3. Green Bay
4. Youngstown St.
5. Wright St.
7. Northern Kentucky
9. Cleveland St.
All Conference Awards
POY: Alec Peters, Sr., F, Valparaiso
Coach of the Year: Matt Lottich, Valparaiso
Newcomer of the Year: Carson Williams, Northern Kentucky
Freshman of the Year: Carson Williams, Northern Kentucky
Key Returners: Tevonn Walker, Shane Hammink, Jubril Adekoya, Alec Peters
Key Losses: David Skara, Vaishil Fernandez, Keith Carter, Darien Walker, E Victor Nickerson
Key Newcomers: Derrik Smits, Micah Bradford, Jaume Sorolla
Postseason Projection: 14 seed
What do you do without the hometown hero, the star of Valparaiso basketball’s most iconic moment? It feels like the end of an era for the Crusaders as Bryce Drew has moved on to Nashville to take over at Vanderbilt, akin to Michael Scott departing from Dunder-Mifflin. Like in The Office, it remains to be seen if the new boss can step in and effectively take the reins, but like in Scranton, Valpo has some talented players/cast members to work with, starting with near-certain Horizon League POY Alec Peters.
For Valpo, it all starts on the defensive event with a suffocating half-court defense. That may be hampered slightly this year without Vaishil Fernandez, one of the country’s top 3 or so shot-blockers (#1 in rate, actually), but between the height of redshirt freshman center Derrik Smits inside and the perimeter length of Peters, Shane Hammink, and Jubril Adekoya, they’ll still be a gigantic pain in the ass to score against in the halfcourt. Smits is an intriguing player. He’s the son of Indiana Pacers great Rik Smits, the Dunkin’ Dutchman, and though he isn’t the most fluid big body, he has nice touch. And did you notice he’s 7’2? He’ll be backed up by 6’11 Spaniard Jaume Sorolla, an intriguing prospect who played with UIC’s KJ Santos at Sunrise Christian Academy as a high school senior.
Tevonn Walker returns as a stoutly-built guard who can harass opposing ball-handlers, and fellow point guard candidates Max Joseph and Lexus Williams should also be solid defensively. The Crusaders have 3 D1 transfers sitting out this year in the backcourt, so they’ll likely need some help from true freshman Micah Bradford as well. That’s a lot of unproven talent next to Walker (Joseph and Williams both played sparingly last year), but coach Matt Lottich is optimistic about their ability to step into bigger roles.
Offensively, it revolves around the multi-talented Peters. Aside from not being a great passer, Peters is good at basically every single thing offensively: he’s a dead-eye shooter from 3 (hit 89 of them at 44%), a good inside finisher, takes care of the ball, gets on the offensive glass, and converts his many charity stripe opportunities at a sublime 85%. He’s been whispered about in All-America conversations, and with his shooting, size, and defensive pedigree, he could be an outstanding stretch 4 in the NBA as well. His number one priority is getting back to the NCAA Tournament as a senior, though. He’ll be helped by the returns of Walker and Hammink, two solid players who will need to improve their own outside shooting after disappointing years in 2015-16. The aforementioned point guard dilemma also stands out - I think they’ll start big with Walker at point and Adekoya on the floor, but they won’t hit their ceiling unless one of Joseph, Williams, or Bradford solidifies the job. Smits is also key replacing Fernandez on this end, and his offensive rebounding consistently got them second-chance points (follow me on Twitter @2ndChancePoints!) and kickout threes.
It’d be a shame to see Peters return to Valpo (and decline the chance to go pro or grad transfer) without getting an NCAA bid, but it will probably come down to the luckbox conference tourney in March. The best they can do is secure the coveted double bye there, despite that both the 1 and 2 seed lost in the semis last year.
