Men’s basketball not focused on preseason Big Sky predictions

Mike McGough

With the men’s basketball season starting up in November, several publications—including Blue Ribbon Yearbook, Athlon Sports and ESPN—have predicted Sacramento State to finish top 3 in the Big Sky Conference.

Making their mid-October picks, Blue Ribbon predicted the Hornets will finish first in the conference, ESPN predicted a second-place finish and Athlon projected the team to finish third.

Sac State coach Brian Katz made it clear that preseason predictions like these should be taken with a grain of salt.

“As always, you know that’s just speculation,” Katz said. “It’s nice that people seem to think we’re going to be good. I think what it shows more than anything is our potential.”

These predictions do not change the team’s approach or goals, according to Katz.

“We always have the same goals,” Katz said. “One, get better at everything we do every day, and two, to win the next game. And really we don’t think much beyond that.”

The Hornets are coming off a 10-10 season—the first non-losing season since 2004-05, when the team earned an 8-6 conference record. The team has improved its conference record every year with Katz as coach since his first season in 2008-09, when the team went 1-15 against Big Sky opponents. A powerful offense will be one key factor in Sac State’s pursuit of success.

“I think we’re going to be able to score better than any team we’ve had here,” Katz said. “We shoot the ball pretty well, and we have a variety of guys that can score. I think the potential for that, for being a team that has a lot of firepower and a lot of different options could develop.”

Katz said the team’s strengths and opportunity to succeed comes largely from all five starters from last season who will return this year. Katz described his players as a “close-knit” group, a factor he feels is instrumental in the team’s success.

Two of these close-knit starters, senior guards Mikh McKinney and Dylan Garrity, are resuming their roles as team captains.

Garrity explained the advantage of being able to return all of the team’s top players.

“We’re going to be one of the more experienced teams in the league, so that’s obviously going to help our case,” Garrity said. “We’ve been through the tough times already that most teams haven’t been through, so we’re going to be ready to go.”

McKinney described what he felt to be the team’s biggest strength.

“I think our biggest strength is our camaraderie, the chemistry that we all have on the court together,” McKinney said. “We really play well together, and that’s just something that you can’t teach, it’s just something that builds over time.”

In addition to their team picks, the three publications—as well as Sporting News and Lindy’s Sports, who also ranked Sac State in the top five—each named McKinney as a preseason first team all-conference player.

Lindy’s Sports also named him “Best Play Maker” in the conference.

“It’s an honor to be noticed, but at the same time there’s still a lot of work that we have to do,” McKinney said. “Especially the individual accolades don’t really mean much to me. I just want to do whatever I can to help this team win.”

ESPN also named Garrity on its all-conference first team, and Lindy’s Sports listed him on its second team. Garrity and McKinney were centerpieces to the Hornets last season, particularly on offense.

Garrity’s three point percentage of .472 in 2013-14 set a school record in Sac State’s Division I era, dating back to 1991.

McKinney finished the year with 498 points—the second highest total in the Division I era, behind Charlo Davis’ 505-point effort in the 1991-92 season.

Senior forward Alex Tiffin, who started 29 of 30 games last season, laid out the team’s main goal for this season.

“I think as a team, definitely we want to win the Big Sky Championship,” Tiffin said.

“We know we’ve got a good team this year, and I think ever since last year, that’s been our goal.”

Garrity believes that this goal is within reach.

“I think we have every piece of the puzzle this year,” Garrity said. “I feel like we have a lot of talent this year, and we have a lot of experience this year, and we have a real good shot to do it this year I believe.”

If Sac State can finish first in the conference, the team will have the honor of hosting the 2015 Big Sky Tournament at home.

Last season, the team won eight of its last nine conference matchups before losing to North Dakota 79-76 in March at the Big Sky Tournament Quarterfinals in Ogden, Utah.

The season will not be without obstacles. Katz described the Big Sky as a challenging conference, and cited difficult travel and weather on roads trip as sources of some adversity.

But Katz and his team are optimistic for the 2014-15 season.

“As long as we keep getting better and doing what we have to do in practice, working hard, the sky’s the limit for this team,” McKinney said.

The Hornets open their season with a home exhibition game Nov. 4 against Holy Names.