2013 Washington University Basketball Playoff Primer: Men’s Basketball

| News Editor

Junior Chris Klimek looks for an open teammate against the University of Chicago on Feb. 23. Klimek is averaging 15.6 points per game on the season.

Key players

Alan Aboona, No. 10, junior guard, First Team all-conference

Point guard Aboona has taken arguably the largest leap of any Bears’ player over the past year, transforming from a solid complementary player into a poised team leader. Aboona’s confidence is evident through his daring passes and catch-and-shoot three-pointers launched without hesitation.

Aboona’s fearlessness sometimes leads to questionable decisions, but the Bears can accept momentary lapses when they accompany a vastly improved all-around game. Aboona has raised both his sophomore field goal and three-point accuracy by over five percent, to 45.8 percent and to 40.8 percent, respectively, in his junior year. He leads the team with 4.6 assists and 2.5 made-three-pointers-per-game and is second in points (12.9) and steals (1.3).

On any given day, Aboona can erupt, as proven by his 35-point, 10-three-pointer performance on Jan. 11 at Emory University.

Chris Klimek, No. 33, junior forward, First Team all-conference

The brawny Klimek carves out space for himself in the post, leading the Bears in scoring at 15.6 points-per-game and grabbing 5.8 rebounds, third-best on the squad. Klimek is a headache to contain when he’s feeling a rhythm, and his facility down low provides crucial spacing for the Bears’ outside shooters.

However, he sometimes struggles to find that rhythm when he gets into foul trouble. For Klimek to make his presence felt, he must remain on the floor for consistent stretches. The Bears lose a key facet of their offense without him.

Ben Hoener, No. 14, senior guard, all-conference honorable mention

After starting all 25 games as a sophomore, Hoener returned to the bench for 10 of 26 games as a junior and all 25 this year. But don’t mistake the role change with a demotion—Hoener is a natural sixth man. His quickness and one-on-one game might be unmatched on the Bears’ roster.

Hoener, averaging 9.4 points in 21.1 minutes-per-game, has scored in double figures eight of his last nine games, including a 25-point effort on Feb. 17 against Brandeis. He is also efficient, shooting 50.3 percent from the field, 44.1 percent on threes and 78.3 percent on free throws.

Hoener nearly carried the Bears to victory in the second round of last year’s tournament with 14 points in the second half of a 72-68 loss to North Central College. The Bears are hoping his scoring bursts can get them over the top this time around.

OTHER KEY PLAYERS

While junior guard Tim Cooney, senior center Rob Burnett and sophomore forward Matt Palucki (Second Team All-Conference) are not primary offensive options like the three players listed above, these three starters are defensive stalwarts for a team that has held its opponents to just 40.7 percent shooting this season. Cooney is the perimeter stopper—he did his best work of the season on Feb. 10 against the University of Rochester’s John DiBartolomeo, who shot 5-16 despite being one of the top scorers in Division III.

Burnett’s 6-foot-7-inch length makes him a force on both ends of the floor, and Palucki has been the unsung hero of the season. Though his contributions often go unnoticed, Palucki is the team’s leading rebounder at 8.2 per game, and his versatility, including deft passing and a solid midrange jumper, has allowed head coach Mark Edwards to use a three big-man starting lineup of him, Burnett and Klimek.

THIS WEEKEND

Wash. U. hosts Spalding University of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference on Saturday at 7 p.m. Spalding, located in Louisville, Ky., finished its regular season with a 20-7 overall record and 15-1 conference record. Spalding is riding a 10-game winning streak into its first round matchup with the Bears, although the Golden Eagles’ conference is decidedly weaker than the University Athletic Association.

Spalding’s leading scorer is senior guard Dewhon McAfee, who averages 20.5 points-per-game. Cooney will likely draw the assignment of neutralizing McAfee. The Bears should enjoy a major edge on the boards—Spalding’s leading rebounder, senior forward Jametrius Brasher, collects fewer per game than each of Wash. U’s top three rebounders.

KEYS TO SUCCESS

1. Crash the boards

Wash. U.’s biggest advantage has been its dominance in rebounding, thanks primarily to Palucki and Burnett, who have pulled down 15.4 combined per-game. The Bears have outrebounded their opponents by an average of 12 per game. Strong rebounding can mitigate poor shooting performances or even off days defensively, leading to a high differential in possessions between the Bears and opponents.

2. Make free throws

Woeful conversion rates on uncontested shot attempts nearly sunk the Bears’ postseason hopes early in conference play. In a five-game stretch to open its UAA schedule, Wash. U. shot just 51.3 percent from the free throw line, leading to losses in three of those games. The team has rediscovered its stroke for the most part, eclipsing 73 percent in six of nine contests since, but the Bears made only 17 of 27 in a Feb. 15 loss to New York University. Missed free throws are an easy and frustrating way to give away games, and the Bears have less margin for error against strong postseason competition.

3. Bring their “A” game

Klimek admitted that the Bears have a tendency to play down to what they perceive as inferior competition, so they must come out for each tournament game with a focused attitude. When the Bears are executing Edwards’ system at full precision, as in their 72-53 win over then-No. 4 Rochester on Feb. 10, they are a fantastic team to watch. If the Bears continue to play stiff defense and control the boards, they may prove to opponents why they were ranked No. 5 earlier in the season.

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