The Ashland University men's basketball team, ranked No. 19 in the preseason NABC Division II coaches' poll, will begin its 100th season this week with a home game against Lake Erie on Friday night before traveling to Ohio Dominican on Sunday.
100TH SEASON: The Ashland University men's basketball program will tip off its 100th season this week when it welcomes Lake Erie to Kates Gymnasium on Friday night before a trip to Columbus on Sunday to battle Ohio Dominican in a pair of in-state showdowns.
A BIT OF HISTORY: The men's basketball program got its start in 1920 under head coach Walter Leckrone as the Eagles went 5-3 in their inaugural campaign. The season opened on Dec. 16 with a 32-19 win over Kent State. Since then, the Eagles have won 1,215 games with 204 of those victories coming under 11th-year head coach John Ellenwood.
ALUMNI WEEKEND: The Eagles will welcome back their alumni for a special weekend Jan. 23-25 to celebrate their 100th season of men's basketball. Ashland will play Northwood and Saginaw Valley at Kates Gymnasium with several festivities surrounding those dates.
TOURNEY RETURN: The Eagles are looking to make a return to the NCAA Tournament in 2019-20 after earning the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region last year as the squad finished second overall in the GLIAC South with a 15-5 record in conference play. Ashland was 23-7 overall last season, the second-highest win total under Ellenwood. The only higher total was in 2015-16 when Ashland went 25-6 and qualified for its first NCAA postseason since 1991.
WAVE OF EXCELLENCE: The Eagles are in the midst of one of the best periods of success in program history, having won at least 19 games in their last five seasons. Ashland has averaged 21.2 wins per season in that stretch and advanced to the GLIAC Tournament semifinals three straight times from 2016-18. The only sustained period of success for the program that rivals the current one was the five-season stretch from 1966-71 when Ashland won at least 21 games each season under head coach Bill Musselman.
IN THE STANCE: The Eagles can look no further than their defense as the foundation for their reent success. The Eagles have ranked in the top 30 in scoring defense in Division II in four of the last five seasons. Ashland ranked fourth in the nation last season, giving up just 63 points per game, and letting opponents shoot just 40.5 percent from the floor. The Eagles also posted the seventh-best 3-point defense in the country, giving up just 31 percent accuracy from beyond the arc.
ANCHOR PIECE: One of the major keys to the defense is center Drew Noble, who is entering his final season with the Eagles. The senior will anchor the defense in the middle as the durable big man has blocked 68 shots in his career. Noble last season reached the 1,000-point and 500-rebound marks for his career.
POSTSEASON HONORS: Noble was named to the National Basketball Coaches Association All-Midwest District first team following the season as one of the top six players in the region. He averaged 17.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 51 percent from the field and 81 percent from the line. He was just the second player in program history, after Wendell Davis, to earn all-district first team honors from the NABC. He is also a two-time All-GLIAC selection, including a first team selection last year. This season, Noble was picked as the GLIAC Preseason Player of the Year by the league's coaches.
A.T. ON THE GLASS: Redshirt-junior wing Aaron Thompson was named to the All-GLIAC second team last season and was a GLIAC All-Defensive team selection. At just 6-foot-3, he led the GLIAC in rebounding by a wide margin at 9.4 per game. Thompson saw tremendous improvement in his offensive game, doubling his scoring output from the previous season to 10.8 points per game. He also ranked ninth in the GLIAC in field goal accuracy, shooting 54 percent. The Toledo native finished the season as the GLIAC leader in double-doubles with 11. He will also regularly be charged with guarding the opponent's top perimeter scorer. Thompson was selected to the Preseason All-GLIAC North team, along with Noble.
SERIES VS. STORM: The Eagles are 25-3 all-time against Lake Erie, which had a brief stint in the GLIAC from 2010-17. Ashland has won six in a row in the all-time series and has not lost to Lake Erie since Feb. 26, 2015 in a 63-62 overtime defeat in Painesville. Ashland has beaten Lake Erie by 15 points in the last two games, including last year's season opener, 72-57, at Osborne Center. Ashland set its school record for scoring in a 145-85 win over the Storm on Feb. 20, 1992. That is also the the seventh-largest margin of victory in program history.
CALDWELL, YEAR 2: Point guard Rodrick Caldwell enters his second and final season with the Eagles after a strong debut last year following a transfer from Division I Bowling Green State. The 6-foot Dayton native was second on the team in scoring last season, averaging 12.7 points per game while shooting 42 percent from the floor and 35 percent from 3-point range. He led the Eagles with 55 3-pointers, and was second on the team with 75 assists.
KOCH YEAR 2, TOO: Junior forward Derek Koch joined Caldwell as a transfer from Bowling Green last season and will look to build on a sophomore campaign in which he averaged 8.7 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. Koch, who stands 6-foot-8, will pair with Noble to make for a formidable front line that helped the Eagles lead the GLIAC in rebounding margin last season.
CAST OF DEPTH: The Eagles also boast a few players who saw playing time last season, continue to develop and get some run. Sophomore point guard Dylan Beaugard played in 23 games and averaged 8.5 minutes. He dished out 36 assists (7.4 per 40 minutes) against just 13 turnovers. Junior guard Colin Nieberding and senior guard Parker Brady both saw time last season, and the Eagles should also get a boost from redshirt-freshman Bryce Drews, who looks to make his debut this season.
HARAWAY IN, HARAWAY OUT: The Eagles lost just one starter off last season's NCAA Tournament squad, and that was guard Ben Haraway, who reached 1,000 points in three seasons with the Eagles. While that loss is significant, Ellenwood hopes to make up for it with the addition of Ben's younger brother, Brandon Haraway, who figures to feature heavily in the rotation. The Norwalk, Ohio native averaged 20.5 points per game as a senior on his way to Division II All-Ohio first team status.
CONLEY JOINS EAGLES: Ellenwood further reenforced the perimeter with the addition of freshman guard Ethan Conley from Englewood, Ohio. Conley was one of the top scorers in the state last season, averaging 27.3 points per game, earning Division IV All-Ohio first team laurels.