Men look to appear in third straight championship

Neal Hogden, Head sports editor

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The UW Oshkosh men’s basketball team will defend its 2019 NCAA Division III National Championship with a roster full of returning contributors.

A magical season capped by a 96-82 victory against Swarthmore College (Pa.) last season in the title game was one of many historical and emotional moments.

Following a 76-56 blowout loss to UW-Stevens Point, the Titans rattled off six straight tournament victories to achieve the program’s first national title in its history.

A host of Titans hold up the 2019 National Championship trophy while head coach Matt Lewis looks into the crowd. The team will look to make its third straight national title game this season. Four seniors will lead the charge for Lewis who in his first season without the interim tag will try to go 2-2 on championships.

The program capped the season with more wins than ever before in school history. This feat was accomplished after longtime head coach Pat Juckem left the program for Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) and Juckem’s assistant, Matt Lewis, stepped in as the interim head coach.

It didn’t take long for the interim tag to be forgotten as the team went on a 21-game winning streak, setting another school record.

Among the host of award winners for the Titans last year were now-graduate Ben Boots who earned an All-American First Team honor, senior Jack Flynn with a fourth-team selection and first-year head coach Matt Lewis, earned Coach of the Year honors by D3hoops.com.

Boots was the second Titan to earn a first-team selection, following former Titan Tim Dworak who achieved the award for his 2003 season.

Coming off a national championship, the team has raised expectations but Lewis said that won’t change the team’s mindset.

“It’s similar to last year,” Lewis said. “We don’t shy away from the ultimate goal. The vision has always been to win national championships. We don’t sit around and just talk about winning national championships. We’re just trying to get better every single day.”

Looking to follow up the championship run for the Titans are two key seniors in the front-court. Flynn and Adam Fravert return after providing 35.7% of the team’s scores last season.

The duo will need to take on an even bigger role in the offense as the program graduated two vital seniors from last season.

Flynn, selected the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four, shot nearly 60% from the field and 75% from the free-throw line last season. The 6 foot, 8 inch center averaged 8.2 rebounds per game and 1.3 blocks per game during the 2018-19 campaign.

Flynn said it’ll take a team effort to replace the seniors from last season.

“I think it’s just going to take us coming together,” Flynn said. “Obviously Ben and Brett were a big part of the team and we have some really good guys that can fill that role.”

Fravert pairs highlight plays and high-flying dunks with consistent scoring and rebounding, giving him a chance to repeat as an All-WIAC selection again this season.

Now Titan alumni Brett Wittchow and Boots averaged 14 and 15.7 points last season. During the playoff push, Boots and Wittchow combined to shoot 43.2% from beyond the arc with Wittchow recording a 50% clip.

Potentially replacing the sharpshooters will be senior guards Jake Zeitler and David Vlotho. Zeitler is a 42.6% career three-point shooter, and Vlotho shot the three at a 32.5% clip over his three seasons as a Titan.

Zeitler said most of filling the holes left by Boots and Wittchow will be achieved by communicating.
“We just have got to keep working and building together,” Zeitler said. “We’ve got to build chemistry within the offense and communicate on defense. We’re less experienced this year without Ben and Brett so we’ve gotta communicate better offensively and defensively.”

Lewis said he is not committed to anyone filling the positions yet.

“It’s too early to tell,” Lewis said. “We’re two weeks in. The nice thing is we have several guys who are returning that have a lot of experience. We have some new guys who are talented and a lot of guys just got better during the summer.”

The incoming freshmen garnered praise from Lewis for their work effort.

“It’s a talented group,” Lewis said. “Each of them play their tails off in practice. That’s one of the biggest things during your first week of college practice is how quickly can you adjust to the speed of the game. Each one of them is figuring that out pretty quickly.”

UWO will begin the season matching up with the same team they defeated in the Final Four round of last season’s tournament, Augustana College (Ill.).

The nonconference schedule will also include trips to Atlanta, Georgia, to face Emory University and LaGrange College and Michigan to take on Alma College and Calvin University.

Home conference games to keep an eye on are against UW-Stevens Point on Jan. 22 and UW-Whitewater on Feb. 19.