Key Returners: Nick Daniels, Martez Walker, Sherron Dorsey-Walker, Jalen Hayes
Key Losses: Kay Felder, Percy Gibson, Max Hooper
Key Newcomers: Brailen Neely
Postseason Projection: NIT
From one giant loss in the conference (Bryce Drew) to another, as Kay Felder turned down a shot at becoming college basketball’s all-time assist leader (and potentially an NCAA tourney bid) to play alongside LeBron James. We often tease about poor NBA Draft decisions, but I’d say it worked out pretty damn well for Kay, though I would have loved to see him shatter that assist record. Oakland’s powerful point guard was the linchpin of a blistering offensive attack (23rd nationally in adjusted efficiency) under longtime coach Greg Kampe, and re-tooling the offense without Felder (and two-point-shot-allergic Max Hooper) will be a major undertaking.
Replacing Felder will be a spectacle to watch - redshirt juniors Stevie Clark and Nick Daniels are the most likely options, but holy hell did they take different routes to get here. Daniels is a local kid from nearby Westland, Michigan, a fourth-year player in the program who won Horizon Freshman of the year in 2014-15 and started 24 games alongside Felder last year. Clark, however, is a former Top 100 recruit who began his career at Oklahoma State, where he was eventually booted from the team for peeing out of a moving car, and then sued the university and coach Travis Ford, claiming they forced him to take psychotropic drugs. He has since also had 2 separate stops on the JUCO circuit, last at Arkansas Baptist. Seems like a really stable guy!! He is extremely talented, though, and if Kampe gets him on the court, he’ll light it up in the Golden Grizzly offense.
(Editor's Note: Nick Daniels was on the All-Freshman team, NOT the Freshman of the year, in 2014-15)
There’s plenty of other weapons here if Clark doesn’t work out, though, including two former Big 12 wings. Texas transfer Martez Walker and Iowa State transfer Sherron Dorsey-Walker will both be weapons in their second years in the Horizon, each providing a versatile game of both driving and shooting. Sophomore Jaevin Cumberland was also effective in extremely limited minutes, and frosh Chris Palombizio could play a Max Hooper-lite role. Jalen Hayes is extremely useful at the 4 for his ability to clean the defensive glass and quickly find the PG to start the break (Oakland will push on every miss) while also being a strong finisher of dump-off passes. Percy Gibson is a big loss at the center spot, but between sophomores Xavier Hill-Mais and Brad Bechting, Kampe has two different options to fill the void. Bechting is a tall, thin shot-blocker whose absurd foul problems should get better with experience, whereas Hill-Mais is more of a widebody (257 pounds at 6’7) finisher in the paint.
Defensively, the Golden Grizz want to keep you out of the lane and force you to take long jumpers, as those result in long rebounds and chances to run, run, run. Consequently, they don’t pressure much or force many turnovers, meaning that they are very vulnerable to hot shooting days from opponents. On the other hand, the lack of perimeter pressure largely keeps opponents off the foul line.
If Kampe can find a way to screw on Stevie Clark’s deranged head, the Golden Grizz should once again have an elite offensive attack (and still might even if not). That offense should keep Oakland near the top of the Horizon.
3. Green Bay
Key Returners: Khalil Small, Charles Cooper, Turner Botz, Kenneth Lowe
Key Losses: Carrington Love, Jordan Fouse
Key Newcomers: Trevor Anderson
Postseason Projection: NIT/CBI
Let’s dig into the city of Green Bay’s favorite sports team, shall we? Wait - what’s that? There’s a football team there that people might like more? Interesting, I’ve never heard of them. Well anyways, the Phoenix are coming off an NCAA Tournament berth in coach Linc Darner’s first year, as he employed his signature RP-40 style (stands for Relentless Pressure for 40 Minutes - like his own version of Shaka Smart’s Havoc). Carrington Love and Jordan Fouse are two big losses, but plenty of talent returns to carry the standard in Green Bay.
Chief among those weapons are wings Charles Cooper and Khalil Small, two players with complementary games. Cooper is a rim-or-bust attacker, a physical guard who posted the 3rd-highest free throw rate in the Horizon en route to 226 free throw attempts. Small is more of a shooter - he hit 40% of his treys - though he can score effectively inside the arc as well. Love played almost every minute at PG last year, so replacing him next to the two wings will be a major issue. Look for Small to play there a bit, big guard Tevin Findlay to slide in at times, with Bradley transfer Warren Jones and freshman Trevor Anderson (Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball last year) getting some time there as well. Both Jones and Anderson are probably more comfortable scoring, and since Darner’s offense doesn’t necessarily require an elite creator, the by-committee approach should work just fine. Fun note on Anderson: he hit 55% of his threes (!!) as a senior.
