Men’s basketball preview

December 11th, 2018 Posted in The Rockets

After winning 23 games and advancing to the Mid-American Conference Championship Game last season, Head Men’s Basketball Coach Tod Kowalczyk and the Rockets’ goal for the 2018-19 campaign is simple: Win the conference title and advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Jaelan Sanford

“I think we took some huge steps as far as establishing the culture and character of our program, and we have many good memories from last season,” said Kowalczyk, who has registered a 104-63 (.623) record over the last five years at the UT helm. “But we also certainly have feelings of disappointment because we were so close to doing something special. Our goal was to win the MAC Tournament, and that serves as motivation for our entire program in the upcoming season.”

UT, which needs to fill the void of departed MAC Player of the Year Tre’Shaun Fletcher, will feature a veteran squad in its quest to achieve this lofty goal. Senior guard Jaelan Sanford (6-4, 200) is coming off an All-MAC season that saw him rank eighth in the conference with 16.3 points per game and third with a team-high 84.6 free-throw mark. He is joined by fellow classmate Nate Navigato, a 6-8, 225-pound forward who is one of the top returning three-point marksmen in the nation with 224 career three-point field goals.

Sanford enters the season with 1,276 career points and has started all 100 games he has played in a Rocket uniform. Kowalczyk is now looking for him to raise his game to an even higher level.

In addition to leading the MAC with 2.8 treys per game and ranking second with a 42.7 three-point field goal percentage, Navigato averaged a career-high 12.2 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game and 1.8 assists per game in the 2017-18 campaign.

Willie Jackson

Toledo also will have a pair of veterans to rely on as well with the junior frontcourt duo of center Luke Knapke (6-11, 245) and forward Willie Jackson (6-6, 215).

Knapke proved himself to be one of the MAC’s top big men a year ago, averaging 10.8 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game and 1.8 blocked shots per game to go along with a 37.9 three-point field goal percentage (22-of-58).

Jackson (7.6 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game) registered four double-doubles in 20 contests after becoming eligible in mid-December, including a career-high 18 points and 10 rebounds vs. Eastern Michigan in the MAC Tournament semifinals.

The quarterback of the Rocket attack will be sophomore guard Marreon Jackson (6-0, 175), who averaged 8.0 points per game, 2.9 rebounds per game and 2.7 assists per game en route to earning a spot on the MAC’s All-Freshman Team. Jackson propelled UT into the MAC Championship game with a career-high 26-point outing vs. EMU in the semifinals.

Nate Navigato

Kowalczyk also expects to receive solid contributions off the bench from senior Chris Darrington (6-1, 185), sophomore Dylan Alderson (6-5, 205) and sophomore Spencer Littleson (6-4, 200).

A former all-state performer at Toledo Scott High School as well as an NJCAA Division I All-American, Darrington played 25 games at SEC champion Tennessee last season.

Alderson played in all but one contest last season as Fletcher’s backup and shot 42.2 percent from the field and 36.4 percent (8-of-22) from three-point range.

Littleson sat out last season after transferring from Duquesne University and will provide the Rockets with another sharpshooter from the backcourt.

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