HEISER: Unbeaten York College men's basketball team enjoying history-making start
- The York College men's basketball team is off to a 13-0 start this season.
- The Spartans are ranked No. 8 in NCAA Division III in the latest d3hoops.com poll.
- York is 6-0 in the Capital Athletic Conference and has a two-game lead in the conference race.
Folks, we’re getting into some rarefied air here.
In case you hadn’t noticed, the York College men’s basketball team is on a run of historic proportions.
For the first time in the 49-year history of the program, the Spartans have started a season at 13-0.
They’re one of just four unbeaten teams in all of NCAA Division III men’s hoops. That covers more than 400 schools.
They’ve soared to No. 8 in the latest d3hoops.com national poll after not getting a single vote in the preseason or Week 1 polls. That's the highest ranking for the program in more than a decade.
And they already hold a two-game lead in the Capital Athletic Conference with a 6-0 league record.
That’s some pretty heady stuff, especially for a program that just two years ago was in the throes of a four-year skid that featured a combined record of 27-74.
That’s a winning percentage of less than 27 percent.
The 2017-18 Spartans own a winning percentage of 100.
That, my friends, is an improvement that borders on the unbelievable.
It begs the question: How did that kind of remarkable turnaround occur?
Formula for success: Well, there are a few factors at work.
►One, the school’s administration stuck with head coach Matt Hunter through four very lean years at the start of his tenure.
Most college coaches who start out 27-74 would be on a very hot seat, or more likely, unemployed.
In his fifth season, however, York’s patience with Hunter paid off, when a Spartans team packed with Hunter’s own recruits improved to 17-10 in 2016-17.
►Two, the team is loaded with experience.
All five starters return from the 2016-17 team, plus there was the addition of Dalton Myers, who missed most of last season with an injury after leading the Spartans in scoring as a junior in 2015-16.
►Third, the Spartans appear to be a team of destiny.
York already owns two overtime victories, including the Spartans’ signature win of the season over then-No. 2 Middlebury in the Washington & Lee Holiday Tournament in Lexington, Virginia. York has also captured four other victories by four points or less.
Add it all together, and it comes up to 13-0.
Almost no one can honestly say they saw that coming.
Still, here we are.
Ingredients there for continued success: That begs yet another question: Can York keep this going?
If you’re talking about an unbeaten season, the answer is almost certainly no. A perfect campaign over a long college basketball season is nearly unheard of, especially in a sport when one cold shooting night can spell doom.
If you’re talking about continued success, the answer is almost certainly yes. The Spartans can certainly keep winning at a high rate. They appear to have all the ingredients for sustained excellence, which could lead to a CAC title and an NCAA Division III Tournament bid.
We’ve already talked about their coaching, experience and ability to win close games.
They also boast a high-powered, balanced, entertaining offense that averages 87.5 points per game, led by Blayde Reich (19.5 points per game), Myers (18.5 ppg), Matt Scamuffo (13.2 ppg), Central York High School graduate Jared Wagner (11.6) and Jason Bady (9.8).
Reich, Myers and Scamuffo are seniors, Bady is a junior and Wagner is a 6-foot, 1-inch do-everything sophomore who also averages 4.6 rebounds, while leading the team in assists (4.0 per game) and steals (2.2) per game.
The Spartans also have decent size for a D-III program, with Myers measuring 6-7, while Reich comes in at 6-5. Reich leads the team in rebounding at 8.8 per game, followed by the 6-foot Bady (6.1) and Myers (5.8).
Coming up: York will put its unbeaten record on the line at 8 Wednesday night, Jan. 10, at home against a Penn State Harrisburg team that enters at 5-8.
A much bigger challenge awaits at 3 p.m. Saturday, when defending CAC champion Christopher Newport University (10-3) comes to York's Wolf Gym at the Grumbacher Center. The Captains were the preseason pick by the CAC coaches to win the league title, edging out York.
Since CNU joined the CAC in 2013-14, the Spartans have yet to defeat the Captains, losing eight games by an average margin of 17.1 points, including 26- and 11-point losses last season.
Given that history, there’s little doubt that Saturday’s contest will pose another major challenge for York.
The Spartans, however, have made a habit out of making history this season.
Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.