Player development and veteran leadership have been staples of the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks' success the past two seasons. After spending the first three years of the Keith Richard era at the bottom of the Sun Belt standings, the Warhawks have gone from basement dwellers to back-to-back second-place finishes.
Now, however, Richard will need his few upperclassmen to step up more than ever as the Warhawks take the court next season with a new look.
Gone are Majok Deng and Justin Roberson, the dynamic duo that led ULM to a 15-5 conference record last season. The two combined for 32.9 points per game last season or a whopping 45 percent of the Warhawks' total points.
While the loss of Deng and Roberson will no doubt be a setback for the Warhawks, the void that has been created through their departure leaves the opportunity for a new face to step up this season. Here is a look at the most likely duo to fill the massive void they've left behind.
Nick Coppola, senior guard
Coppola is the only one of the Warhawks' top five scorers from last season who is returning. Coppola will be asked to shoulder more of the scoring load this season after serving as the primary ball handler and distributor the past three years. He already holds the school record for career assists, but look for him to take more shots this season.
Coppola was the Warhawks' iron man last season as he played eight complete games and sat more than five minutes just twice during Sun Belt play. His experience, composure, and high basketball IQ make him the obvious candidate to step up as a leader on this team. The question of who will join Coppola in the starting backcourt remains undecided, but fellow senior Marcus Washington appears to be the front-runner at the moment.
Travis Munnings, sophomore forward
Munnings is the only other returning rotation player from last year's team. He will assume Deng's role as a scoring forward next season. Munnings shoots a slightly higher percentage (50.3 percent) from the field than Deng, but only averaged 5.6 shots per game last season.
Munnings' best performance last season came in a near upset of Penn State on the road. He contributed 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 38 minutes as the Warhawks came up on the short end of a 54-50 loss in State College. Munnings saw his minutes and production drop significantly during Sun Belt play, scoring in double-figures just once.
Richard has a tall task ahead of him in replacing almost his entire rotation from last season. He will have a solid senior leader running the offense in Coppola, and a promising underclassman in Munnings to build around. Outside of those two players, it is unknown where the Warhawks' offensive production will come from this season. There will definitely be opportunities for someone who hasn't held the spotlight much during their college career to step up in a major way this season.