WATERVILLE, Maine – After returning to its winning ways last year with a record above .500 for the seventh time in eight seasons, the Castleton University men's basketball team heads into the 2017-18 campaign with renewed confidence.
Coming off a 16-9 overall record, including an 11-7 mark within the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) to end up in a tie for second place in the league, the Spartans were selected to finish in a tie for third place in the NAC preseason coaches' poll, announced Tuesday morning by the league office.
Husson was unanimously selected as the favorite to repeat as conference champions, earning all 10 first place votes for 100 points. Colby-Sawyer is second with 79 points, followed by Castleton and Thomas with 66 points apiece.
Lyndon finished in fifth place in the voting with 57 points, just ahead of sixth place Maine-Farmington with 55 points. New England College ended up in seventh place with 45 points, followed by Johnson in eighth place with 39 points, Green Mountain with 27 points for ninth place, and Maine Maritime in 10th place with 16 points.
Castleton welcomes back 10 players from the 2016-17 squad, led by four seniors. Tondi Mushandu led the team last season in field goal percentage at 60.0 percent as he averaged 12.0 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Pavin Parrish started 15 games for the Spartans last year, averaging 7.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.0 steals per game. Tyler Arsenault and Luke Czaplewski will also bring veteran experience to this year's team.
Returning juniors Jordan Nelson and Julian Santos give the Spartans a knowledgeable backcourt, with Nelson averaging 9.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 2.1 steals per game last season and Santos contributing 5.0 points per contest, including four games with 10 or more points. With a year of experience, sophomores Taurian Archie, Casey Belade, Josh Hanson, and Ben Mrowka should be ready to make significant contributions to the Castleton effort.
Head coach Paul Culpo, entering his ninth season at the helm, has brought in nine newcomers as he looks to speed up his team's tempo. In the backcourt, junior Chris O'Brien is joined by freshmen Skyler Boyd, Dylan Ellis, Nathaniel Kingsley, Denis LeCours, Michael Morgan, and Harrison Williams. First-year players Eli Lombardi and Richard Walker will provide depth in the post for the Spartans.
For the fifth straight year, Castleton opens the season against Skidmore, with this year's contest taking place at Glenbrook Gym Wednesday, Nov. 15, starting at 7:30 p.m. The Thoroughbreds finished the 2016-17 season with a 20-8 overall record, including a 14-2 mark within the Liberty League, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Thoroughbreds return four of five starters from last year's team, including D3hoops.com Preseason All-American Edvinas Rupkus, who averaged 20.7 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last season, shooting 56 percent from the field and 88.3 percent from the free throw line.
Castleton holds a slim 13-12 series edge over Skidmore, but the Thoroughbreds have won the last seven meetings in a row. The Spartans last defeated Skidmore on Jan. 3. 2010, a 72-68 victory at Glenbrook Gym. Last season in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., the Thoroughbreds shot 51 percent from the field, including 15-of-32 from behind the three-point line, to defeat the Spartans, 77-61.
Wednesday's game begins a stretch of four games in seven days for the Spartans, as Castleton next heads to Dartmouth, Mass., for the Hampton Inn Tournament hosted by UMass-Dartmouth. Castleton will face Curry College Friday, Nov. 17, at 5:30 p.m., and then either Elms or UMass-Dartmouth Saturday, Nov. 18.