By now, it is well established that the Riverside-Brookfield boys’ basketball team loves to run the floor.

Last season, the Bulldogs ran away with their fourth straight Suburban Prairie Conference title, winning the East Division with a record of 7-1 (15-11 overall).

The 2005-06 edition hopes to run-and-gun even faster in pursuit of number five.

“We’re a lot quicker and we’ve got more slashers this year,” said senior Matt Sandrik. “I think we can push the ball faster.”

Much of this depends on how Sandrik can handle a season ripe with personal challenges. The 6-foot-4, 175-pound three-sport standout spent most of last season as a role player behind senior and statistical leaders Alex Devaris, Mike Halusek and Tyler Kos.

“He’s never averaged a lot of points,” said coach Tom McCloskey, “but he has a major impact on the game – defense, rebounding, passing. He’s a very unselfish player.”

This season, McCloskey needs Sandrik to emerge as a consistent and top scorer while handling the shift from forward to point guard.

Based on a productive summer and intense preseason practices, Sandrik is looking like a welcome rarity – a big man who can tear it up in the paint and fly down the court.

“He has good instincts,” said McCloskey. “All the kids respect him.”

Growth is also expected out of sophomore Chris Parrish, who started every game on varsity as a rookie and earned all-conference honors.

And the 6-3, 190-pound guard/forward has only gotten better through an off-season filled with high-level AAU competition and work at such summer camps as the Adidas All-American in Atlanta.

“Chris Parrish has improved tremendously,” observed McCloskey. “Last year, his role wasn’t as significant like it is this year. We’re looking for big things out of him.”

McCloskey is also looking for junior Jon Baldermann, a 6-5, 205-pound center, to carry a significant load after logging minutes off the bench last season.

Other key roster spots include senior guards Mark Gorman (5-10), Seamus Brennan (6-4) and Brian Tyminski (6-1); senior forward Steve Wilhelm (6-2); and such varsity newcomers as center Jake Nash (6-5) and guard Dan Papadatos (6-foot), both standouts on last season’s conference co-champion sophomore team.

“We played a lot of games in the summer and we put a lot of time in,” said McCloskey. “I think this group has a chance to do some great things. Everybody has to realize that we have a lot of good players and that we need to utilize each other.”

McCloskey’s total of 123 victories in nine seasons as head coach is currently second-best in school history.

Season nine ended in heartbreaking fashion. An 82-78 overtime loss to Fenton in the Feb. 25 regular-season finale snapped a 17-game Suburban Prairie win streak. Five days later, Morton eliminated the Bulldogs in the first round of the Lyons Township regional on a three-pointer with two seconds remaining in regulation. RB had led by as many as nine in the fourth quarter.

Fenton, which finished at 6-2 last season in East play, is expected to seriously challenge RB’s chances for a fifth straight title. McCloskey says both Westmont (5-3 last season) and Ridgewood (2-6) have improved quite a bit.

RB opens the season tonight (7:30 p.m.) against Hinsdale South in the Bulldogs’ Bill Vandemerkt Thanksgiving Classic, which picks back up Friday and Saturday.