Green Bay’s 2017/2018 season came to an end Saturday afternoon with an 87-72 loss in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Tournament in Detroit to the eventual tournament champions, Wright State.
It was a rebuilding year for the Phoenix after having to replace eight players – six seniors due to graduation as well as two starters to transfer – with only three scholarship players returning from last year’s team that finished 18-14 and finished third in the Horizon League.
Green Bay was predicted to finish 6th in the conference’s annual preseason poll and ended up finishing not far off from that expectation in 7th place with a 7-11 conference record.
However, the Phoenix overall record of 13-20 marks just the 5th time in the school’s 37 years of Division I basketball that it has lost 20 games and the first time since 2003. Green Bay also ranks above 300 in the RPI for the first time in school history and will finish above 200 in the RPI for the first time since 2003.
This season ranked as the 5th worst in the program’s D1 history according to Sports-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System.
With all that said, next season seems promising. Green Bay loses just two seniors – one of which was this season’s best player – but returns several capable players. This is an important off-season for the program to get back on track. Here are five big questions heading into the off-season:
1) Roster Turnover?
There is an increasing transfer epidemic in college basketball and the Phoenix have not been immune losing 3-star point guard Trevor Anderson – who started 20 games for Green Bay as a freshman last season – to Wisconsin as a preferred walk-on as well as forward Kerem Kanter who is tearing it up as a graduate transfer at Xavier this season.
Those two transfers, and more so the timing of the transfers, blew a huge hole in Green Bay’s plans for this season. Add in the dismissal of guard Avery Brown from the team this summer due to off the court issues and Paul Turner’s inability to qualify academically and you had a roster that basically went through a complete overhaul in the span of one summer. Turner was a 3-star JUCO guard who committed to the Phoenix in the fall of 2016 but was ruled academically ineligible last summer creating yet another late open scholarship to fill.
So will everyone from this year’s team be back next season? It’s too early to tell but if so the Phoenix have a solid nucleus of upperclassmen to build around including Sandy Cohen, Kameron Hankerson, and Cody Schwartz as well as several players who will be expected to make a big jump after a full season of off-season workouts.
2) Two Open Scholarships
It’s been a disappointingly quiet recruiting cycle for Green Bay this year. For the first time in recent memory the Phoenix did not sign any prospects during the early recruiting period and still have two open scholarships remaining.
One player that they did land could be a familiar name to some Phoenix fans – 6’2” guard Jay’Quan McCloud. Currently a JUCO star at Highland Community College, McCloud played 18 games for UW-Milwaukee during the 2015/2016 season. He’s averaging 15.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game this season at Highland.
McCloud, a top 100 JUCO recruit, verbally committed to Green Bay in December.
So assuming there are no other departures that still leaves two open scholarships to work with. The number one priority should be a big man that can come in and immediately make an impact defensively and on the glass. Green Bay was one of the worst rebounding teams in the conference this season.
One player that the Phoenix have offered a scholarship to is 6’8” JUCO forward Eli Abaev of Eastern Florida State College. The Deerfield Beach, Florida native is long but lanky weighing only 200 lbs but leads his team in rebounding at 9.8 per game. He is also an efficient scorer averaging 9.1 points per game on 55.2% shooting.
In addition to Green Bay he holds scholarship offers from Washington State, Canisius, Stony Brook, Nicholls State, and Texas-Rio Grande Valley.
Green Bay has also offered a scholarship to 6’6” JUCO forward Wali Parks (15.8 points, 5.8 rebounds), 6’6” JUCO guard Rashawn Fredericks (17.0 points, 10.6 rebounds), and 6’1” JUCO guard Antonio Williams (14.8 points, 4.8 assists), though Fredericks has been receiving high major interest as of late.
Other class of 2018 big men that the Phoenix have been linked to include 6’9” Mick Sullivan (Aurora, IL), 6’10” Isa Maguire (Chicago, IL), and 6’9” Barlow Alleruzzo (Chicago, IL).
Recruits can verbally commit at any time but are not allowed to officially sign with a school until the signing period opens on Wednesday, April 11.
3) Replacing Khalil Small
What a career Khalil Small ended up having at Green Bay.
Small finished 13th on the program’s all-time scoring list with 1,335 career points, an impressive feat considering he scored just 43 total points during his freshman season in 2014/2015.
Without question he was Green Bay’s leader this season as a senior. He led the team in scoring (18.2), rebounding (6.7), assists (3.3), and minutes (34.2) per game this season and will leave behind a massive hole to fill.
He was named first team All-Horizon League this season along with being named to the All-Defensive Team for the second season in a row.
So how will the Phoenix go about replacing him? It won’t be easy.
Incoming combo guard Jay’Quan McCloud will certainly help on the offensive side of the ball. He is a proven scorer and is likely to play significant minutes right away next season.
But the rest will have to be picked up by getting more internal contributions from returning players. Hankerson had a breakout game in the conference tournament opener against Detroit Mercy, Green Bay will need more games like that next season from him.
PJ Pipes had an up and down freshman season but showed flashes of potential and likely will be the starting point guard again next season after starting 26 of a possible 33 games this season.
A starting lineup of PJ Pipes, Kameron Hankerson, Sandy Cohen, Cody Schwartz, and Manny Patterson certainly would be able to provide some offensive firepower. Can they dig in on the other end defensively?
4) Resch or Kress?
The biggest off the court dilemma the program faces – at this stage anyway – is where games will be played next season. Green Bay’s contract with the Resch Center expired after the season, though extension talks are ongoing.
Scott Venci noted in the Green Bay Press-Gazette last month that “all indications are the team will play at the Resch next season.” But should they?
This year the team’s attendance was down for the fourth straight season and has reached its lowest point in 33 years. A move to a more intimate venue could provide a better home court advantage, but there are pluses and minuses to both sides of the argument.
I’ll have my take later this offseason but it will be an interesting decision for new Green Bay athletic director Charles Guthrie to make.
5) Non-conference schedule
One of the big reasons for the dramatic decrease in attendance this season – down 16% from last year – was the dreadful home non-conference schedule. Green Bay played three home games against non-Division I opponents as well as low major opponents Florida A&M and Stetson as part of the Hoops in the Heartland tournament.
The marquee games were against Eastern Illinois and Bowling Green.
It’s fairly obvious that the days of Wisconsin, Marquette, or Virginia coming to Green Bay are over. It’s also likely that Valparaiso’s exit and the Horizon League’s rushed decision to replace them with IUPUI played a part in the shoddy schedule, but multiple games against non-Division I opponents should be a non-starter.
Most fans don’t have a problem going to watch Eastern Illinois or Bowling Green – teams they’ve heard of. But regular season games against Ripon, Rockford, and UW-Parkside don’t do much to move the program forward.
The Horizon League did Green Bay absolutely no favors with the home conference schedule either with only one home game after January 27th when most casual fans in Wisconsin are following college basketball more closely after football season. The conference also scheduled the potential largest attendance game of the season – the rivalry game with Milwaukee – on a Monday night during winter break.
We already know one opponent on Green Bay’s home non-conference schedule – Indiana State – in the return leg of a home and home that started this past season. Hopefully there will be several more solid mid-major games on the home schedule to be announced later this summer.
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