Phoenix Preview

Five things to watch in Friday’s exhibition vs St. Norbert

Green Bay’s college basketball season unofficially tips off Friday night at the Resch Center when the team plays its lone exhibition game of the year against crosstown foe St. Norbert College.

Usually exhibitions are not exactly must-see action. But with question marks and unknowns up and down the roster, Friday night’s game will be the first opportunity many Phoenix fans will have to see the team take the court.

Here are a few of the many things to watch Friday night:

Freshman collegiate debut

Green Bay’s three-man 2021 recruiting class will likely be foundational building blocks for the program’s total rebuild. But before thinking about the long term, they will likely be tasked with playing prominent roles right away this season.

All three players ranked in the top ten of the state of Wisconsin’s impressive 2021 recruiting class, and while an exhibition game against Division III competition isn’t exactly a measuring stick game, it will be interesting to watch how they perform in their collegiate debut.

Fans were able to tell pretty early-on last season that a few of last year’s freshmen weren’t going to be contributing at the Division I level anytime soon, if ever. We likely will not have to worry about that this season.

Kamari McGee, the 6’0” point guard from Racine, will likely play meaningful minutes right off the bat thanks to his defensive prowess along with his ability as a ballhandler. He could potentially challenge for the starting point guard spot as the season progresses. Brayden Dailey, a 6’7” wing from Cuba City, brings some much-needed length to the roster and possesses athleticism attacking the basket and the ability to knock down shots from the outside. That versatility will likely earn him minutes and an opportunity to be a consistent part of the Green Bay rotation this season. Cade Meyer, a 6’8” forward from Monroe, is the prototypical stretch four needed for Will Ryan’s swing offense. He can play inside and out, shoot from distance, finish at the rim, and hit mid-range jumpers. His stylistic fit and ready-made Division I talent plus the Phoenix relative lack of big men should mean Meyer plays plenty of minutes as a true freshman.

A true big man difference maker?

Among the plethora of newcomers on this year’s roster – over half of the roster is new this season – is 6’9” big man Tutu Majok. There’s no question that Green Bay lacked a true interior presence last season, particularly on the defensive end. If Majok can be a rim protecting paint disrupter, it would go a long way towards the Phoenix being a better defensive team this season after ranking 324th in defensive efficiency last year according to KenPom.com.

Just as important, Majok was a rebounding machine at the JUCO level at Bossier Parish CC last season collecting 10.4 rebounds per game, ranking in the top ten at the JUCO level in rebounds per game and breaking a 36-year program record in the process. The Phoenix ranked 10th in the 12 team Horizon League in rebounding margin last season at -3.2.

Offensively, Majok scored 10.5 points per game at Bossier Parish on 53.8% shooting from the floor, including going 8-26 from behind the arc, which could be fun.

Again, an exhibition against the local Division III team is by no means a measuring stick game but it will be exciting to see a glimpse of him in game action to see what the Phoenix might have.

Impact returners

Plenty has been made of all the newcomers on Green Bay’s roster this season, but the Phoenix do bring back a few important pieces from a season ago including Manny Ansong, Lucas Stieber, Japannah Kellogg, and Ryan Claflin – all of which started at least 7 games last season.

Ansong, the team’s leading returning scorer, really came on strong at the end of last season averaging 15.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game during the team’s final 7 games of the season, reaching double figures in scoring in 6 of those 7 games despite being the third or fourth scoring option last season.

A more consistent outside shot would make Ansong an even bigger offensive threat but even still, he has all-conference potential with his explosive athleticism and tireless work ethic on both ends of the floor.

Stieber, the team’ floor general a season ago, returns after being named to the Horizon League’s All-Freshman Team after contributing 3.8 points, 4.0 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. His role will likely be to do the dirty work again this season – in addition to finishing 7th in the conference in assists per game, he also finished in the top 5 in blocks per game. He worked on his outside shot this offseason which would be a big boost to the Green Bay offense if he’s able to improve on his 29.5% clip from a season ago.

The Phoenix will need a big step forward from Kellogg and Claflin if they are going to do better than their 11th place predicted finish. At 6’8”, Kellogg as the size, length, and skillset to likely get first crack at a starting forward position and Claflin, a solid 3-point shooter in high school, is better than his 7-31 (22.6%) shooting performance last season. He has the size at 6’6” to be more of a factor on offense and defense this season and should remain in the conversation to be part of the rotation.

The return of Blayton Williams

During the offseason, head coach Will Ryan didn’t hide his excitement about getting to coach Blayton Williams this year. And with the departure of Green Bay’s top three guards from a season ago, Williams will likely play a key role this season.

The 6’3” guard from West Memphis, Arkansas can play all three guard positions and “loves” to play defense according to Ryan meaning he should be given plenty of opportunities to get minutes this season. He will likely need to contribute on the offensive end as well with the Phoenix losing their top 3 scorers from last season.

Williams hasn’t played an official game since February 29, 2020 after suffering a hip injury prior to last season that required surgery, causing him to miss the entire 2020/2021 season. It will be worth watching how he fits into the system and if there is any lingering rust from missing last season.

A group of returners and newcomers led by sophomore Donavan Moore will also battle for minutes in the guard rotating including 6’4” Belmont transfer Mitch Listau, 6’4” JUCO transfer Randy Tucker, 6’6” Boise State transfer Donovan Ivory, and 6’2” walk-on Nate Jenkins, an Iowa State transfer.

Feels good to be back

It will have been 603 days since Green Bay last played a game at the Resch Center. That game – a 78-63 demolition of Oakland in the quarterfinals of the Horizon League Tournament back on March 5, 2020 – was Linc Darner’s last win as the head coach of the Phoenix as the team lost in the tournament semifinals to Northern Kentucky a few days later. A few days after that, the sports world and the world in general came to a screeching halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic which led to Green Bay playing every game last season at the Kress Center on campus without fans.

“We’re excited to get things going,” Ryan said. “Now that we’re mostly through the COVID issues we’re excited to get back going, playing in front of the fans at the Resch Center. We’re really excited to get back in there.”

“I personally have never been able to coach in there, but our guys are hungry to get back and playing in front of the fans.”

Photo via @gbphoenixmbb

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