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Guard Play Will Be Key For Air Force Basketball

A senior laden team will have to find help in the backcourt from a young group of candidates if the Air Force Falcons hope to make any type of postseason tournament in 2014-15.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Last Year's Overall Record - 12-18

Last Year's Conference Record - 6-12

Key Players Lost - Tre Coggins (Transfer), Darrius Parker (Transfer), Chase Kammerer (Graduate)

Key Players Added - C.J. Siples (Fr.), Dezmond James (Fr.), Trevor Lyons (Fr.), Ryan Manning (Fr.), Matt Mooney (Fr.)

In today's world of one-and-done programs like Kentucky, UCLA and Arizona, the senior-laden team has become somewhat of a novelty. However, when you look at some of the best Cinderella stories in recent college basketball history, it is the experienced mid-major teams that can make noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Air Force Falcons and its fanbase probably aren't thinking NCAA tournament after a disappointing 12-18 season last year, but they are hoping that the amount of seniors they bring back will help them rise into the middle of the pack in the highly competitive and respected Mountain West Conference.

Getting to a postseason tournament would have been an easier accomplishment if junior-to-be guard Tre Coggins would have returned to the team. But Coggins took his game to Cal State Fullerton and left a huge void in the Falcons starting lineup that will be filled by an inexperienced and untested player from a young group of guards. Coggins averaged 16 points a game to go along with 71 assist and 32 steals as a freshman last year, and hopes were high on his ability to lead the team to greater heights this upcoming season.

Air Force basketball under Head Coach Dave Pilipovich has gone back to a more traditional looking program, going away from the pure Princeton offense introduced back in 2000 by Joe Scott and also used by former coaches Jeff Bzdelik and Jeff Reynolds. The Falcons now uses a lot more dribble penetration and kick to open three-point shooters and looks to create quickly in the fast break, especially off turnovers. Coggins and returning guard Max Yon made for a good backcourt duo, with Yon averaging 13 points a game and leading the team with 75 assist. Finding a replacement for Coggins could come from returning sophomore guard Zach Kocur or from a group of talented Air Force Prep School incoming cadets in Dezmond James, Trevor Lyons, Matt Mooney or C.J. Siples. Siples was the most well-rounded guard coming out of the prep school averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds while also contributing 88 assist and 40 steals last season. Siples is the odds-on-favorite from the prep school candidates to play meaningful minutes in the Falcons' backcourt in 2014-15.

The front court returns a majority of it high minute players, with only graduate Chase Kammerer and sophomore transfer Darrius Parker not returning. Marek Olesinski, Kamryn Williams and Justin Hammonds all return from last season, and give the Falcons a good combination of slashing ability and deep shooting. DeLovell Earls has played meaningful minutes off the bench for the last two years and will more than likely continue to be the first forward off the bench for Air Force in 2014-15. After Earls, there are available minutes that returning players with varsity time like Hayden Graham, Nick Jorgensen and Joe Tuss will compete for with newcomer Ryan Manning. The frontcourt looks to be the strength of the team early in the season until the backcourt situation and those minutes are figured out. If the Falcons struggle with finding a backcourt mate for Yon, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Hammonds could move into the backcourt and Earls start in the frontcourt.

So what does the season hold for Air Force hoops? Air Force has been able to pull off the upsets in Colorado Springs over teams like UNLV, Boise State and Colorado State in recent history. San Diego State and New Mexico have been the two programs to give Air Force the most trouble, and that should continue with San Diego State being ranked #17 in the preseason coaches poll and New Mexico receiving votes in that same poll. Where Air Force has failed to take advantage is against the middle of the pack Mountain West teams like Wyoming, Nevada, Utah State and Fresno State. Winning against those programs and taking advantage of a weak non-conference schedule outside of games at Colorado and Texas Tech is extremely important for the Falcons., Capturing a few games on the road as well in conference play will give the Falcons a chance to compete for a postseason tournament out of the respected Mountain West Conference.

Way to Early Season Prediction - 16 Wins - 13 Losses in regular season, one victory in the Mountain West Tournament and accepting an invitaion to the Tournament.