Let's take a look at the race for Horizon League Tournament's number 2 seed and the bracket advantage that comes with it:
Green Bay finds itself in third place currently in the Horizon League standings at 9-5, a half-game behind Oakland (9-4) for second place and a half-game ahead of both Northern Kentucky (8-5) and Wright State (8-5). The Phoenix have one game this weekend – at Milwaukee on Saturday afternoon – while the other three teams will play twice this weekend.
Northern Kentucky and Wright State will both face Youngstown State and Cleveland State on Thursday / Saturday while Oakland will host Valparaiso on Friday and UIC on Sunday afternoon.
If the Horizon League Tournament started today, Green Bay would be the #3 seed and face #6 UIC in the second round of the tournament at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
The four schools are battling for the #2 seed which theoretically includes an easy second round game against a lesser opponent on Saturday night, March 4th– either the #7 or #10 seed – and then a day of rest between the second round of the tournament and the semifinals on Monday night. Seeds 3 through 6 must win three games in three nights in order to win the tournament.
Green Bay won four games in four days as the #4 seed last year to win the tournament in the previous format, which included a double bye into the semifinals for the top two seeds.
Former Green Bay forward Alfonzo McKinnie is having a breakout season in his first year in the NBA D-League.
The 6’8” Chicago native is starring for his hometown Windy City Bulls, the D-League affiliate of Chicago’s NBA team, and on Tuesday was added to the roster for the league’s all-star game being played this weekend in New Orleans.
His journey to this point has been remarkable.
Lightly recruited out of high school, McKinnie played two seasons with the Phoenix in 2013/2014 and 2014/2015 after transferring in from Eastern Illinois. However, knee injuries plagued his time in Green Bay and he appeared in just 9 games as a junior due to a torn meniscus.
He became a steady contributor during his senior season averaging 8.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game. He appeared in all 33 of the Phoenix games that year, including 20 starts.
Fully healthy, McKinnie played professionally his first season out of college for the East Side Pirates, a division II team in Luxembourg. He was the only professional player on the roster and dominated the league averaging 26 points and 16 rebounds in his only season in Europe.
He returned to the Western Hemisphere and joined Rayos de Hermosillo in Mexico following his time across the pond and was a standout there as well, averaging 15.4 points and 7.3 rebounds in just under 27 minutes per game in 25 games south of the border.
Things really began to change this past summer. McKinnie was a member of 4-player team that won USA Basketball’s 3-on-3 national championship and qualified for the World Championships in China. Then, after not receiving a training camp invite, he was one of 200 players to attend an open tryout to try and make the Windy City Bulls roster – something he was able to do and hasn’t looked back since.
“I look at the D-league as an upgrade from where I was last year,” McKinnie said in an interview on the team’s website. “Being to play in the D-League and produce a little bit, you never know who is watching. I feel I’ve gotten better and helped the team and we have a long season to go and feel I can get better.”
After coming off the bench to start the season, McKinnie has risen to a prominent role for the Bulls.
He has started 15 of the team’s 31 games and is averaging 15.1 points per game and an impressive 9.2 rebounds per game, good for 5th in the league, in 29.1 minutes per game.
The Green Bay Phoenix were without their starting point guard again Saturday afternoon when they took on league-leading Valparaiso at the Resch Center.
Anderson missed his fourth straight game with a back injury he suffered in Green Bay’s 83-73 victory over Cleveland State on January 23rd. He was scoreless in 7 minutes during that game.
“We go day-by-day to see how he recovers from it,” head coach Linc Darner said via the Green Bay Press-Gazette after Green Bay’s 84-80 victory over UIC on Thursday. “I couldn’t tell you if he’s going to be out another week or two weeks or three. I just go with what my trainers tell me and what our doctors tell us.”
A big reason for Green Bay’s 6-2 start to the Horizon League campaign has been the production the Phoenix have been receiving from their bench. A prime example was Monday’s 83-73 victory over Cleveland State in which the bench accounted for 63% of Green Bay’s offense and outscored the Vikings 52-9.
Much of the bench production has been due to Charles Cooper’s move from the starting lineup to a 6th man role, but the Phoenix have also been receiving steady contributions from senior Warren Jones of late as well.
Green Bay Phoenix head coach Linc Darner has said multiple times already this season that he loves the depth of his team, but that depth means minutes could be at a premium for some players towards the bottom of the roster.
This raises the question on if it makes sense for one or two players to possibly redshirt this season - sitting out the season from game action while still participating in practices and workouts.
According to Scott Venci of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Phoenix coaching staff does indeed plan to redshirt sophomore guards Anthony and Avery Brown this season.
Head coach Linc Darner’s third recruiting class at Green Bay is a solid blend of three high school prospects, a JUCO transfer, and the aforementioned Division I transfer. The final piece could come from any of those sources or Darner could choose to bank the scholarship and save it for the 2018 class.
It seems logical that Green Bay would look for another big man for this recruiting class, but that may not necessarily be the case. In Darner’s final season at Florida Southern in 2015 he won a Division II national championship with a roster that consisted of only one player taller than 6’5”.
One of the Phoenix signees in the 2017 class so far is 6’8” Will Chevalier, though he projects to be more of a stretch four at this point. 6’6” Sandy Cohen also played some power forward at Marquette, though he didn’t seem to enjoy playing that position and is better in a playmaking role as a guard on the wings.
Here is a brief rundown on a few of the players that Green Bay has been linked with up to this point:
The Phoenix coaching staff seem to have Chicago native Manny Patterson as their top priority. The 6’8” big man stars at Kenwood Academy and is one of the top remaining uncommitted prospects in Illinois. He is listed as a 3-star recruit according to ESPN as well as 247 Sports.
