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Expect same faces but different look as Air Force basketball takes the floor Tuesday

November 6, 2017 Updated: November 7, 2017 at 8:37 am
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photo - Air Force's Lavelle Scottie shoots as Colorado State's Braden Koelliker defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Mountain West Conference tournament Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Air Force's Lavelle Scottie shoots as Colorado State's Braden Koelliker defends during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Mountain West Conference tournament Thursday, March 9, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) 

From an individual standpoint, there will be no need for get-to-know-you period as Air Force basketball takes the floor on Tuesday night for the first time.

The group that will play in a 7 p.m. exhibition against Colorado Christian at Clune Arena should be well-known to anyone who has followed the team in recent years.

This roster goes 11 deep in players who started games last season. Senior Trevor Lyons has been a lineup staple since his freshman season. Frank Toohey, C.J. Siples and Jacob Van have been regulars for the past two years.

But because of tweaks to the style of play and the expanded roles of some sophomores, the collective could drastically change even if the individuals are familiar.

And change is certainly needed for a program coming of a campaign in which it went 12-21– including 0-12 on the road. The Falcons were picked to finish last in the Mountain West this season.

“I think we can surprise some people and not finish where we’re predicted to,” coach Dave Pilipovich said.

The biggest transformation figures to come from Lavelle Scottie, the sophomore forward who saw most of his action as a reserve center last year. The 6-foot-6 Texas native is likely to replace Hayden Graham in an inside-outside role.

Pilipovich likened Scottie’s projected role to the one played by Emmanuel Omogbo, who averaged 13.6 points and 10.4 rebounds for Colorado State last year. The difference, he said, is that Scottie could be more effective as a perimeter shooter.

“We saw him toward the end of the year start hitting some 3s,” Toohey said of Scottie. “He’s worked his (butt) off to get there.”

At times, Air Force will play Scottie at the No. 3 position, with Dane Norman (6-9) and Toohey (6-7) on the interior. This would be among the tallest, strongest front courts the program has featured in its history.

But height, while obviously important in basketball, hasn’t been Air Force’s problem as much as girth. Bigger teams have often manhandled the Falcons to gain rebounding position. It’s notable that of the eight players on the roster listed at 200 or more pounds, six are freshmen or sophomores.

The body types are slowly changing. The pace of play is too.

Often the lineup will have four players capable of bringing the ball up the floor. This was a change Wyoming implemented last season and it saw its scoring jump from 71.7 points per game in 2015-16 to 77.9 last year.

Pilipovich hopes this will lead to transition baskets, confusion from opponents who will find their man in different roles as they get back to defend and less reliance on the motion of a Princeton offense that was hurt by the shortening of the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds in recent years.

That uptick in tempo appeals to a lineup of experienced guards like Lyons, Siples, Van and Sid Tomes, who broke into the starting lineup last year as a freshman and could emerge as a top player this season.

“The competitiveness is off the charts right now,” Lyons said.

Tuesday’s exhibition will provide the first look at these changes, even as many of the faces remain the same.

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