The committee point guards will be important: for a team that played as fast as Green Bay did, they were excellent at taking care of the ball - part of that is they were so experienced in the backcourt, along with them often shooting before they even had a chance to turn the ball over (they had the shortest average offensive possessions in the country).
A big man rotation of Kenneth Lowe, Turner Botz, Jamar Hurdle, and David Jesperson should give Darner the defensive mobility and shooting he desires from his bigs. Lowe and Hurdle in particular are defensive menaces all over the court, giving Darner the option to play both when he really wants to fly around. Botz and Jesperson (younger brother of UNI graduate Paul) are thin shooters who can stretch the floor, and they should see plenty of open shots in the transition-based offense. Kerem Kanter, younger brother of Oklahoma City’s Enes Kanter, is around as a big body as well, though his game isn’t a great match with RP40. Even so, his skill inside makes him a useful weapon at times.
This Phoenix team may lack the star power of last year’s squad, but with a deep roster of scoring guards and athletic big guys, they should be able to execute RP40 to a high level. That may not mean a conference title, but they’ll remain in the Horizon’s upper tier.
4. Wright State
Key Returners: Grant Benzinger, Mark Alstork, Mark Hughes
Key Losses: JT Yoho, Michael Karena, Joe Thomasson, Biggie Minnis
Key Newcomers: Everett Winchester, Ryan Custer; Loudon Love-Volbrecht
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/V16
So we’ll get this out of the way - firing Billy Donlon was a pretty baffling move. So much so that when I started previewing the Raiders, I didn’t even think of looking for a coaching switch - in his last four years, he had gone 10-6, 10-6, 3-13, and then 13-5 with a tourney final appearance. That’s not fireable at Wright State. With all that said...Scott Nagy is a great hire! He’s been extremely successful building up the South Dakota State program, and while he enters with a roster built to play a drastically different style, he should be able to keep them respectable. That’s also aided by the fact that the Horizon is a decidedly shallow league.
Coach Nagy doesn’t want to sprint up and down the court like Oakland or Green Bay, but he’s not the “make you earn every bucket” slow-down guy like Donlon was. Instead, he focuses on a very efficient offense, one that is reliant on the three-ball with a bevy of good shooters and one that takes great care of the ball. Nagy knows that any shot is better than a turnover. With a roster previously geared towards grinding, how do they fit in to that approach?
Under Donlon, Wright State was obsessive over its transition defense, and as a result, they completely ignored the offensive glass (348th rate in the country). That will change somewhat, as Nagy’s Jackrabbit squads were decent at it in the Summit (especially last year). This team doesn’t have a ton of big bangers, so Parker Ernsthausen and freshmen Ryan Custer and Loudon Love will need to make an impact right away. Love was going to play at SDSU, but instead followed Nagy to Dayton, so I expect him to play early on.
The returning roster doesn’t have a lot of shot creation, so getting easy points might be a struggle. They’ll need to space the floor and use ball movement and shot selection to score, but that shouldn’t be a giant issue as that was how Donlon’s slower offenses were built. As it stands, either Justin Mitchell or Mark Alstork is probably the team’s best creator, but that’s not saying much. Between Alstork, Grant Benzinger, and Mark Hughes, though, there’s a decent amount of shooting to spread the floor with, and the addition of freshman Everett Winchester as a big wing who can attack off the bounce could be impactful, particularly in the gaps provided by the new offense.
It makes more sense to focus on the Raiders’ defense, as that’s where their bread was buttered under Donlon. They actually forced a lot of turnovers while constantly in harass mode, but under the new regime, the scheme will be far more conservative, focused on packing the paint and locking down the defensive glass. Again, this team doesn’t boast a ton of rebounders, but Alstork was actually very good in his role as an undersized 4 or big wing last year. That, plus Nagy stressing it in practice, plus being in better position due to playing a more compact scheme, should allow this team to stay strong on the defensive boards.
