The men’s basketball team has seen vastly different results in the last two seasons. Two years ago, the team was crowned the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) champion on the heels of then–freshman guard Cam Haslam’s standout season.
Last season, Haslam played only six games after suffering a meniscus injury. He was sidelined for the rest of the season and Chapman finished eighth out of nine SCIAC teams.
Without Haslam, the team often relied on then-junior forward James Taylor, who averaged nearly 14 points and six rebounds per game.
Neither Haslam nor Taylor are playing this season.
This begs the question: Who will take on the scoring load for Chapman?
So far, the backcourt has been led by senior guard Rob Nelsen and junior point guard Reed Nakakihara. Nelsen leads the team in scoring at 15.4 points per game and is second in rebounding with 6.2 rebounds per game. Nakakihara is second in scoring, at 13.4 points per game.
In the frontcourt, Taylor’s absence left a void. So far, freshman center Reed Smith has filled it, averaging 11.4 points per game on 54.4 percent shooting. He leads the team with 7.4 rebounds per game.
Early on, the team is clicking. Chapman has opened its season with five straight wins, four of which came by 15 points or more. Chapman shoots nearly 50 percent from the field and 41.1 percent from three-point range. But the team has 10 freshmen, according to Chapman Athletics, and that lack of experience can often manifest itself on defense.
After Chapman’s first home win Nov. 16, head coach Mike Bokosky said the team’s issues aren’t offensive.
“Playing defense and rebounding the ball (are things we need to work on),” Bokosky said. “We’re anemic in those things, and it’s just toughness and a willingness to do it. Everyone can score points, it’s about who works on their defense.”
Chapman allowed roughly 66 points per game in conference in each of the past two seasons, but its scoring dropped from 74.1 points per game to 61.6 last season. Opponents’ field goal and three-point shooting percentages also rose by more than 3 percent in conference games.
That regression, coupled with the team’s hot start, makes predicting this season’s outcome difficult.
Early non-conference games are often poor predictors of SCIAC performance.
The team’s biggest problem last season proved to be scoring, but in its first nine non-conference games, it averaged 75.7 points, more than its conference scoring average in its title-winning season. Last season’s scoring issue didn’t present itself until the conference season began.
Still, Chapman’s undefeated start is promising. Stringing together five wins – including a one-point away win – to open the season on efficient shooting will provide a confidence boost to a roster of mostly underclassmen.
While there is always the possibility that early momentum wanes, this team looks to have the talent to compete for a playoff spot, and, at the very least, finish higher than its eighth-place ranking last season.