NORTHFIELD — The Norwich University men’s basketball has used the last three weeks of preseason to gear up for the 2019-20 schedule, which begins Tuesday when the Cadets travel to play Northern Vermont University-Lyndon.
Coach Paul Booth who enters his 27th season at the helm of the program. He boasts 282 career victories, including include two Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship victories. The Cadets have trekked through the GNAC postseason 12 times since entering the league in 1999 and will look to return there this year with a revamped roster.
There was an effort in 2018-19 to start building a championship-caliber roster from the ground up after seven seniors graduated in 2018. Last year’s squad finished with a 7-18 overall record and a 1-10 mark in the GNAC. The stark contrast between the two teams signaled a changing of the guard and a need to re-establish a foundation for future success.
“(Last year) we brought in group of young freshmen and threw them right into the arena, so to speak,” Booth said. “The hope was to get the players the requisite experience needed to compete at this level. We had some freshmen and sophomores inserted into the starting lineup. It was a challenging year, but we knew that was going to be the case and we knew we would be better for it going forward.”
By the end of the season, that was apparent as the team established its identity. As the play improved, the team played with pace and was able to effectively operate with good spacing and movement.
“The hardest thing for a first-year player is learning how to make the adjustments to the college game,” Booth said. “There’s a noticeable difference in the speed and the physicality, but our freshmen last year made those necessary adjustments.”
During preseason the returning players have worked with the newcomers to encourage an atmosphere of success and a desire to get better.
“Our goal is to be better every single day,” Booth said. “And with that philosophy, everything else naturally takes care of itself. One of the challenges we need to overcome moving forward is to become more consistent in everything we do so that we know what to expect on a night-to-night basis.”
The 2019-20 Cadets feature nine returners along with seven newcomers. Junior guard Jesse Davis was the team’s leading scorer last year and will be a marked man. He is a prolific scorer who can contribute points in a variety of ways. Davis averaged 15.7 points per game last year, and half of his scoring production was on 3-pointers.
Junior guard Kyle Booth is a Northfield product and a former standout at U-32 High School. The jack of all trades ranked second for NU last year in scoring (10.5 points per game), rebounding (6.7 per game) and assists (2.1 per game). Defensively, he guarded the opposing team’s best offensive player most games.
Sophomore guard Caleb Casinas was handed the keys to the offense last season as a freshman and made the most of his opportunity. He nearly doubled his scoring output once conference play started and became proficient at running the point. Sophomore forward Donovan Lewis Jr. hopes to take a step forward with his game this season. Lewis is a tremendous athlete who plays above the rim. He averaged 9.6 points per game as a freshman. Senior forward Dan Bertrand offers a steadying presence on the floor for the Cadets while facilitating the offense, grabbing rebounds and taking care of the ball.
Depth is likely to be a strong point this year with some incoming players knocking on the door of the rotation. Freshmen Jaydon Cousin, Benjamin Mitchell and Dale Green will be players to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
The conference schedule represents a stout challenge again this year. The GNAC is one of the top leagues in the region, resulting in no easy games on the schedule. The Cadets will quickly have to prove they can consistently compete night in and night out to contend for post-season berth.
Norwich was predicted to finish 11th in the GNAC Preseason Poll. The Cadets’ conference schedule will begin Jan. 11 with a game at Anna Maria. Norwich will travel to play preseason favorite Albertus Magnus Falcons on Jan. 15. Norwich will host Dean, Maine-Augusta and Trinity for the Ed Hockenbury Classic on Dec. 7-8.