Patterson, known for his defense, rebounding, and finishing around the rim, could provide a role as a rim protector and is an above average rebounder – something the Phoenix will need to help offset the losses due to the graduations of Kenneth Lowe and Jamar Hurdle.
Green Bay was in on Patterson early, extending a scholarship offer way back in July of 2015. He seems like a logical fit and would challenge for playing time almost immediately as 6’8” David Jesperson and 6’9” Kerem Kanter are the only returning post players for the Phoenix next season.
Patterson took an official visit to the UW-Green Bay campus this past September.
“I liked it,” he said in a video posted last fall by Prep Hoops Illinois. “I could feel the school had a lot of support around me. I could come in right away and play and get the jitters out right away.”
In the video, Patterson says he was hoping to have a recruiting decision made before January but has seen his recruiting heat up a bit lately.
In addition to offers from Central Connecticut State, Towson, Iona, Southern Illinois, and Green Bay, Patterson has received scholarship offers from East Tennessee State and Toledo in the past few weeks.
The only other official visit he has taken was to Central Connecticut this past October.
The Phoenix coaching staff has still been keep tabs on Patterson, taking a visit to one of Kenwood’s games a few weeks ago in Chicago.
Kenwood is 16-6 overall and went 8-2 in the Chicago Public League Red Central Division. They opened the Public League playoffs on Monday with a first round win against Collins and will take on Bogan Wednesday evening in the second round.
Sandy Cohen is coming home.
The 6'6" Marquette transfer, who starred at nearby Seymour High School, has chosen to continue his college basketball career at Green Bay according to Mark Miller of Wisconsin Basketball Yearbook. He chose the Phoenix over conference rival Oakland.
Cohen burst onto the scene prior to his senior year of high school, going from a relative unknown to a consensus 4-star prospect and top 100 national recruit across all the major recruiting services (#73 247 Sports, #83 ESPN, #88 Scout, #97 Rivals,). He was recruited by then-Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle at the time but ultimately chose Marquette over big time offers from Virginia, Purdue, Iowa, Creighton, and Minnesota among others.
He appeared in 31 games for Marquette as a true freshman and even started 7 games. He scored 3.8 points and grabbed 1.6 rebounds in 15.0 minutes per game.
His role significantly expanded at the beginning of his sophomore season, starting 15 straight games from November 23rd to January 16th last season. He lost his starting spot and his numbers tailed off once Big East Conference play got going, but he still finished the season scoring 5.9 points and grabbing 3.2 rebounds per game in 23.2 minutes of action.
This season he appeared in just 3 games for Marquette, going scoreless in 19 total minutes of action. He asked for and was granted a release from his scholarship on November 20th.
The decision to transfer came down to playing time, Cohen told John Hand of the Marquette Wire.
"The biggest part was just I wasn't in a place where I could reach my full potential as a basketball player and hopefully take that next step in my game," Cohen told the Wire. "My dream and my goal has always been to play at the highest level. I just felt here at Marquette I wasn't in the right situation for that to happen. I love everybody at Marquette, coaches and everything. I just had to make the best decision for me."
"Being a junior and not being able to play much is not really what I envisioned and not really what I thought would happen. It pretty much comes down to playing time."
Phoenix fans are hoping their coaching staff has struck gold at the junior college level again.
Green Bay received a fourth commitment for their 2017 recruiting class on Tuesday when Paul Turner committed to Green Bay. The 6’5” shooting guard is currently a sophomore at the College of Central Florida and will join the Phoenix next season. He will have two seasons of eligibility.
The Green Bay Phoenix have officially landed three prospects for their 2017 recruiting class as the early signing period opened up on Wednesday.
The Phoenix received signed National Letters of Intent from high school seniors Will Chevalier, PJ Pipes, and Trevian Bell.
The 2017 class will be Linc Darner's third as head coach at Green Bay...
In addition to getting ready for the fast approaching 2016 college basketball season, head coach Linc Darner and the Green Bay Phoenix coaching staff are also keeping an eye towards the future.
On Monday night, Green Bay offered a scholarship to class of 2018 prospect JC Butler, a 6’4” guard from Racine, Wisconsin.
You can tell a lot about a program or a sports franchise by the standards that they set for themselves.
Across the street from the Resch Center at Lambeau Field, the Packers proudly display the 13 seasons in which they won the NFL Championship, including 4 Super Bowl victories.
Inside Pauley Pavilion, the UCLA Bruins hang 11 banners celebrating national championships in mens basketball.
The Packers don’t hang banners for NFC North division championships. UCLA doesn’t even hang banners for Final Four appearances or Pac 12 Conference championships.
On the flip side, the Detroit Lions hang banners inside Ford Field proclaiming playoff appearances. The Indianapolis Colts hung an “AFC Finalist” banner at Lucas Oil Stadium after getting blown out by the New England Patriots in the 2014 AFC Championship game.
Back inside the Resch Center, at the south end of the arena hang several banners celebrating the finest seasons in Phoenix basketball history. Banners that proudly proclaim regular season and conference tournament championships along with postseason appearances in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT, and…..the CBI? The CIT?
Now I’m not saying that the Phoenix need to replicate the Packers or UCLA, but program standards speak volumes.
For a mid-major college basketball program, making the postseason is something that should be celebrated. However, with several postseason events now geared towards mid-majors such as the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT), and Vegas 16, there are more slots than ever meaning it is much easier to make the post season.
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