By Jeff Arenz
MARSHALL - Fans of the Southwest Minnesota State men's basketball team will see a lot of familiar faces playing for the Mustangs this season.
Southwest Minnesota State forward Will Giddings attempts to drive with the ball during a game last season.
That's because 11 members of last season's squad that went 17-12 overall and 13-9 versus the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference South Division are back for head coach Brad Bigler.
Four seniors - forward Will Giddings, center Nick Smith, point guard Vinard Birch and shooting guard Matt Zager - will see plenty of playing time in SMSU's starting lineup. Smith, Birch and Zager enter the 2013-14 campaign with three years of starting experience. Giddings broke into the Mustangs' starting lineup late last season and will remain there.
"Those four seniors are the main core for us," Bigler said. "From there, we have a variety of guys who are going to step into some new roles."
Redshirt freshmen Mitch Weg and Joey Bartlett will both see time at power forward. Junior guard Cole Martin is expected to play at a wing position. Drew Osmundson and Shaun Condon are competing to back up Birch at the point.
Bigler is happy to have plenty of experienced players back on the team.
"Over the last few years, we have developed our system and our players have been able to grow into it," Bigler said. "They should have a good foundation from which to build.
"All of our guys on our roster this year, played for us last year. The great thing about that is they will be able to pick up things about our team a lot faster. This fall, we were able to implement things at a pretty fast rate," Bigler said.
Giddings, who averaged 5.8 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game, will be at small forward for the Mustangs.
"He is a special athlete, who is one of those guys that does not come around very often just because of this athleticism," Bigler said.
Bigler also said Giddings can be a threat from 3-point range.
Smith, an NSIC Player to Watch, according to the preseason poll, returns as SMSU's leading scorer (12.5 points) and top rebounder (7.5 rebounds).
"Nick is a guy who can score the basketball at a high level," Bigler said. "As far as his strengths, he can use either hand, he has a variety of different moves and he can also step out and shoot the 3-point shot. He is one of the most efficient players to play for SMSU."
Smith added 52 blocked shots, 38 assists and 20 steals a year ago.
Bigler said its important to have a balanced offensive attack.
"We will set some high ball screens and drive, but its also important to utilize Nick, who will get plenty of touches down on the block," Bigler said.
At 6-foot, 9-inches, Smith has a height advantage that gives him an important edge.
Zager (25 of 56) and Giddings (21 of 46) made more that 44 percent of their shots from 3-point range last season.
Birch (69 of 86) got himself to the free-throw line, where he made 80 percent of his shots for SMSU, which averaged 75 percent as a unit. He also made 26 steals and created 78 assists.
Southwest Minnesota State shot 49 percent (800 of 1,643) on offense and allowed 44 percent shooting (762 of 1,753) on defense.
Other players competing for playing time for SMSU include guards M.J. Delmore, Travis Meinders and Nathaniel Huot and center David Condon.
The Mustangs begin their season late this afternoon, when they play Fort Hays State, Kan., at 5 p.m. in the two-day SMSU Classic. On Sunday, the Mustangs are back in action against Northwest Missouri State at 4 p.m.
SMSU MUSTANGS 2013-14 SCHEDULE
Nov. 9 - SMSU Classic vs. Fort Hays State, Kan., 5 p.m.
Nov. 10 - SMSU Classic vs. Northwest Missouri State, 4 p.m.
Nov. 18 - at South Dakota State, 7 p.m.
Nov. 21 - at Northern Michigan, 6:30 p.m.
Nov. 22 - at Michigan Tech, 6 p.m.
Nov. 30 - at Sioux Falls, 6 p.m.
Dec. 6 - Augustana, 8 p.m.
Dec. 7 - Wayne State, 7 p.m.
Dec. 13 - at Upper Iowa, 8 p.m.
Dec. 14 - at Winona State, 6 p.m.
Dec. 19 - Wisconsin-La Crosse, 7 p.m.
Dec. 21 - Sioux Falls, 4 p.m.
Jan. 3 - Northern State, 8 p.m.
Jan. 4 - Minnesota State Moorhead, 7 p.m.
Jan. 10 - at St. Cloud State University, 8 p.m.
Jan. 11 - at Minnesota-Duluth, 6 pm.
Jan. 17 - Winona State 8 p.m.
Jan. 18 - Upper Iowa 7 p.m.
Jan. 24 - at Wayne State, 8 p.m.
Jan. 25 - at Augustana, 6 p.m.
Jan. 31 - Bemidji State, 8 p.m.
Feb. 2 - Minnesota Crookston (Hawaiian Night), 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 - at Minnesota State, 8 p.m.
Feb. 8 - at Concordia-St. Paul, 6 p.m.
Feb. 14 - at University of Mary, 8 p.m.
Feb. 15 - at Minot State, 6 p.m.
Feb 21. - Concordia-St. Paul, 8 p.m.
Feb. 22 - Minnesota State, 7 p.m.