Joel DePagter likes his team. It’s not that he simply likes how they play or the amount of talent they have. He genuinely likes his team, and that fact should make the upcoming season a lot of fun.

The Lawrence University men’s basketball coach and his Vikings open their season Friday when they host Wisconsin Lutheran College, and Lawrence then travels to No. 4 UW-Stevens Point on Saturday. The games this weekend are part of what DePagter hopes is an enjoyable next four months.

“It’s important that we enjoy the process. You can’t just go from point A to the conference tournament without enjoying getting there,” DePagter said. “I love these guys. It makes every day fun to be around them. They know they can do it, and I believe in this team. Now we just need to go and do what we do.”

Lawrence, which has its sights set on getting back to the four-team Midwest Conference Tournament, is built around its eight seniors, led by two-time All-Midwest Conference guard Chris Siebert. Siebert led the Vikings in scoring last season at 15.1 points per game and was tops on the squad at 3.9 assists per contest.

“Chris can put the team on his back every once in a while because of his talent,” said DePagter, who was quick to add, “we’re a better team when Chris is one of the guys and we’re not trying to do everything through him.”

In addition to Siebert, Lawrence has experienced and talented seniors in point guard Brian Gryszkiewicz, shooters Tyler Mazur and Max Burgess and big men Davis DeWolfe and Chase Nelson.

“Most importantly, a strength of ours has to be the experience with the number of guys and the minutes they’ve played,” DePagter said. “Being able to have all those guys back  is crucial. Expectations are high for these guys. They’ve been in a lot of situations, but it doesn’t change that we have to get better in some areas.”

Add to the senior class returning junior forward Ryan DePouw, who started every game last year and averaged 10.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest. The Vikings also bring back junior swingman Andrew Borresen and three sophomores, Jamie Nikitas, Trace Sonnleitner and Troy Miller, who all played big roles as rookies.

“My job, and it might be my hardest job, is to find out how to use our weapons the right way. That is something that will take some time in these nonconference games,” DePagter said.

“We need everybody to step up, not just the guys who are starting. There will be games where we play 12, 13, 14 guys, and that’s going to be tough to manage. Our strength is our numbers. We will bring some guys off the bench that could be guys who could easily start.”

Lawrence came close to reaching the tournament last season when the Vikings tied for fourth place and then lost out on a tiebreaker. The league is tough from top to bottom again this season, and St. Norbert College is definitely the favorite to repeat as champions.

“Being honest, (St. Norbert is) far and way the favorite. After that, I think there are four or five teams that could take second place. At the same time, those four or five teams could take sixth or seventh place,” DePagter said.

“We have a team, that if we do some things, we are going to be a tough team to beat. We learned the hard way last year in some ways. One game in November can cost you your season. The guys have been incredibly focused because of what happened last year, and the way we ended last season.”

Two straight for Barthelmess

Lawrence quarterback Luke Barthelmess earned his third Midwest Conference Offensive Player of the Week honor in the wake of the Vikings’ victory this past Saturday.

Barthelmess threw the game-winning touchdown pass on the game’s final play to give Lawrence a 23-20 victory over Knox  in the Banta Bowl. With three seconds left, Barthelmess took the snap, scrambled to his right and then completed a 17-yard touchdown pass to his younger brother, Issac, who made a beautiful diving catch near the pylon.

It was the 59th touchdown pass of his career, which ties Barthelmess with All-American Jim Petran for the Lawrence record. On the day, Barthelmess was 30 of 47 for 312 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 12 times for 81 yards and a touchdown. On the final drive, Barthelmess was 5-for-8 passing for 69 yards.

This is the third time this season and the second consecutive week that Barthelmess has been named a conference player of the week. Barthelmess earned the honor last week against Grinnell College and picked up the honor in the second week of the season for his performance against Lake Forest College.

Editor’s Note: Inside LU Athletics is a notes package written by Lawrence University Director of Athletic Media Relations Joe Vanden Acker. It will feature teams and individual players, recap weekly awards or highlights and take a look at what’s ahead for the Vikings.