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Air Force Basketball: High Hopes with Five Returning Starters

With five returning starters, the Air Force Falcons basketball team is hoping to return to some sort of postseason action for the first time since 2013. Led by seniors Hayden Graham and Zach Kocur, the Falcons will look to improve in the always competitive Mountain West Conference.

NCAA Basketball: Air Force at Colorado State Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

When creating a program, there are two ways to build a team. If you have the ability to recruit outstanding freshman year after year, you build a program like Kentucky or Duke. You sign your All-Americans and you look like a junior college on steroids. Or, you are the Air Force Falcons. You try to build your program through experience and you search for the right group that will be there long enough to gel and when they are all juniors and seniors you hope you can find your way into one of the four post season tournaments and you ride that experience until the next group develops.

The Falcons believe they have a group of experienced players who now as juniors and seniors can help lift the program to the next level and not only compete in the Mountain West but also qualify for post season action. The Falcons haven’t advanced past the Mountain West tournament since 2013 when they played in the Collegeinsider Tournament. As far as the NCAA Tournament, it was 2006 when they were knocked out of the first round by Illinois. The best team in Air Force history was the 2007 team that lost to Clemson in the NIT Final Four semifinal game. In all, the Falcons have only been invited to seven post season tournament and they have a record of 5-7 in those appearances.

This year is filled with hope, led by senior forward Hayden Graham. The 6’7” forward has been a fixture for the Falcons since his freshman year and is coming off a season where he averaged 13.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. Graham has worked hard to round out his game, improving his outside game to make his slashing and driving abilities even more dangerous. Graham shot 39% last year from the three-point line and if that improves, it should open up the floor for his game to improve more than it already has to this point. Joining Graham in the front court will be junior Frank Toohey. Toohey is thicker than Graham and usually draws the bigger players on the opposition. Toohey has shown touch from distance, which is a trait that most Air Force big men need to have to space the floor in the Dave Pilipovich offense, and should get more opportunities to shoot in the 2016-17 season.

The backcourt looks like the strength of this team for the upcoming season. Returning starters C.J. Siples, Trevor Lyons and senior Zach Kocur have loads of experience and scoring punch to compete with many backcourts in the conference. Joining those three is reserve Jacob Van who filled in for injuries last year and had a stretch at the end of the year where he averaged 19.4 point a game. Van capped off his first season with a 37 point effort in the overtime loss to UNLV in the Mountain West tournament. Another young player who saw time last year when Lyons was injured was sophomore Pervis Louder. The Falcons feel very confident in the diversity and ability of their backcourt and should provide Falcon fans with lots of scoring and excitement this upcoming season.

Air Force is hoping to have health on their side this season, as last year was a rough one for the team as they missed Lyons for several games and lost Ryan Manning for all but five games last year due to a knee injury. Manning and Lyon returning will allow the Falcons to have seven players in their rotation who have started for this team in the past. And with the Mountain West having a possible down year with the exception of San Diego, the Falcons feel that 2016-17 could be their eighth journey to post season competition.