Though Nagy doesn’t seek turnovers, he would do well to unleash Mitchell on opposing ball-handlers. His 5.0% steal rate would be a major pain in the ass to deal with, and could help this possibly-offensively-challenged team to get some easy transition buckets.
Due to the new style and the coaching change, Wright State may have a slight transition process. However, by league play, I think he’ll have them moving in the right direction, and since the bottom 6 of the Horizon looks pretty shaky this year, the Raiders will stay competitive.
5. Youngstown St.
Key Returners: Cameron Morse, Francisco Santiago, Matt Donlan, Brett Frantz
Key Losses: Jordan Andrews, Bobby Hain
Key Newcomers: Braun Hartfield
Postseason Projection: None
I know I’m falling into a trap here, but I can’t help it. Youngstown State is the classic “over-valued because of offense” team for us at 3MW, a squad with appealing offensive weapons but no true means to build a respectable defense. Placing them this high, is probably a huge mistake...but dammit, I’m sinking-or-swimming with Cameron Morse, Francisco Santiago, and Matt Donlan.
Morse is the star, a multi-talented scorer who can shoot from deep (42%) and get to the line at will (167 FTs attempted, 82% shooter). He takes advantage of the plethora of transition opportunities he gets in this fast-paced offense, scoring efficiently and even distributing at a surprising rate. It helps when you can kick out to a 46% gunner like Donlan, a skinny 6’7 swingman who honestly doesn’t bring much else. Santiago is a solid floor leader whose turnover issues should continue to alleviate with experience, though his shooting accuracy sits somewhere around Stormtrooper-level bad (26% from deep).
Coach Jerry Slocum will hope newcomer guards Braun Hartfield and Jeremiah Ferguson can provide a little more perimeter defense, and both are athletic enough to help in that department. Hartfield played at Ohio powerhouse Garfield Heights as a senior, and he will challenge returner Brett Frantz for playing time. Frantz was a bad shooter (27% from 3), and when that’s your role on an offensive team, you get replaced.
Playing the aforementioned Donlan at the 4 is where this team’s defensive problems start, unfortunately. They get absolutely beasted on the inside and on the glass (also due to their eagerness to fast-break), and despite Jorden Kaufman’s massive 7’0 frame, he doesn’t really bother shooters at the rim. The Penguins play a soft zone in the half-court due to their lack of interest in defense/lack of ability to match up with almost any team man-to-man, which also hinders rebounding. Finally, opponents get a ton of transition opportunities of their own, cutting through this sieve of a defense for easy basket after easy basket.
If you’re placing faith in the Penguins to show real improvement, you have to hope they simply outscore teams, though even marginal improvement on defense would go a long way. I’m banking on a little of both - good lord, there’s no way this team can be the worst defensive squad in the Horizon by 5 full points again, can it? Based on Slocum’s history, they actually might be, but I’ll continue looking through my rose-tinted glasses and see the talents of Morse, Donlan, and Santiago moving this team up the standings somewhat.
Key Returners: Dikembe Dixson, Taj Odiase, Lance Whitaker, Dominique Matthews, Michael Kolawole
Key Losses: Paris Burns, Najeal Young, Gabe Snider
Key Newcomers: KJ Santos, Tarkus Ferguson, Godwin Boahen, Jordan Blount
Postseason Projection: None
Yet another transition-reliant team, the Flames might actually be moving up a little bit this year after a disastrous 3-15 finish in conference last year. New coach Steve McClain immediately ratcheted up the tempo, overseeing a jump from 173rd to 37th in that measure. The actual on the court returns from that approach were…iffy, to say the least, but a developing group of talented athletes has Flame nation looking forward to 2016-17 improvement.
