It has been a while since the West Texas A&M men’s basketball program has shared a spot amongst the nation’s elite teams. That seems to be changing this season, as the Buffs have been steadily climbing the National Association of Basketball Coaches Poll each week since they cracked the Top 25 on Nov. 29.
Heading into 2017 with 15 wins — the most at any level of NCAA play — the Buffs currently sit at No. 11 in the most recent NABC Coaches Poll. They debuted at No. 24 a little over a month ago, marking their first appearance in the Top 25 since the 2012-13 season. Their current ranking is the highest that they have been since the 1997-98 campaign.
Those were different times, however. It was before the Tom Brown era of basketball began at West Texas A&M. Brown — now in his third season in Canyon, Texas since leaving a Winona State program that appeared in consecutive NCAA tournaments — has seen steady improvement each year with the Buffs. He would help orchestrate a four-win improvement from his first season to his second, posting the team's first 20-plus-win season since 2010-11.
Both seasons unfortunately found themselves ending the same way. The Buffs suffered close first round exits in the Lone Star Conference Tournament.
This season, Brown is armed with a junior and senior laden roster that primarily consists of players that he has personally grown with over the past two and a half seasons. It is a deep roster, with many interchangeable parts, as nine different Buffs have appeared in the starting rotation this season.
Junior guard David Chavlovich has been the team’s most prolific scorer for two seasons now. Coming off a highly-decorated 2015-16 campaign — one which saw him capture LSC Player of the Year honors as a sophomore— he entered this season as a Preseason All-American via several outlets. He hasn’t disappointed this season, leading the Buffs in points (20.4 per game), assists (4.6 per game) and steals (1.6 per game) while chipping in 4.6 rebounds a contest.
“Experience,” Brown told West Texas A&M Athletics on Chavlovich’s year to year improvement. “Experience is a big factor. David Chavlovich was a great player as a freshman and won Freshman of the Year, but he’s become a lot better player in our system. I give him all the credit because he’s really worked at it.”
Chavlovich is a scoring machine, having scored 20 or more points in ten of the Buffs seventeen games this season. His 20.4 points per game leads the LSC, and he has been heating up of late in particular. Heading into the two-week Division II break, Chavlovich recorded his first double-double of the season, scoring 20 points and dishing out 11 assists. Coming out of the break, he scored a career-high 36 points and moved himself into third place all-time on the Buffs scoring ladder, a spot he would jump over again one game later.
Chavlovich isn’t alone on the court, however. Seven other Buffs are averaging more than seven points a contest, while six players register at least four rebounds per game. While they may not be as electric of scorers as Chavlovich, they are explosive in their own rights, can step up to the challenge and help carry the load on any given night.
“It’s a team effort,” Brown told West Texas A&M Athletics. “One through fourteen with our guys, it’s really a team effort. It’s fun, but it’s a challenge because there’s only one basketball and sometimes everyone wants to shoot it. We stress moving the basketball around. Giving us that depth in our practices, our practices are very competitive. We like that a lot. It helps our guys get better. Our freshmen are getting better because of our upper class men. Our upper class men now know what we expect out of them and that really helps the younger guys.”
Their depth has triggered one of the greatest starts in the program’s history. They have now climbed 13 spots in the NABC Poll and likely aim to climb even higher. The most impressive part of their run is how they have gotten there. The Buffs early schedule saw them defeat three nationally ranked teams in preparation for LSC play.
With no out of conference games remaining on the board, the Buffs began the heart of their LSC schedule Thursday night. A showdown in Wichita Falls against a very tough Midwestern State — a team that Brown has yet to beat on their home court and whom hosted the South Central Regional last season— would see the Mustangs hold West Texas A&M to their lowest scoring performance of the season, defeating the Buffs 84-78. Chavlovich dropped 23 more points, however, moving him up the West Texas A&M ladder once again, now tied for second all-time in scoring.
Next up is Cameron, the team that ended the Buffs season early in the first round of last season’s LSC tournament.
“There is some revenge factor there,” Brown told WT Athletics. “They knocked us out. We needed to win that game to get into the tournament. Cameron has been playing very well.”
It will be no easy challenge climbing through the ranks of the LSC as the conference boasts three Top 12 teams in the country with Angelo State at No. 5, Tarleton State at No. 9 and the Buffs at No. 11. At 15-2, behind one of their best starts ever and one of the most electrifying scorers in all of DII, it will certainly be exciting to watch what the Buffs can do.