NORTH ADAMS -- As with any new season, there are a lot of "ifs" surrounding a team. The MCLA men’s basketball team is no exception and coach Jamie Morrison knows it. The end result depends on how those question marks are answered.
The biggest question mark for the Trailblazers is what will Vernon Cross do this year. The senior averaged just 8.4 points per game last season, not what Morrison expected for the heralded player from Colonie, N.Y.
"Vernon’s a Division Two talent. He was a scholarship talent," Morrison said. "He can be the MVP of the league, and I’m not blowing smoke up to him. So yeah, if he comes out and averages eight or nine points a game again like he did last year, that’s going to be a disappointment for us and will probably greatly affect how we do in the standings."
But in Morrison’s transition-oriented offense, conditioning is a major factor, and it was for Cross last season. That is why his exact position hasn’t been determined.
"It really depends on his fitness level," Morrison said. "If he’s in good shape and at the weight we want, then he can play a little bit more on the perimeter, and he’ll be able to defend on the perimeter. If he can’t, and that’s been a big challenge for him is being in condition, then he’ll have to play more of a 4 and a 5. It sort of limits some of the versatility I can use him in."
That will also add scoring pressure on John Jones, Ramon Viches and Paul Maurice, who Morrison raved about at the Blue and Gold Luncheon.
"He can fill it up, he can score," Morrison said of the Snowden International School product. "If he stays here four years, he’ll be easily a 1,000-point scorer.
"We’re lucky to get him. He may start for us as a freshman."
A successful season will boil down to the little things, though, and MCLA found that out the hard way last year. The Trailblazers lost eight games by three points or less, which greatly influenced their 8-19 overall record. Five of those were in to conference opponents, not including a five-point overtime loss to Bridgewater.
If the league is as tight as Morrison thinks it could be this year, letting wins slip away in the final minutes will be have devastating results.
"In those games, there’s a play or two every game where it swings the momentum," Morrison said. "I don’t think we made enough of them last year."
In addition to that, MCLA will need to be better at the line, turn the ball over less and not commit as many fouls.
The Trailblazers were 401st of 405 Division III teams in free-throw shooting last season. They made only 59.6 percent of their attempts (348 of 584). The four worse teams are not in the MASCAC.
Turnovers were only marginally better. Their 479 turnovers in 27 games (17.7 per) ranked them 364th. That many turnovers in a transition offense leaves the defense susceptible to odd-man rushes.
The fouls committed, though, was the worst of the three. MCLA was 402nd in total fouls committed with 604 (23.7 per).
"Our effort wasn’t an issue, but you better be able to execute and better be able to make those plays down the stretch," Morrison said. "We just didn’t do enough of that last year."