Let’s start by getting the bad - nay, downright ugly - out of the way. UIC was dead last in the entire country in effective field goal percentage, throwing up some hideous shooting splits while no one on the team made more than 39 threes. Naturally, as a young team, they struggled mightily with turnovers as well. That combination of horrendous shooting and shaky ball control left the offense at a dismal 343rd nationally in efficiency. Okay, let’s not mention this team’s pitiful shooting again.
Now the good news: rising sophomore Dikembe Dixson showed immense potential in his first season, showing off his athleticism in the open floor and exhibiting impressive versatility. He should have a valuable running mate back as Dominique Matthews returns from injury after a promising first 8 games last year. Up front, prized recruit KJ Santos will be a difference-maker right away. Hailing from nearby Geneva, Illinois (by way of high school powerhouse Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas), Santos brings physicality and skill to the forward spots after turning down Oklahoma, Iowa, and Wichita State, among others.
Despite how bad this team was, they really could be a very good defensive team. Tai Odiase is one of the country’s best shot-blockers, an eraser in the lane who should be able anchor the Flames in the paint. The other reason to be optimistic is the caliber of athlete this team has. Dixson, Matthews, point guard Lance Whitaker, Santos, freshman Tarkus Ferguson, Michael Kolawole, and Hassan Thomas is an outstanding group of athletes, and if McClain can get them to channel those abilities into playing some perimeter defense, he could unleash a pressure attack to complement the Flames’ transition offense. That’s a gigantic if, though, and I would bet against it happening (at least this year, while they’re still super young).
The first step is improving the utterly embarrassing offense. Shooting even mildly average percentages would be enough to boost the offense, and learning to take better care of the ball should come with experience. They won’t win the league, but expect them to have a game or two where they look unbeatable mixed in with some complete duds.
7. Northern Kentucky
Key Returners: Lavone Holland, Drew McDonald, Cole Murray, Jordan Garnett
Key Losses: Jalen Billups, Tyler White
Key Newcomers: Carson Williams, Jeff Garrett, Blake Spellman
Postseason Projection: None
If you read “Northern Kentucky” and thought, “man, that doesn’t sound very exciting” - you’re right. The Norse are pretty similar to their region - not much to see here, other than some a nice view of nature every once in awhile (the NKU equivalent is Cole Murray cashing three pointers at a 45% rate).
That’s probably not fair, honestly - they haven’t been a D1 program for very long, but they’re already fairly competitive. Dave Bezold guided them through their transition, but he was unceremoniously fired despite a .500 A-Sun finish in 2 of the program’s first 3 years at the highest level. John Brannen was hired to oversee the move to the Horizon, and his introduction did nothing to stir optimism. The Norse were 240th on offense and 244th on defense, 255th overall in KenPom - the epitome of below average in just about everything. The two things they did noticeably well were shoot the three (mostly thanks to Murray and junior guard Lavone Holland) and defensive rebound.
Holland is probably the team’s best PG, but he’s also the best wing attacker, meaning senior Dean Danos will play some there and let Holland slide off the ball. Danos turned the ball over too much, but he did hit 47% of his limited trey attempts, which plays right into the team’s planned offensive scheme. The Norse want 4 shooters on the floor to spread around promising sophomore big man Drew McDonald, already one of the country’s best rebounders and a developing inside scorer. Perhaps the most exciting player on this team, though, is freshman Carson Williams, a 247sports 3-star recruit and a shockingly good athlete for his stocky build. He was a man among boys in his Kentucky high school days, but he’s good enough that some of his skills will translate, namely his strength while driving and finishing. He’s a near-certainty on the all-freshman team and probably a lock to start (his only challenger is Jordan Garnett, a returner with a bland statistical profile to match his team).
Defensively, the Norse play straight up man-to-man and take away the three (which in turn helps their already-stout defensive rebounding by preventing long rebounds). Their lack of athletes leads to too many fouls, though, as they struggle to stay in front of the many dynamic guards in the league. Brannen has done a decent job stabilizing the program with his conservative approach, but with the lack of athletes on the roster, the upside is pretty limited unless McDonald, Holland, and Williams all play at a higher level than expected.
