Portland men's basketball preview: Pilots target 20 wins, Gonzaga's reign
By Jim Beseda, The Oregonian
November 13, 2009, 1:51PM
Heading into the 2009-10 season, Portland senior forward Robin Smeulders and the other Pilots have high expectations.
Players tend to think that way, but this time Smeulders and his teammates have company.
As Smeulders sees it, if Portland was good enough to win 19 games and place third in the West Coast Conference last season, and the Pilots return everybody but one part-time reserve, anything short of 20 wins in coach Eric Reveno's fourth season would be disappointing.
Those assessing the Pilots from the outside tend to agree, bringing them up as a team that could scare nine-time West Coast Conference defending champion Gonzaga. The scarier they make it, the more chance they have of landing UP's first NCAA Tournament berth since 1996.
"I think it's pretty realistic," said Smeulders, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward from Braunschweig, Germany. "We have five seniors and five juniors, and most of us have been playing together for three years.
"We really understand what Coach Rev wants us to do, and now we're just working on the little things. Last year, we were still concentrating on the big picture, but now we're fine-tuning everything, so anything's possible."
The Pilots open the season tonight against Eastern Washington in Cheney, Wash., and there are indications that the program's recent stability is helping. Reveno not only has the same staff he had when he took the Pilots job in spring 2006, but he has been working with the same core group of players for more than two seasons.
"It's still a work in progress," said Reveno, the 2009 WCC Coach of the Year after the Pilots went 19-3 overall, 9-5 in conference, and landed a berth in the inaugural CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. "I'm trying to be the best coach for this team. I'm trying to adjust to this team."
Reveno said the potential improvement starts on defense.
"That's not me just being thickheaded about defense," Reveno said. "It's not as if we're the best defense in the country and I'm still just harping on it. Our defense held us back last season."
Last season, the Pilots ranked third in the WCC in scoring (70.3) and were fifth in points allowed (67.3). They also were fourth in rebounding margin (+2.2), fifth in turnover margin (-0.5), and fifth in opponent field-goal shooting percentage (43.9).
The Pilots return all five starters and their top seven scorers, including all-WCC first team guards T.J. Campbell and Nik Raivio. They were picked second in the conference behind Gonzaga in the WCC coaches' preseason poll, and are ranked 15th in the current CollegeInsider.com mid-major top 25.
"It's nice to know that people are starting to notice us," said Raivio, who averaged 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds to lead the Pilots in both categories last season. "Like coach said last year, we don't want to be a one-year wonder type thing.
"We're trying to build a program here, and hopefully we can improve on what we did last year. It won't be easy, but it's something that's definitely possible."
Key nonconference matchups include a Nov. 21 game against Oregon at the Chiles Center, a Nov. 26 date with UCLA at the 76 Classic in Anaheim, Calif., and a Dec. 2 clash with Portland State at the Chiles Center.
"We don't know how good we can be," Reveno said. "We don't know if we're capable of winning the WCC championship, but our job is to do our best to put ourselves in position to try and see if we are."
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