Through 16 games entering Friday night’s important Horizon League tilt at Wright State, Brian Wardle’s Green Bay Phoenix have been one of the league’s best offensive teams. Green Bay entered the game ranked second in the conference in scoring (78.9 ppg) and field goal percentage (48.1%), with guard Keifer Sykes and center Alec Brown being two of the key reasons why.
And that was once again the case on Friday night, as Brown (24 points, five rebounds) and Sykes (18, seven assists and six rebounds) led four Phoenix in double figures in Green Bay’s 79-69 victory. Greg Mays added 14 points and seven rebounds and Jordan Fouse scored ten points for Green Bay, which remains undefeated in conference play.
As a team the Phoenix were solid offensively, taking smart shots and that paid off as they shot 59.6% on the night. And when they didn’t attempt shots Green Bay got to the foul line, making 21 of their 26 attempts while shooting just four three-pointers (making two). If there’s one issue with Green Bay’s offensive performance it would be the 15 turnovers, more than two above their season average (12.4). However due to what the Phoenix were able to do when they took care of the basketball, those turnovers didn’t have the impact that they could have in the end.
Reggie Arceneaux scored 17 points to lead five Wright State players in double figures, but with the defeat they fall two games behind Green Bay in the loss column atop the Horizon League standings. And the separation gained by Green Bay is important given the league’s conference tournament setup. The top two seeds receive byes to the semifinals, with the top seed hosting the quarterfinals and semis and the title game being played on the home floor of the highest remaining seed.
Green Bay still has 12 Horizon League games to play, but with a 4-0 record (14-3 overall) and a two-game lead on the field (in the loss column) they took a step in the right direction on Friday night. And given the nature of conference tournaments in smaller leagues, it never hurts to have those games on your home floor.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.