Things are looking up for the Judson University men's basketball team.
The Eagles, who went 6-24 last year (5-15 in conference play), have already notched a third of that win total through their first five games this season.
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And Judson has done so with a roster lacking in collegiate experience.
"We are extremely young," said second-year Judson coach Joel Cotton, whose team is 2-3 in the early going. "We are playing a lot of freshmen. We are a more talented group this year, but we've very young and we're playing a very challenging schedule."
Senior Frankie Cleope (5-10, G, Bartlett) and sophomore Turner Schwarz (6-5, F, Burleson, Texas) are the only two players who saw significant playing time last season.
"They both were starters at the end of the year and both are captains this year," said Cotton.
Sophomores Alex Graupmann (6-8, C, Bettendorf, Iowa) and Luke Pierce (6-0, G, Thorntown, Ind.) also played as freshmen.
Key newcomers to the group include freshman Andrew Eck (6-3, G, Belvidere High School) who joins the team after four years in the Army. He has freshman eligibility. Eck is the team's leading scorer after 5 games.
"Andrew is doing a nice job for us," said Cotton.
Freshman Scott Nelson (6-8, C, Sycamore) is starting in the post, while twins Alex (6-4, F) and Adam Montsma (6-5, F, Darien, Wis.) will contribute as well, along with freshman point guard Keenan Wood (6-0, G, Franklin, Ind.) and freshman power forward Drew Makiewicz (6-6, F, Vandalla, Ohio).
"I like our depth," said Cotton. "We're playing a lot of people and I feel like we have a lot of different guys who can contribute."
Through those first 5 games, Judson is averaging close to 80 points a contest.
"I think we will be able to put points on the board," said Cotton. "We can score, but our defense needs to come along a little bit if we are going to be successful. We have to find out what our identity is on defense. In the half court we're defending against teams where our youth shows up. It's a matter of understanding how difficult it is to play defense at the college level and taking teams away from what they are trying to do."
Cotton likes the overall direction the program is headed in.
"We are getting ready so we can play our best basketball in January and February," he said. "We only lose 1 senior from this group. I think we can have some success this year and in the future. I'm excited about this group. It's helped build a foundation for the program going forward."
Cotton noted Judson's schedule doesn't get any easier. After playing Huntington, Ind. (which could be ranked soon in the national NAIA poll) and IU East (an NAIA tournament qualifier last year), the Eagles host national No. 6 Robert Morris Wednesday in their Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference opener. National No. 2 Indiana Wesleyan comes to Elgin next week. The CCAC also includes national No. 1 Cardinal Stritch and No. 11 Saint Xavier.
"In the early going here we are going to find out who we are very quickly," said Cotton. "We will see if we can contend with these high-level teams and we'll find out what we need to work on."
Eck is leading the team in scoring at 12.0 points per game. He's also averaging 4.2 rebounds. Adam Montsma is averaging 9.6 points, while Schwarz is averaging 8.4 points and a team-best 5.0 rebounds. Wood is averaging 8.0 points. Judson has seven players averaging 6.0 or more points a contest.