. The media poll predicted the Bearcats will be the MIAA Champion.

McCollum doesn’t harp on the preseason recognition. It’s up to this year’s roster to determine it’s destiny.

“I have always been able to twist (rankings) for our guys,” McCollum said. “When you’re picked first for that many years, we like the expectations, we like to be picked there. With this team, the big thing is understanding they didn’t earn any of those expectations.”

The Bearcats will be without the presence of former associate coach Austin Meyer for the first time under McCollum.

It was the newest women’s basketball coach’s loyalty and support that helped build the culture Northwest is known for today. Former Bearcat graduate assistant and athlete Zach Schneider is the newest assistant coach.

“To lose that piece of mind, and obviously his ability, his people skills, his ability to kind of compete, where I am obviously high strong and he’s fairly relaxed, we just fit together very well,” McCollum said. “It will be a very difficult transition to lose an assistant coach. ”

Northwest begins its season at the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame Classic in St. Joseph Nov. 3 agains 2017 Division II runner up Northern State. On Nov. 4, it takes on defending National Champion Ferris State.

The games will serve as a chance for Northwest to get a glimpse of competition, and figure out what it’s weaknesses are.

“We’re going to get exposed,” McCollum said. “Northern State is going to expose us. Ferris State is going to expose a lot of things we don’t do well. And hopefully we an expose them, so as the season progresses we continue to get better and better so that we’re at our best. I feel like we have been at the end of every season.”

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