The Lawrence University men’s basketball team had the best season in the school’s history last year, advancing to the NCAA Division III Elite Eight before finally losing by one point in overtime to eventual champion UW-Stevens Point. Looking back at that season, you might think you were in for a let-down year, but not with this team. Viking coach John Tharp has his team primed and ready to defend their MWC Crown, and contend in the NCAA Tournament once again. The Vikings return four of five starters from that Elite Eight team, with graduated senior Rob Nenahlo the lone starter gone. Chris MacGillis also played a large roll in last year’s run, but his brother along with others are ready to step in and fill the gaps left behind. The Vikings are ranked number five in the country by Street & Smith and number seven in the country by d3hoops.com. These are the highest pre-season-and highest all-time- rankings in the school’s history. The Vikings will start with Dan Evans at the point. Evans started all 29 games for the Vikings last season. He averaged 7.7 points per game and led the team with 52 assists. Joining him in the backcourt will be senior Jason Hollenbeck. “Holly” (as most everyone refers to him) started his rise to starter late in last season’s tournament run. He put together an amazing game against Stevens Point, and had possibly the game of his life against Division I UW-Milwaukee last week at U.S. Cellular Arena. Hollenbeck went for a game-high 19 points on 5-9 shooting from behind the arc. With the loss of Aaron Sorenson this season, Hollenbeck is the Vikings’ best three-point threat. Joining Hollenbeck as a triple threat is senior Brendan Falls. Falls started 25 of the Vikings 29 games last season, and when he is on he is deadly from behind the arc. Falls averaged 6.4 points per game for the Vikings last season. Joining him in the frontcourt will be Tony Olson. Olson is the Vikings big center who is in for his stellar post defense and rebounding skills. Olson will occasionally be pulled for a faster player if needed in the post, but he started 26 of 29 games for the Vikings last season. Rounding out the Vikings starters is Chris Braier. Braier went off last year averaging a double double with 15 points and 13.4 rebounds per game. He ended ranked in the Top 10 in rebounding in the nation. Braier was named a fourth-team All-American at the end of last season by d3hoops.com, and this season was tagged with a preseason second-team All-American honor. The Vikings have a potent rotation coming off the bench as well. Leading the charge is Kyle MacGillis. MacGillis, whose brother Chris graduated last spring, is the real deal. The best defender on the Vikings squad, he leads with this athletic ability and his reflexes. He almost single handedly led the Vikings back from what looked like crushing defeat to amazing victory over Sul Ross State in the Sweet 16 of last year’s NCAA Tournament. MacGillis will hope to step in as the roll of sixth man, like his brother was last season. The Vikings depth in the post is in part because of two players, Matt Stewart and Ben Klekamp. Both players are similar. They are both listed at 6′ 7″. They both can score inside, but yet are threats from behind the arc as well. Joining these two in the post will be sophomore Matt Osland. Osland played well down the stretch run last season and will be asked to be a physical presence in the post this year. A few more Vikings who didn’t see much playing time last season but will be fighting for more off the bench this season are senior guard Brett Sjoberg, Nate Dineen, Ryan Knox, and Nick Grahovac. The Vikings also have nine freshmen on their roster trying to break into the playing rotation. One such freshman that has looked good early is Andy Hurley out of Kimberly. Hurley played strong in the post against UW-M, and looks like he will be a presence in the paint for LU in the next four years. Two other freshmen that will be pushing for immediate playing time will be Ben Rosenblatt and Tommy Schmidt. Both are guards with excellent skills and will be trying to get playing time off the bench behind Evans. The Vikings have six other freshmen-Ryan Wendel, Greg Haas, Dylan Fogel, George Hogan, and Erik Megow -who will play this year, as well as one transfer junior, Keven Bradley. The Vikings tip their non-conference season off this weekend at the UW-Platteville tip-off tournament. The Vikings play Viterbo in the semi-finals Friday night. The Vikings defeated Viterbo last time in a tough battle, 71-62. The Vikings are 2-0 all-time against the V-Hawks. If the Vikings win, it sets up a very interesting championship game possibility with LU playing the host, UW-Platteville. The Pioneers are ranked 24th nationally, and have their own preseason All-American in guard Brad Reitzner. The Vikings kick off their MWC season with an epic battle at hated rival Ripon on Dec. 4.