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Plenty of changes coming for Air Force men's basketball

October 6, 2015 Updated: October 6, 2015 at 9:41 pm
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photo - Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich instructs his team during the second half of a Mountain West Conference tournament NCAA college basketball game against Fresno State Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in Las Vegas. Fresno State defeated Air Force 61-59. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Air Force head coach Dave Pilipovich instructs his team during the second half of a Mountain West Conference tournament NCAA college basketball game against Fresno State Wednesday, March 12, 2014, in Las Vegas. Fresno State defeated Air Force 61-59. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken) 

A new season has brought a whole lot of new for Air Force men's basketball.

There's new leadership on the team, some new wrinkles to the offense and every day in coach Dave Pilipovich's mind a new lineup combination emerges.

This is what happens when a team replaces six seniors and brings back a team that has a combined 62 starts on the roster.

"You call five out and you're calling five new guys," said Pilipovich, whose team began practice Friday. "It's been fun."

Despite all the new that's involved, most of the players expected to contribute early on will actually be returners.

Provided everyone is healthy, the Falcons are likely to go with a lineup of sophomore point guard Trevor Lyons, junior shooting guard Zach Kocur, junior forward Hayden Graham, sophomore power forward Ryan Manning and a combination at center of either junior Joe Tuss or Zach Moer, the team's lone senior.

Lyons, Kocur and Graham - all backups this time a year ago - are the only sure things in a lineup that is sure to see some tweaks in coming weeks and months.

Off the bench, Piliopvich likes the improvement he's seen in a crop of sophomores that include CJ Siples, Dezmond James, Jacob Van, Frank Toohey and junior Kyle Broekhuis.

"They've separated themselves," Pilipovich said. "I think that's just a difference of being a freshman or a sophomore, whether you're a preppie or not. It's just a difference of that extra year and growing and maturing and learning what you need to do. So really happy with those young guys from last year."

In terms of freshmen, Pilipovich said no one has emerged from the pack yet. He's encouraged that no one has dropped out of the pack, but he hasn't seen enough from anyone to think they'll emerge as key players for a tough nonconference slate that includes trips to Ohio State and Colorado and home games against New Mexico State and Robert Morris.

Dane Norman, a 6-foot-8 forward who can handle the ball, drew mention from the team's upperclassmen, as did 6-foot-2 guard Pervis Louder, but there isn't a ready-for-the-Mountain-West product waiting in that class just yet.

"They're looking to us now to bring them along, to speed them up and get them up with the tempo of everybody else," Graham said. "The best thing we can do, honestly, is just feed them confidence. They'll be fine."

Pilipovich said the framework of the offense will remain the same and maintain many principles of a Princeton offense, but there will be more ball-screen action, more dribble drives and a quicker pace.

"Sometimes you feel like teams in your league have caught up to you and how you play, so you feel like they're sitting on things you do because you're predictable," he said. "So we're going to try to be unpredictable and change a few things."

Kocur, who shot 47.5 percent from 3-point range last season, credits assistants Kurt Kanaskie and Andy Moore with bringing new thoughts to the offense now that both are in their second year.

"The two new coaches obviously didn't run the Princeton at their previous schools," Kocur said. "They're already starting to implement some new things, which I think is helping us a lot."

So, even the guys who aren't technically new anymore are bringing new thoughts. It's that kind of preseason for Air Force basketball.

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