Key Returners: Josh McFolley, Chris Jenkins, Jaleel Hogan
Key Losses: Paris Bass, Carlton Brundidge, Anton Wilson
Key Newcomers: Ja’Christian Biles, Corey Allen, Isaiah Jones
Postseason Projection: None
In any league that didn’t contain Kay Felder, Paris Bass might have been the most important player to his team. Bass keyed the Titans transition-oriented, attacking style, using his 6’8 size and strong ball-handling abilities to cause matchup nightmares on the wing and in the open floor. After firing coach Ray McCallum and with Bass moving on to (not) bigger and (not) better things (an Italian club that was going to sign him just decided not to, oops), new coach Bacari Alexander will have a ton of work to do here. Fun fact on Alexander - he’s won some sort of “best dressed assistant coach in the country” award 4 times. Cool!
More relevant history on Alexander - he’s worked under John Beilein the last 6 years, learning the ways of the Force from one of my favorite coaches in college hoops. Beilein’s system is pretty unique offensively and defensively, with the offense focused on spacing the floor with shooters (allowing drivers to have large lanes) and the defense being a zone-heavy approach, particularly favoring a 1-3-1. It’s hard to tell if the Titans have the shooting to truly execute that style, but sophomore PG Josh McFolley and big wing Chris Jenkins will surely ratchet up their volume from deep. Freshman wing Corey Allen shot 48% from deep in high school, and he should be a major impact newcomer in Alexander’s system as well. JUCO PG DeShawndre Black (and maybe senior Jarod Williams) gives another option as lead guard, which would also help McFolley play off the ball a bit.
Jenkins will create a ton of mismatches with his combination of size, speed, and ability to handle the ball, particularly if Alexander plays small with him at the 4. Sophomores Gerald Blackshear and Aaron Foster-Smith were effective in small roles last year and will provide some versatility off the bench behind him, but their fit in the new system is a bit worrisome. Foster-Smith took some threes last year, but he didn’t make many (29%). If he can actually prove to be a weapon from deep, he’ll play solid minutes, but that inefficient rate won’t cut it. Blackshear will also play some 5, but like starter Jaleel Hogan, he’s undersized.
That lack of size inside is a nice segue - the fatal flaw for this squad will be interior defense. Even when using the zone, they’ll be vulnerable inside without much height or rim protection. Hogan will play the 5 a bit, and he had the strange “honor” of having a higher offensive rebounding rate than defensive, which is extremely rare. Junior college transfer Isaiah Jones actually offers a big option at 6’11, and he was a supremely effective shot-blocker at JUCO power Mt. San Jacinto College. The rest of his game is extremely raw, though.
Without Bass and while adjusting to a completely different system, the Titans will be taking on a lot of changes this year, and the personnel doesn’t totally match the scheme. Alexander may allow the team to be more transition-reliant in his first year simply due to the roster (I think a good coach certainly would), but we’ll see if he’s stubborn with the Beilein system.
9. Cleveland St.
Key Returners: Demonte Flannigan, Rob Edwards, Andre Yates, Kenny Carpenter, Jibri Blount
Key Losses: Vinny Zollo
Key Newcomers: Gavin Peppers, Bobby Word
Postseason Projection: None
If you loved the idea of Wright State’s slow-down style of play, but also got turned on by the disastrously inefficient offense of UIC, then look no further!! Cleveland State brought the anti-fun combo of the 340th-ranked offense and the 327th-fastest tempo to the table last year, and - hey, wake up! I know it sounds boring, but...ok fine, yes, the Vikings were incredibly boring to watch last year.
On the bright side, they bring almost everyone back from last year’s team, and they should have a lot more continuity, both year-over-year and in-season. Only 2 guys played in every game, and only 4 more played in at least 27 of their 30 D1 games. Players going in and out of the lineup constantly made it difficult to develop a consistent rotation and defined roles, which had a lot to do with the horrendous offense (along with pitiful shooting and poor ball control).
