Oct. 27: at Olivet Nazarene, 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 3: Cornerstone, 8 p.m.
Nov. 4: Indiana Tech, 4 p.m.
Nov. 6: at Ball State, 7 p.m. (exhibition)
Nov. 7: Rochester, 7 p.m.
Nov. 10: vs. Bellevue, at IU-East, 6 p.m.
Nov. 11: vs. TBD, at IU-East, 1 p.m.
Nov. 14: at Rochester, 7 p.m.
Nov. 18: Ohio Christian, 3 p.m.
Nov. 21: at Spring Arbor, 7 p.m.
Nov. 28: Marian, 7 p.m.
Dec. 2: Goshen, 3 p.m.
Dec. 5: at Taylor, 7 p.m.
Dec. 15: at Southeastern, 8 p.m.
Dec. 16: at Warner, 5 p.m.
Dec. 29: at UM-Dearborn, 1 p.m.
Dec. 30: at Aquinas, 3 p.m.
Jan. 3: at Grace, 8 p.m.
Jan. 6: at Mount Vernon Nazarene, 3 p.m.
Jan. 9: Huntington, 7 p.m.
Jan. 13: at Indiana Wesleyan, 3 p.m.
Jan. 16: Spring Arbor, 7 p.m.
Jan. 20: Bethel, 3 p.m.
Jan. 23: at Marian, 7 p.m.
Jan. 27: Mount Vernon Nazarene, 3 p.m.
Jan. 30: Taylor, 7 p.m.
Feb. 3: at Goshen, 3 p.m.
Feb. 6: at Huntington, 7 p.m.
Feb. 10: Indiana Wesleyan, 3 p.m.
Feb. 14: Grace, 8 p.m.
Feb. 17: at Bethel, 3 p.m.
The Saint Francis men were picked to win the 2017-18 Crossroads League championship and are ranked No. 3 in the preseason NAIA Division II poll, which means very little to coach Chad LaCross.
“It has a lot to do with our seniors,” LaCross said of the Crossroads coaches picking the Cougars in finish in first place. “I don't think it means a whole lot. We have been in this position before, and we have been picked No. 1. We were picked No. 1 last year and didn't get it done at the end of the year. That's great that we are picked that high at this time, but the ultimate goal is to finish No. 1 (in the nation) at the end of the season. That's what we were striving for to just get better every single day and improve.”
The Cougars were picked to win the Crossroads a year ago, gained the No. 1 ranking in NAIA Division II but then lost four straight in the middle of the season. Saint Francis (23-11, 10-7 CL) was able to gain some momentum back to qualify for the NAIA D-II postseason but fell in the second round of the tournament.
Saint Francis returns enough experience and talent from last year and has transfer Derek Hinen eligible, after he sat out last year after coming over from Crossroads rival Huntington, to make LaCross confident in the Cougars this year.
“I like the group because they bring a lot of energy every single day in practice, and they are a close-knit group,” LaCross said. “It is something that we are going to be able to get up and apply a little more pressure than in the past. We are going to get up and down the floor as much as possible, but it is also a group where we have to keep (senior forward) Bryce Lienhoop on the floor as much as possible. He is a big key to our success, and he does such a great job of scoring the basketball, but also distributing it and rebounding the basketball.
“We feel like we have a number of different pieces, but we will play a little different than we have in the past because last year, I felt like we were one of the bigger teams in the NAIA, but now we are not as much but we are a little quicker.”
Lienhoop is back after averaging 12.4 points, second-best on the team, and a team-leading 8 rebounds in 2016-17.
Hinen averaged 17.1 points and 3.4 rebounds in 2015-16 for the Foresters but had to wait a year to make his Saint Francis debut under Crossroads League rules. After playing for Huntington for three years, the Columbia City product will look to help offset the loss of Kyle Sovine and Kegan Comer to graduation and Perry Poindexter, who has been lost from the team after recently running into legal issues.
“He understands the ups and downs of the season,” LaCross said of Hinen. “He is a veteran. He definitely wants to be a leader and wants to fill a void from some of those guys who graduated. He is so versatile and can do so many different things. He is not just a point guard, he can get in the post and probably has some of the best post moves and footwork of anybody on our team. We are going to utilize him in many different ways.”
Also returning are junior guard Chandler White (12.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2 assists), junior forward Michael Loogan (9.2 points), senior guard Evan Henry (8.6 points), and sophomore guard Connor Lautzenheiser (6.2 points).
The schedule won't do the Cougars any favors with eight games against teams ranked in the top five and 13 games against teams that played in the national tournament last year.
“There are not going to be too many nights off, and we are going to have to bring it for sure,” LaCross said. “I have heard comments from our guys about how excited they are about that; they would rather be tested. It does help with our focus.”