Despite a promising freshman season, Rob Edwards shot under 40% inside the arc and averaged 3.4 turnovers per game, which is especially terrible considering the snail’s pace at which the Vikings played. Point guard Andre Yates and reserve forward Jibri Blount were also problematic in this area, and Yates really needs to be better as a fifth year senior. Junior college transfer Gavin Peppers can offer some potential stability in the backcourt after averaging 19ppg and 4apg for Laramie County, but he may also have some growing pains in a new (read: terrible) offense.
(Editor's note: Andre Yates left the Cleveland St. program. Expect Peppers to take over at PG, with freshman Kasheem Thomas also getting time there)
Demonte Flannigan was actually a relatively effective post scorer for the Vikings, but he was often swarmed with help defenders because the team’s shooting is so abysmal. Edwards hit 44 threes at a 37% clip, but no one else made more than 31, and opponents just didn’t respect the perimeter for that reason. Gary Waters-coached teams traditionally are much better shooters, and with more experience and confidence for Edwards, Yates, Kenny Carpenter, and especially Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word should be huge. Word was the definition of stand-still shooter in Tulsa, and sticking him in the corner around Flannigan, Peppers, Edwards, etc. will give the offense a boost.
Defensively, they actually want to make you uncomfortable by speeding you up with harassing defense in the half-court. They won’t press full-court, but the athleticism of Edwards, Blount, and offensively-challenged guard Terrell Hales can make for a miserable night for opponents. All of that in-your-shorts defense leads to a lot of fouls, though, and Horizon opponents enjoyed a parade to the free throw line. Overall, Cleveland State actually defends pretty similarly to Wright State.
Without much size inside, the Vikings will struggle on the glass, and when you couple that with continued offensive ineptitude, it’s hard to see them making much of a jump. The path to respectability involves Edwards making a large sophomore leap and Word and Peppers opening up the floor with shooting, but I’m bearish on the likelihood of those things happening.
Key Returners: Lol absolutely none
Key Losses: Every single relevant rotation player
Key Newcomers: Jeremiah Bell, Cameron Harvey, Zac Saddler, Bryce Barnes, Bryce Nze, Max Curran
Postseason Projection: None
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a team return less talent from the previous season than this Milwaukee Panthers team. Graduation was always going to hit hard, but when Rob Jeter was fired, a massive transfer exodus occurred as well, and it’s nearly a sure bet that they’ll finish 351st in KenPom’s “minutes continuity” statistic. Hiring LaVall Jordan looks like a smart move in the long run, but it’s going to take a while to accumulate enough talent in the Brew City to compete.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before - Jordan is a former John Beilein assistant! Like Detroit’s Alexander, if Jordan’s background in coaching is any indication, this Panthers squad is going to chuck a zillion threes. Jordan worked under Beilein and Todd Lickliter, two coaches whose schemes revolved around ball movement, spacing, and above all, flooding the court with shooters and firing away. Who will be taking those threes is the biggest question (my guess - anyone and everyone, percentage be damned). The surest bets to start are probably JUCO PG Jeremiah Bell and returning bench wing Cody Wichmann, both of whom fit the bill as marksmen. Cam Harvey will see a lot of time as well, despite not being much of an impact player through his first 3 years of eligibility at Stetson - though he did hit 37% of his treys last year.
Wichmann will also likely be the first to man the top of the 1-3-1, though 6’7 freshman Bryce Nze is a promising option with his length. He’s probably a little too slow of foot to be useful there right away, though. There aren’t a ton of athletes to work with, so a conservative scheme is probably best, but the belly of this defense is going to be soft like the Marshmallow Man.
Rebounding (on both ends) is going to be a hilarious proposition for this team, both with scheme and with personnel - the big men options are 6’9 twins Brett and Alex Prahl (both barely saw the floor their first two years), Nze, little-used Scotty Tyler, and undersized freshman Zac Saddler (more of a wing). Yeesh, I got even more depressed just typing that. Nze is the only one who might give a lick of rim protection.
I like the Jordan hire (mainly because I like watching Beilein teams play), but there’s just a gigantic dearth of talent here. It will likely be a bumpy road for the Panthers this year.